29 December 2012

Annotated Game #77: Playing for a draw means losing in the end

If I had to pick one game to best illustrate what my core weaknesses were, this is it.  Playing a significantly higher-rated opponent in the third round of the tournament, I deliberately chose a strategy of trying to exchange down to a drawn position.  In the process, I passed up multiple active choices that could have given White a positional edge and the initiative.  My opponent, no fool, took advantage of my passivity and the positional crush that he executes against me is well played and an object lesson on how to use a space advantage.

In addition to the early decision to play for a draw, this game provides an excellent example of other major errors in my thinking.  In the opening phase, I was limited in my conception of how to play a flank opening, mentally not even considering the move e4 because it would have meant advancing a central pawn (horrors!), although this would have been advantageous at several points.  In the middlegame, I relied on the idea of piece exchanges (starting on move 10) to reach a draw. Exchanges can have far-reaching implications for the rest of the game, among other things determining which side's remaining pieces become more effective, so simply exchanging is hardly a recipe for a draw.  Finally, White's repeated pawn advances created major weaknesses that Black could exploit, showing how I failed to understand their long-term implications.

It's because of games like these that I saw a serious need to improve my mental toughness and stop worrying about ratings.  My attitude was completely wrong from the start here.  It's one thing to aim for a draw later in the game in an even (or worse) position, quite another to ignore any ideas of winning at the start of the middlegame.  Playing for a draw can often lead to losing in the end.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c6 {indicating that Black will go into a Slav-type setup. This also invites a transposition from White into a standard d4 opening.} 3. Nf3 {an independent line.} d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 {the recapture with the pawn is much more popular and also scores much better for Black.} 5. g3 {a rather cautious and unchallenging move. Developing the bishop to g2 may also be problematic, depending on how strongly Black guards d5, as it may have relatively little scope for action.} (5. e4 { would be the way to exploit the knight's position, which in the following game example allows White to set up a pawn duo in the center.} Nf6 6. d4 Bg4 7. Be2 e6 8. O-O Be7 9. Qb3 Qb6 10. Be3 Qxb3 11. axb3 a6 12. h3 Bh5 13. g4 Bg6 14. Nd2 Bb4 15. Bf3 Nbd7 16. Bg2 Ng8 17. f4 f6 18. Nc4 Ne7 19. Ra4 Bxc3 20. Nd6+ Kd8 21. bxc3 Kc7 22. e5 Nb6 23. Ra2 Nec8 24. f5 exf5 25. gxf5 Bh5 26. c4 {1-0 (26) Gonzalez Menendez,I (2293)-Chans Farina,J (2033) Trevias 2004}) 5... Nd7 6. Bg2 N7f6 {Black reinforces d5.} 7. O-O Bf5 $146 {now out of the database, with the standard Slav-type development for the bishop.} 8. d3 {releases the Bc1 and threatens e4. However, at the time I avoided e4 due to the idea that it would block the Bg2. This is an example of rigid thinking.} e6 {Controls d5} 9. Qb3 { developing the queen to good effect.} (9. e4 {is even better.} Nxc3 {is forced} 10. bxc3 Bg4 11. Rb1 {and White will have excellent play on the queenside, while Black is behind in development and has no counterplay.}) 9... Qb6 10. Nxd5 {White is following the simple strategy of exchanging down at every opportunity in order to achieve a level position. My opponent was around 150 rating points higher, which was the main factor behind this. White now achieves his goal of equality, in the process giving away some positional advantages.} (10. e4 $5 Nxc3 11. bxc3 Qxb3 12. axb3 $14) 10... exd5 $11 (10... Nxd5 $2 {and now the pawn fork would work, since there is nothing for the Nd5 to capture.} 11. e4 Qxb3 12. axb3 $18) (10... cxd5 {would be inferior after} 11. Qa4+ Qc6 (11... Nd7 $6 12. Ne5) 12. Qxc6+ bxc6 {and the weak c-pawn will be an excellent target for White on the half-open file.}) 11. Qxb6 axb6 12. Be3 b5 13. a3 {Consolidates b4, notes Fritz.} Bd6 14. Nd4 Bg4 15. Bf3 (15. h3 $5) 15... O-O (15... Be5 $5 {was an interesting possibility.} 16. Rab1 Bxd4 17. Bxd4 (17. Bxg4 $2 {loses a piece}) 17... Bxf3 18. exf3 {and White's pawn structure is ugly, but it doesn't look like Black has good prospects for breaking through.}) 16. Bxg4 $11 Nxg4 17. Bd2 {White has an equal game, but it is passive and Black has any initiative in the position.} Rfe8 18. h3 (18. Bc3 {would significantly improve the bishop's position.}) 18... Nf6 19. e3 Nd7 20. Nf5 Bf8 21. d4 Nf6 22. f3 {White's pawn advances have created weaknesses and blocked the Nf5's retreat, which my opponent now captializes on.} g6 23. Nh4 Nd7 24. Ng2 Nb6 {Black continues to maneuver to probe White's weaknesses, as the knight is heading for the excellent c4 outpost.} 25. Kf2 Nc4 {the knight cannot be ejected by b3, due to the hanging a-pawn.} 26. Bc3 Bh6 27. f4 $6 { this negates the positive aspect of the previous f3 advance, which could have supported a future e4 push. The e-pawn is now completely backward.} (27. Rae1 { would have been fine, as the queenside is now locked up and the rook should be redeployed to reinforce e3.}) 27... Bf8 $15 28. Kf3 {looking to support a future e4 push, if White has the time to execute it.} b6 (28... Re4 {followed by ...Rae8 would be the most direct way of taking advantage of White's weakness on the e-file.}) 29. Rab1 {there doesn't seem to be much point to this.} (29. Rae1) 29... c5 {Black follows a plan of mobilizing his queenside pawns, but White is relatively strong there, in contrast with the e-file.} 30. Rf2 {White anticipates the need to reinforce b2, as Black could now penetrate with Ra2 following a pawn exchange on b4.} Nd6 (30... b4 31. axb4 cxb4 32. Be1 {and White awkwardly holds on.}) 31. Re2 {continuing the passive defense.} (31. dxc5 $5 {would instead give White some breathing room.} bxc5 32. Rd2 Ne4 33. Rd3 (33. Rxd5 $6 Rxa3) 33... c4 34. Rxd5 Nxc3 35. bxc3 Rxa3 36. Rdxb5 Rxc3 { and White should be able to stop the c-pawn after} 37. Rb8) 31... Ne4 $15 32. Rc1 Ra4 33. dxc5 bxc5 {Black's pawn trio looks very menacing and White's pieces lack space to maneuver.} (33... Nxc3 $6 34. Rxc3 bxc5 35. Rd2 $11) 34. Be5 {this simply wastes time, but White has no good options.} f6 35. Bc3 Rc4 { Black pulls the noose tighter, now pinning the Bc3.} 36. Rec2 {this hurries the process of Black's victory, but White is getting slowly crushed anyway.} ( 36. Rcc2 Nxc3 37. Rxc3 Rxc3 38. bxc3 Ra8 {and Black will be able to pick up White's weak queenside pawns.} 39. Rb2 Rxa3 40. Rxb5 Rxc3) 36... d4 37. exd4 cxd4 38. b3 $4 {terrible, but what else could White do to save the game? comments Fritz.} (38. Ba5 {would prolong things, although not by much.} Ra4 39. Rc8 Rxc8 40. Rxc8 Nd6 41. Ra8 Nc4) 38... Rxc3+ $19 39. Rxc3 dxc3 {a piece down with no compensation, White resigns.} 0-1

24 December 2012

Analyzing your own games is more than just analyzing your own games

Game analysis is one of those areas which seems to be an obvious necessity for an improving player.  Yet, there is a fair amount of conflicting advice in the chess community on the topic.  Here I want to cut through this and present a practical guide to the benefits of analyzing your own games.  In fact, one can make a strong argument for making this the guiding principle behind your chess study process.

I credit IM Jesper Hall's Chess Training for Budding Champions (Gambit, 2001) for bringing this idea to my attention in a focused, meaningful way.  After a short introductory chapter, the book's second chapter - "I Am Lucky to Have Made So Many Mistakes" - makes the point (based on a short anecdote about a visit to IM Johan Hellsten) that "in your own games, you have all that you need to train with."  The author's reformulation of this is in the first section, entitled "In Your Own Games, There is Everything You Need to Improve."  Why is that?
When you think about analysing your own games, it becomes clear how logical it is that this is the most important and natural way of training.  You are personally involved, you have a deep understanding of the position as you have played the game yourself...This gives depth, but also an insight in to the process of thinking during the playing situation.  That insight is impossible to obtain when you study games by other players.  I therefore recommend that you try to describe, with words, how you thought during the game, mixed with more objective analysis.  Then it will be easier to see what you misjudged during the game.  This is a perfect ground for your training as all aspects of chess are included, even your weaknesses.  With the games as a starting point, you can plan your training and add the knowledge that you lack.
In the same vein, here's a relevant quote from GM Alex Yermolinsky's The Road To Chess Improvement (Gambit 1999), an excellent book which I think I should read again, now that my own chess philosophy and practice has changed considerably.
The problem I had to acknowledge was the stagnation of my development.  I was simply going nowhere.  It's not that I lacked experience - I was 28 years old then, and I had been playing chess for some 20 years up to that point - it was a rather sad realization that my game was not improving.  In search for inspiration I decided to follow the most common advice one can find in the works of Alekhine (my favorite player) and Botvinnik (one of my least favorite ones) which can be put into simple words - study your games.  Ever since, every game I played has been extensively annotated.
Did I follow this excellent advice after first reading these books?  I did not.  Like many chessplayers, I preferred to look for easier ways to improve my chess knowledge than working through my games, many of which were painful losses.  Also, it seemed to me that analyzing my own games would be highly inferior to looking at master-level games, or following master-level advice.

This idea - that your games are of low quality and not worth studying - is one of the main objections or criticisms of the self-analysis process.  However, it ignores the one thing in common for all improving players: you have to do the work and you will be the one sitting down at the chessboard your next game - not someone else.  There are a number of implications to this.
  • In the opening, your understanding of its key positional features - including tactical possibilities - is what will get you to a good middlegame position, regardless of whether your opponent follows your "book" lines.
  • In the middlegame, your thinking process and ability to evaluate different candidate moves, along with spotting opportunities and threats, is what will determine your quality of play.
  • In different types of endgames, recognition of the relevant strategic concepts and positional evaluations will allow you to win (or avoid losing).
In Game Analysis for Improvement in Play I described the practical methods I use for analyzing and annotating a game in approximately two hours.  From a conceptual standpoint, I think the main points to get out of analyzing a game are:
The key point in all of this is that you are the one who has to make all the decisions at the chessboard from move 1.  You have to put it all together and understand what is in front of you.  The best guide to how you will play in the future is therefore how you have played in the past.  For improving players, it comes down to the simple fact that if you can't fix your own mistakes or recognize important gaps in your knowledge, you will not get any better.  No one can be perfect, but recognizing the truth about our own play, however painful it may be, is the first step on the road to improvement (as Yermolinsky noted).  Perhaps the most important realization I have had as part of the game analysis process is that I had failed to use a coherent thinking process in my tournament games.  This realization then resulted in the Simplified Thought Process (That Works).

Analyzing your own games also offers a near-infinite number of ways to improve your chess.  With a database program (free or otherwise), you can explore and analyze how other games in your chosen openings have turned out, focusing on key variations and decision points, and identify model master-level games for further study.  With a chessplaying program, you can take key middlegame and endgame positions that you've identified in your analysis and play them out.  If you've determined that you lack some specific knowledge that is holding you back from better results, you can find books, videos or other tools to address that.  Naturally, this is where chess trainers can come into the picture as well; good ones will look to use your own games as a guide for your training.  In any event, let your own games be the practical guide to what you need to accomplish most.

Below are some resources (some of which have been cited above) for those looking for methods or examples of how analyzing your games can be beneficial.  If anyone has had particularly good (or bad) experiences with other resources, comments are welcome.

This blog:
Other sites:
  • Study Your Games by GM Nigel Davies at chessville.com
  • 10 Tips for Analysing Your Chess Games at roman-chess
  • Professional players may offer services that involve analyzing and reviewing your games.  Ones I have run across references to include GM Nigel Davies and IM Yelena Dembo, although there are many others out there.
  • Over at chess.com there's a new series of videos being made by IM David Pruess on "How to Analyze Your Own Games" - so far it's up to an intermediate-level introduction.  It's behind the paywall, though, so you will need to be a subscriber to watch more than the first two minutes.

23 December 2012

Annotated Game #76: Strategic blunders in the English

The most notable feature of this second-round tournament game is the two strategic blunders made by White out of the opening, an English vs. King's Indian Defense (KID) setup.  Move 10, where White pushes b4 without the a3 pawn to support it, is an excellent lesson in how not to execute the standard queenside expansion plan.  White's rook, after retaking on b4, is pushed around and Black easily takes over the initiative after White's second strategic error on move 13.  With 13. Qc1, White was attempting to play on the kingside and exchange off the Bg7, but this is far too slow and never actually happens.

There are some other interesting points to the game, which I managed to draw in the end.  However, the strategic lessons of 1) not pushing b4 when opposed by a5, until the b-pawn can be supported by the a-pawn, and 2) not haphazardly switching from a queenside to kingside strategy, are the most valuable for anyone playing a similar setup as White.  For those inclined to play the KID as Black, the game and analysis variations included offer a good guide to exploiting these types of errors.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 d6 5. d3 c6 {an alternative to the usual immediate O-O and e5 development scheme. This leads to a less aggressive setup for Black in the game.} 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. O-O O-O 8. Rb1 {preparing the b4 advance and getting the rook off the a1-h8 diagonal, which is dangerous due to the presence of the Bg7.} a5 9. Bd2 { in the database a3 is played almost exclusively. A high-level example:} (9. a3 Nb6 10. Bd2 d5 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. a4 Ne8 13. Nb5 Bd7 14. Qb3 Nxa4 15. Qxa4 Nc7 16. Nfd4 e5 17. Qb3 a4 18. Qa2 exd4 19. Nxc7 Qxc7 20. Bxd5 Bg4 21. Rfe1 Rfe8 22. Rbc1 Qd7 23. Bf4 Rac8 {Andersson,U-Polugaevsky,L/Hilversum 1973/MCD/1/2-1/ 2 (36)}) 9... Rb8 $146 (9... Nc5 10. b3 {1/2-1/2 Ziger,S-Begovac,F/Bern 1996/ CBM 51 ext (10)}) 10. b4 {this is an excellent example of how not to execute the standard b4 pawn advance plan.} (10. a3) 10... axb4 11. Rxb4 {now instead of having the open a-file to exploit, White has inflicted an isolated a-pawn on himself and has nothing of real use on the b-file.} Qa5 {too aggressive and obviously refuted.} (11... Nc5 {and Black looks well placed for the ensuing middlegame, while White will struggle to find a useful plan.}) 12. Ra4 Qc7 13. Qc1 {a strategic error. White tries to shift to kingside play with the idea of exchanging the Bg7, but this is too slow and does not take advantage of the new opportunity presented on the queenside.} (13. Ra7 Qb6 14. Ra3 {and now White has control of the a-file after all.}) 13... Nc5 14. Rb4 {see how much time has been wasted by moving around the rook, while Black has been able to develop and now can seize the initiative.} e5 15. Ng5 {White intends to blockade e4.} Bf5 {Black directly challenges the idea.} (15... Ra8 {would instead activate the rook and pressure the a-pawn.}) 16. Nge4 Ncxe4 17. Nxe4 Bxe4 18. Bxe4 Nxe4 19. dxe4 {the dust has now settled. Interestingly, Fritz originally gave a =/+ for Black here, While Houdini considers the game level. White's pawn structure is weaker, but the Bg7 is shut in.} Ra8 20. Qb2 Qa5 { the idea evidently is to begin a dynamic series of exchanges, although White could prevent this.} (20... Rfb8 $5 $11) 21. Rxb7 (21. Ra1 {is Houdini's preference. Black now has no way to make real progress.}) 21... Qxa2 22. Rb1 $2 {there is no logic to this move, as Black can simply scoop up the c4 pawn.} ( 22. Qxa2 {would be level.} Rxa2 23. Be3 Rxe2 24. Rd1 {and White will regain the pawn.}) 22... Qxc4 $15 {Fritz again gave more of a decisive advantage to Black here.} 23. Rd7 $17 (23. Bg5 {is preferred by the engines and would be a more sophisticated version of the counterattacking idea.} Ra2 (23... f6 { with the idea of simply grabbing the e4 pawn interestingly does not work.} 24. Be3 Qxe4 25. Rd1 d5 26. Rxg7+ {the key idea in this and similar variations.} Kxg7 27. Qb7+ Kh8 28. Bh6 Rg8 29. Bg7+ Rxg7 30. Qxa8+ Rg8 31. Qxc6) 24. Qb3 Qxe2 $15) 23... Qxe4 (23... Ra2 {would cause more problems for White.} 24. Qb4 Qxb4 (24... Qxe2 25. Qxd6 Qxe4 26. Rc1) 25. Bxb4 Rb8) 24. Rxd6 $15 Qxe2 25. Rxc6 e4 26. Qc2 (26. Bc3 $5) 26... Bd4 27. Be3 Qxc2 28. Rxc2 Bxe3 29. fxe3 f5 30. Rb7 {Despite Black's extra pawn, I felt reasonably sure of my ability to hold the position, given my active rooks and the need for Black to spend time setting up any pawn breakthroughs on the kingside.} Rfe8 $6 {a rook move that truly does nothing except hand the initiative to White.} (30... Rf7 31. Rxf7 Kxf7 32. Rc7+ Kg8 {would simplify things to Black's benefit.}) 31. Rd2 $2 { White fails to act aggressively enough and also makes a useless rook move.} ( 31. Rcc7 {would immediately ensure a draw, as Black cannot escape from the ensuing checks on the 7th rank.}) 31... Red8 32. Rc2 Ra1+ {this leads to the draw, as White does not pass up the second opportunity.} (32... Rab8 $5) 33. Kg2 $11 Rad1 34. Rcc7 R1d2+ 35. Kh3 g5 (35... h6 {would instead remove the h-pawn from the line of fire.}) 36. Rg7+ {here I didn't see a win for White, so took the draw.} 1/2-1/2

15 December 2012

Annotated Game #75: Colle System goes awry

This game occurred in the first round of the next tournament after Annotated Game #71.  I always enjoy facing the Colle System as Black, as it never really seems to go anywhere against my preferred Slav-type setup, which was played in this game.  I've observed that the Colle seems to work best against Queen's Gambit Declined type defenses, in which Black shuts in his light-squared bishop.

Here, Black exchanges off the light-square bishop immediately and then focuses on development as White goes pawn-hunting on the queenside.  White's sense of danger was not operating and after his queen is nearly trapped, he is forced to give back material in order to save it.  Although the material balance was then roughly equal (3 pawns for a piece), Black definitely had the superior position.

In the remainder of the game, Black passes up several active options for improving his position and pressuring White, which unfortunately has been a common characteristic of my games.  If I get nothing else out of these annotation efforts, they have certainly driven home the importance of playing actively with both pieces and pawns.  In this game, White also missed some active possibilities, including the remarkable 20. f4!? and the counterintuitive 26. b4, which loses the b-pawn but gains a strong positional advantage for White's passed pawns.  In both cases, the strategic idea would have been to effectively mobilize White's pawn majority, where he had a favorable imbalance (to use Silman's term).

White eventually goes for a draw by repetition after striking a tactical blow against Black's kingside and winning a pawn there.  My opponent evidently did not trust his own position due to Black's possible threats.  At the time I was perfectly happy to acquiesce, not seeing how I could make real progress against White, who was also higher-rated.  The final result seems justified in this case, given the board situation.  Had Black been looking to win, it would have been better tried earlier, for example with 18...Ne4!?

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D04"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {D04: Colle System} 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 {a good development for the bishop regardless. In the Colle System, this leads to an exchange of the light-squared bishops, which helps reduce White's attacking chances.} 4. Bd3 ( 4. c4 c6 {would transpose into the Slav.}) 4... Bxd3 5. Qxd3 e6 6. O-O Bd6 { an excellent square for the bishop, although this move involves a pawn sacrifice.} (6... c6 {would be the solid alternative.}) (6... c5 {is more amibitious, but safe enough.} 7. Qb5+ Qd7) 7. Qb5+ Nbd7 8. Qxb7 O-O {Black has reasonable compensation for the material, behind ahead in development and having threats against White's queen.} 9. c3 $146 {this blocks a key diagonal for White, complicating the queen's safety as well as his own further development. There are no positive aspcts to the move that I can see and it was probably played by rote as a standard move in the Colle System.} c5 $11 10. Qc6 {White seems to want to use his queen to take on Black's army alone.} Qb8 { protects the Bd6 and cuts off the b-file from the White queen's potential use.} 11. Nbd2 a5 12. a4 {this further cuts White off, ensuring that Black will at minimum regain the lost material.} (12. Qa4 $11) 12... c4 $19 {futher tightenting the noose around the queen. Now there is no alternative to forcibly clearing the pawns away, at the cost of a piece.} 13. Nxc4 (13. Qb5 { may have been White's original intention, but the b3 square is no longer available for retreat.} Qc7 {then wins, with the intention of following up with ...Rfb8.}) 13... dxc4 14. Qxc4 {while material is roughly theoretically equal (three pawns for the knight), Black's much more active pieces and open lines give him a solid advantage.} Ng4 {Black intends to force a trade of the knight and then get the Nd7 into the game via f6.} (14... Re8 {is the plan that the engines prefer. Black could use the ...e5 pawn break to further activate his pieces. For example} 15. h3 e5) 15. h3 Nh2 16. Nxh2 Bxh2+ 17. Kh1 Nf6 (17... Bd6 {the immediate bishop retreat may be simplest.}) 18. Qe2 $17 ( 18. g3 Bxg3 19. fxg3 Qxg3 {would be fine for Black, given White's shattered kingside and looming threats after ...Ne4.}) (18. b4 $15 {is Houdini's preference, keeping things solid on the kingside while trying to generate counterplay on the queenside with the extra pawns.}) 18... Bd6 (18... Ne4 $5 $17 {would be the active way to play. Now g3 would be unplayable for White, as Black would end up taking back with the knight and a 3-way fork.}) (18... Bc7 { is a better retreat, avoiding the threat of a pawn fork on e5.}) 19. e4 $15 e5 {this plays into White's strategy, allowing his pawns to gain strength.} (19... Bf4 {would contain the newly-activated dark-square bishop.}) 20. d5 {obvious but not best.} (20. f4 $5 {is the attacking move the engines find. The f4 pawn cannot be captured due to the pawn fork on e5 and Black has to work hard to avoid major problems.} exd4 (20... exf4 $2 21. e5 {and now the Black pawn is not threatening anything, unlike after taking on d4.}) 21. e5 $11 Re8 {saves a crucial tempo by pinning the e-pawn.} 22. Qd3 dxc3 23. exf6 (23. exd6) 23... cxb2 24. Bxb2 Qxb2 25. Qxd6 Qxf6) 20... h6 {seeking to limit the scope of the Bf1 by taking away g5.} 21. Qf3 {threatening to win a pawn with Bxh6, which would leave the g7 pawn overloaded.} Nd7 {a passive retreat to an undefended square, which allows White's subsequent tactic.} (21... Be7 {would instead protect the knight and keep it on a more active square.}) 22. Bxh6 {now White can play this anyway, stripping Black's king of protection.} gxh6 (22... f5 $5 {is the defense the engines find, which is not at all obvious. The point being that after} 23. exf5 gxh6 24. Qg4+ {is no longer is a double attack on the Nd7. Black also now controls the f6-square and the king can escape via f7 if needed. }) 23. Qg4+ $11 {Theme: Double Attack, notes Fritz.} Kh8 24. Qxd7 Ra7 25. Qf5 Rb7 {this move in reality makes Black more vulnerable to a push of the b-pawn, rather than threatening it.} (25... f6 $5 26. b4 axb4 27. cxb4 Qxb4 {and Black can hold.}) 26. Rab1 {the b4 push probably doesn't occur to White either, as it would give back a pawn.} (26. b4 axb4 27. cxb4 Rxb4 $16 {White would possess a major advantage in the form of the two passed pawns and Black's weak king position, along with a very active queen.} 28. Qf6+ Kh7 29. Rfc1) 26... Rg8 27. Qf6+ Kh7 28. Qf5+ {White essentially offers a draw with this move.} Kh8 {and Black is happy to take it.} (28... Rg6 {would be a little stronger (and completely equal, according to Houdini), but I understood that the invited repetition would lead to an immediate draw.}) 29. Qf6+ Kh7 1/2-1/2

11 December 2012

The importance of CCT: example 5 - London Chess Classic Round 9

As another entry in the ongoing series featuring the importance of CCT (Checks, Captures and Threats), here is the final round game from the recently-completed London Chess Classic between Hikaru Nakamura and Luke McShane.  At first glance, on move 32 Black appears fine, with his Ne5 protected and attacked twice after White's 32. R1d5 move. However, a CCT check would reveal that this is not the case and the "obvious recapture" after the move played (33. Qxe5+) simply does not work, due to the Bd7 which will be left hanging at the end of the sequence.

09 December 2012

Annotated Game #74: Round 3 - Round Turkey Tournament

This final round of the 2012 Round Turkey Tournament was the decisive one, as any of the players could theoretically have won it.  I had no idea how Tim Clark (aka Moth) was going to open the game, although I did prep the Caro-Kann Advance variation to some extent, since it is a popular choice for White these days.

Black has a relatively easy time of it in the opening and by move 9 has his pieces comfortably placed.  I decided not to get too fancy in the early middlegame and was thinking about quietly increasing the pressure on the d-pawn when White threw in the tactical surprise of 15. Nxd5.  Black is objectively fine here, but the failure by both of us (apparently) to spot the key ...Nxe5 countermove - made possible by the unprotected White queen on d3 - is quite instructive.  I had the mental assumption when both queens were on the d-file that opening the file would not do anything, only seeing the ...Nxe5 possibility once I had a rook on d8.  This is a good example of how doing a general tactical status check can be a help (and should be a regular feature of one's thinking process).  (I first saw this idea expressed in Understanding Chess Tactics by Martin Weteschnik.)

Despite missing the best reply, I manage to hang on and after the sequence is completed, regain equality.  White nevertheless retained what initiative was left in the position and I soon felt under pressure again after he pushed in the center with 24. d5.  Further inaccurate defending by Black leaves him with a somewhat scary-looking position as of move 29, although it was still objectively OK.  Attempting to counterattack in the center, I play Rxe3, which would have lost had White taken the fleeting opportunity to play d6 that was presented by Black's overloaded pieces.  Luckily for me, I immediately extricated myself and then was able to head for a setup that would force perpetual check.

My opponent didn't want to accept a draw, though, so decided to roll the dice with a rook exchange that lost him two pawns, leaving us with a R+P endgame featuring three Black kingside pawns versus two White kingside pawns.  With time growing shorter, White got very aggressive and failed to do a CCT (checks, captures and threats) check on move 41, allowing White's rook to check and then pick up the b-pawn.  The end came quickly afterwards.

My thanks to Tim for playing an interesting and strong game, which gave me a lot to look at during analysis.

For anyone else who wants to join the fun during the next cycle, the 2012 Double My Egg Nog FICS tournament still has a space available.

[Event "rated standard match"] [Site "Free Internet Chess Server"] [Date "2012.11.24"] [Round "?"] [White "Timmmmm"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "1723"] [BlackElo "1547"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [TimeControl "3600+5"] {B12: Caro-Kann: Advance Variation} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 {the Advance Variation is now the de facto main line, in terms of frequency of play at the professional level.} c5 {Black is willing to sacrifice this pawn for improved piece play. White decides not to accept.} 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 {NOT ...e6 before letting the bishop out.} 6. Be2 e6 7. Be3 Nge7 {Qb6 is the major alternative in the database. I instead opt to get the kingside developed.} 8. h3 {leading to a trade of minor pieces, as retreating the bishop would cramp Black and invite the g4 thrust.} Bxf3 9. Bxf3 Nf5 {here I consider Black's position as very comfortable, with superior activity for his minor pieces.} 10. O-O {around here is when I start thinking about playing ...Qb6, but never do.} cxd4 {an amateur move, relieving pressure on d4 just to make things less complicated.} (10... Qb6 {is Houdini's choice, protecting c5 again and pressuring b2. At the time, I didn't like the fact that taking multiple times on d4 would just end up with a Black knight pinned to the queen by the Be3, but there were other good reasons for the queen development, to ratchet up the pressure on White.}) 11. cxd4 Bb4 {this seemed to me to have better long-term prospects than development to e7, and gives the bishop the retreat to b6 (to target d4) as an option.} 12. Nc3 O-O 13. Qd3 $146 {Whtie is now out of the database (with Houdini's preferred move). This connects the rooks and usefully centralizes the queen on the b1-h7 diagonal.} Rc8 {Black completes his initial development.} 14. Rac1 Ba5 {after thinking for a fair amount of time on my initial middlegame plan, I had settled on pressuring d4 some more, with ...Bb6 to follow.} 15. Nxd5 {this came as a tactical surprise, using the theme of the overloaded pawn at e6, which was protecting both f5 and d5.} (15. Bg4 {is Houdini's preferred alternative.} Nxe3 16. fxe3 Qg5 $11) 15... Nh4 {Black has a cramped position, comments Houdini. This move is certainly a little awkward.} (15... exd5 $2 16. Qxf5) (15... Nxe3 {would have been the easier route.} 16. Nxe3 Nxe5 {; however, I didn't spot the possibility of capturing the e5 pawn while exploiting the pin on the d-file until later.}) 16. Nc3 (16. Nf4 { was necessary to protect the hanging Qd3 and therefore prevent the threatened Nxe5; however, neither my opponent nor myself spotted the capture at this point, due to a failure to recognize the status of the queen.}) 16... Nxf3+ { this line still gives Black an advantage, even if not optimal.} (16... Nxe5 17. Qe4 Nexf3+ 18. gxf3 $17 {and White's position is full of holes.}) 17. gxf3 $15 Qh4 $6 {I had fixated on the idea of penetrating with the queen here, although I knew White could easily defend in the short term.} (17... Nxe5) 18. Kh2 $11 Rcd8 {Interestingly, it was only when considering this move, where the rook takes the queen's place on d8, that I spot the Nxe5 threat. The move increases pressure on the backward pawn d4 and re-establishes the pin.} 19. Ne2 {this reduces the effectiveness of the knight and still allows Black to regain the pawn.} (19. Qe4 {immediately would probably be the best way for White to resolve his issues via simplification.} Qxe4 20. Nxe4 Bb6 $11 {and now that Black's queen is no longer on the board, he can't take advantage of White's kingside weaknesses, although he will have easy equality after regaining the d4 pawn.}) 19... Nxe5 20. Qe4 Qxe4 21. fxe4 {I thought for some time here about the various knight jumps, but eventually settled on retreating to c6, not seeing what I would get concretely out of ... Nd3.} Nc6 (21... Nd3 22. Rb1 $11 {is still Houdini's preferred line. The point is that the Nd3 can't be directly challenged by White without creating other problems in his position.}) 22. Rg1 {a rather transparent threat to play Bh6 as a follow-up.} g6 {the most obvious way to defend.} (22... Rfe8 {is a better defense, removing the rook from the line of fire. This would have effectively saved a tempo for Black - g6 does nothing for him - as well as better anticipating White's coming d5 push.}) 23. Rgd1 Bb6 24. d5 Bxe3 25. fxe3 Ne5 {I had to think about this one for a while as well, although there was less of a choice available than with the previous knight move. Houdini approves.} 26. Rc7 {the critical (and obvious) try for White.} Rc8 27. Rdc1 {with time getting shorter, my thinking process started breaking down around here, as I didn't even consider this possibility for White.} (27. Rxb7 {fails due to} Rc2 {which will win the Ne2 because of the pin on the Kh2.}) 27... Rcd8 {the riskier play, as at the time I didn't like the alternative.} (27... Rxc7 {is fine, however as} 28. Rxc7 exd5 29. exd5 Rd8 30. e4 Rd7 {and Black is equal, being able to stop the pawns with his piece blockade.}) 28. Nf4 exd5 29. exd5 {Black is still OK, although that pawn on d5 sure looks good for White.} Rfe8 {continuing the aggressive and risky play} (29... b5 {is Houdini's inspired choice, creating an outpost for Black on c4 that allows him to compensate for White's rampaging rook on the 7th rank.} 30. Rxa7 Nc4) 30. Rxb7 $14 Nf3+ 31. Kg2 {White threatens to win material: Kg2xf3} Rxe3 $2 {this is shown by Houdini to lose for Black, although it's not obvious at this point why it should.} (31... Nh4+ 32. Kf2 Nf5 $14) 32. Kf2 $18 {one should not forget that the king can also fork (double attack) different pieces!} Rde8 33. Rcc7 (33. d6 $1 {instead would win for White. Now the Re8 is overloaded and Black's pieces cannot protect each other and at the same time stop the advancing d-pawn.}) 33... Ng5 $11 {now Black's pieces are no longer overloaded and the position is equal.} 34. h4 Rf3+ { I thought for some time here and concluded that Black should get a perpetual check out of this sequence.} 35. Kg2 Rxf4 36. hxg5 Rf5 {now the king would not be close enough to the rook to be able to fend off the checks by counterattacking.} 37. Re7 $2 {White desperately wants to win, so plays riskily to prevent the perpetual.} (37. d6 {would lead to the perpetual check scenario, as Black would have no alternative that could prevent the pawn from queening.} Rxg5+) 37... Rxe7 38. Rxe7 Rxg5+ 39. Kf3 Rxd5 40. Rxa7 {This was the position we both had seen on move 37, although I'd evaluate it as at least a sure draw for Black, with winning chances. If White's pawns were further advanced, perhaps it would be another story.} h5 41. a4 {White was getting a bit short on time here and evidently didn't do a CCT check.} (41. Ke3 $17) 41... Rd3+ $19 {the b-pawn is now doomed.} 42. Ke2 Rb3 43. a5 {attempting to run for glory. With the rook in front of it rather than behind it, though, the pawn can never reach the 8th rank alive.} Rxb2+ 44. Kf3 Ra2 {Black now has a completely won endgame.} 45. Kf4 Kg7 46. Kg5 {White's last-gasp attempt to stop the Black pawns.} Ra4 {The rook closes off the king's escape and looms ready for the mate. Timmmmm resigns} (46... Ra4 47. Rxf7+ Kxf7 48. Kh6 Rxa5 49. Kh7 h4 50. Kh6 Rh5#) 0-1

How Carlsen makes us feel better about chess

The Financial Times this weekend has another article on chess, this time in its Lunch with the FT column.  Each week a personality - perhaps the best way to describe the people interviewed - has lunch with one of the FT's reporters and has an informal interview and conversation.  This week, it's Magnus Carlsen, who gave the interview just before the start of the London Chess Classic.

Similar to Kramnik's commentary in "How Kramnik makes us feel better about chess", I found Carlsen's approach to chess and his views on playing and training to be refreshing, having a simplicity and mature clarity about them.  When top players matter-of-factly discuss how positions are unclear and admit their own limits, it's an important lesson for improving players as well.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, but I've excerpted some of what I consider the most relevant points on mental attitudes, the importance of developing intuition and the role of planning.
  • "...what at first seems like studied indifference is a genuine character trait of not easily becoming worked up, of taking things in one’s stride rather than needing to feel always in control. In fact, Carlsen seems unfazed by many things, among them not knowing whom he is playing when, how well he has to do in the London Classic to beat Kasparov’s record, or, for that matter, where to meet for lunch." 
  • "...Carlsen says the difficulty with being tired when playing chess is that things don’t come intuitively. I point out that the stereotypical image of the game is that it is won not through intuition but hyperrational analytical powers. 'Of course, analysis can sometimes give more accurate results than intuition but usually it’s just a lot of work. I normally do what my intuition tells me to do. Most of the time spent thinking is just to double-check.'"
  • "Still intrigued by the claim that intuition has pride of place, I ask him about the importance of spontaneity in chess. 'Of course, you make plans but the positions are often too complicated for proper planning. Then suddenly you get an idea.'"
Carlsen also emphasized the importance of being able to feel the joy in chess, rather than having it become a grind.  This and all of the above points I think are quite applicable to the improving player.

02 December 2012

Annotated Game #73: Round 2 - Round Turkey Tournament

Round 2 of the 2012 Round Turkey Tournament featured a struggle with Rocky Rook in the English.  The first three moves produced an Old Indian-style formation on Black's part, as was previously seen in Annotated Game #35.  Unlike with that game, where White played an early d4 to exchange in the center and then fianchetto his bishop on g2, this time a central strategy is followed, with a very different-looking game.

Rocky's decision to push 5...e4 I think determined the whole strategic character of the game.  I was reasonably familiar with the idea, having looked at it in other closed-type English positions, so it didn't bother me too much.  Here I thought it was going a little too far out on a limb for Black, since the pawn would be difficult to support properly.  That is in fact what occurred, as White in the early middlegame is able to pick up the pawn.

I was worried about some of Black's counterplay shortly afterward, for example if he had chosen to penetrate on the second rank with 19...Rc2.  By the time he decides to try for counterplay a bit later on the kingside, however, I was able to calculate - after some initial trepidation - that it would come to nothing.  Once Black's threat was dealt with, I was able to find active, attacking continuations that increased White's positional advantage and eventually led to a mate threat.  This is in contrast to earlier in the game, where I passed up several interesting, aggressive continuations (8. g4!? and 19. e4 stand out) in order to put safety first.

Thanks again to Rocky for an interesting game and of course for his good work organizing the tournament.  I plan on participating in the next one on FICS, the Double My Egg Nog tournament, which still has one space free for an interested player.

[Event "rated standard match"] [Site "Free Internet Chess Server"] [Date "2012.11.21"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "RockyRook"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "1556"] [BlackElo "1682"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [TimeControl "3600+5"] {A22: English Opening: 1...e5 2 Nc3 Nf6} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 d6 { Black thought for a bit before playing this, so I figured he was out of his personal book.} 4. e3 {the obvious alternative for an English player is g3, but I wanted to stick with a central strategy, having looked at similar position-types before. Previously (in annotated game #35) I had played d4 immediately.} Be7 5. d4 e4 {the big strategic decision in the game. Now play will revolve around attacking Black's central pawns. White scores over 85 percent in the database after this, although the sample size is very small.} 6. Nd2 (6. Ng5 {is also viable.}) 6... Bf5 7. Be2 (7. Qc2 {would force the issue in the center immediately, although I didn't particularly like some of the implications. For example} Bg6 {to remove the hanging bishop as a potential tactical weakness} 8. Ndxe4 Nxe4 9. Nxe4 d5 10. cxd5 Bb4+ 11. Bd2 Bxd2+ 12. Kxd2 {the king is forced to recapture, because of the hanging Ne4 if Qxd2.}) 7... c6 $146 {Secures b5+d5, observes Houdini through the Fritz interface.} ( 7... O-O 8. Qc2 d5 9. cxd5 Nxd5 10. Ncxe4 Bg6 11. Qc4 f5 12. Nc5 Bxc5 13. Qxc5 Nc6 14. O-O Re8 15. Bf3 Bf7 16. a3 Nce7 17. Nc4 b6 18. Qb5 a6 19. Qb3 Rb8 20. Ne5 Be6 21. Qd3 b5 22. Bd2 {Werts,R-De Vries,B Weijers 2004 1-0}) (7... Bg6 { is Houdini's pick.} 8. b4 $11) 8. O-O {I decided on safety first.} (8. g4 { is something that I actually did consider, however, and is Houdini's preference.} Bg6 $14 9. g5 Ng8 10. Ndxe4 {and now} Bxg5 {doesn't restore equality} (10... h6 $5) 11. Nxg5 Qxg5 12. h4 Qe7 13. h5 $16) 8... d5 9. cxd5 ( 9. Qb3 {immediately does seem best here, attacking b7 and not releasing the tension in the center.} Qd7 $14) 9... cxd5 $11 {at the time, I felt that this exchange opened up the queenside to White's eventual advantage while allowing White to pressure the center.} 10. Qb3 b6 $6 {the main problem positionally with this move is that it loses control of c6.} (10... Nc6 11. f3 (11. Qxb7 { would see White pawn-hunting without sufficient support for his queen. For example} Nb4 12. Bb5+ Kf8 13. Nb3 Rb8 14. Qxa7 Ra8 {and now Black gets a perpetual on White's queen.}) 11... exf3 12. Bxf3 $11) 11. f3 $14 {I was focused on getting in this break, as without it White's pieces will be smothered. The idea of course is also to break up Black's central pawns and keep pressuring them.} (11. Bb5+ {I underestimated the strength of this alternative, not realizing that blocking with Bd7 wouldn't work. White simply wins a pawn by force.} Nbd7 $16 (11... Bd7 12. Nxd5 Nxd5 13. Qxd5) 12. Nxd5 O-O 13. Nxe7+ Qxe7) 11... O-O (11... exf3 {I thought would leave Black with an OK game, although I'd prefer White's position. In any case, it was necessary to avoid the loss of a pawn in the game continuation.} 12. Bb5+ Bd7 13. Nxf3 Bxb5 14. Qxb5+ Qd7 15. Ne5 Qxb5 16. Nxb5 $14) 12. fxe4 $16 {the problem for Black now is his hanging Bf5, so he has no choice but to recapture with it.} Bxe4 13. Ndxe4 dxe4 (13... Nxe4 {is worse due to} 14. Nxd5) 14. Qc2 {I felt that Black must have missed this when initially calculating the exchange sequence. It's a bit counterintuitive that the e4 pawn would have no possible additional defenders. Also, retreats (in this case b3-c2) are typically harder to see mentally.} Re8 $2 {despite the engine's question mark, during the game I thought that this was the best practical try for Black, setting up some possible tactics along the e-file.} (14... Qc8 $5 $16 {is the defense found by Houdini, which postpones the fate of the e-pawn due to the pin on the Nc3. The engine still rates White with a strong positional plus, however.}) 15. Nxe4 $18 Nbd7 (15... Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Bg5 {is a possibility that I looked at for some time before taking the e-pawn, since if White snatched the Ra8 it looked like it could lead to some trouble. However, the simple Qf3 retreat would also be fine, so I made the practical decision to go ahead with the pawn capture. Black chose a less tactical line, in any case.}) 16. Bf3 {I didn't think that Black would actually miss the Nxf6+ discovered attack on the Ra8, but thought the bishop would be better on the long diagonal anyway. This comfortably holds White's advantage. Houdini however points out the attacking value was better on c4.} (16. Ng5 $5 {would set up a potential sacrifice on f7.} Rf8 (16... h6 $2 17. Nxf7 Kxf7 18. Bc4+ Kf8 19. Qg6 {with mate coming.}) 17. Bc4 $18) 16... Rc8 $16 17. Nxf6+ Nxf6 18. Qf2 {this was the other reason for moving the bishop to f3, to clear the second rank for the queen move. I was not thinking creatively enough, however; the same benefits from moving Qf5 later would apply here, as well as removing the potential pin on the second rank after Bd2. } (18. Qf5 $16) 18... Rc7 {Houdini doesn't like this, for reasons which will shortly become apparent.} (18... Bd6 $5 19. g3 $14) 19. Bd2 {this is part of what should be a simple plan - connecting the rooks and dominating the c-file - but I had to look at the possible rook invasion on c2.} (19. e4 $5 $16 { I considered this, which would get the central pawn roller moving, but thought it would be too risky.}) 19... Bd6 (19... Rc2 20. Rfc1 $5 {was my primary line} (20. Qe1 {is better}) 20... Rxb2 21. Qe1 {with the idea that now Black has to watch out for his rook being trapped.}) 20. Rac1 $16 {now White can dominate the c-file, since Black's rook on c7 - while defended twice - can be exchanged off at will and Rc1 then played.} Ne4 {I had seen this possibility and decided that it wasn't worth trying to avoid. The exchange is essentially forced, but leaves White that much closer to a winning endgame. The trade also removes an obstacle to White pushing e4.} 21. Bxe4 Rxe4 22. Qf5 {I selected this because it was the most active option for the queen and posed several problems - the immediate attack on e4, the potential control of c8 in tandem with a rook (which is what eventually happens), and an attack on h7. Regarding the last possibility, White has some threats involving a rook lift (Rf1-f3-h3) and the Bd2 would be a great help in a kingside attack once e4 is played.} Rh4 $6 { I had looked at this variation and thought it was superficially attractive, but in the end lead nowhere for Black.} (22... Re8 23. Qf3 $16) 23. g3 { the obvious response, blocking the attack on h2 and kicking the rook.} Rh6 $2 { now if Black had the time to play Rf6, he could solve his problems. But he doesn't have that crucial tempo.} (23... g6 24. Qf6 Qxf6 25. Rxf6 Rxc1+ 26. Bxc1 Be7 $16) 24. Rxc7 $18 Qxc7 25. Rc1 Qb7 {loses by force, although even after something like . ..g6 Black has a hopeless endgame.} (25... g6 {there is nothing better in the position, says Houdini.} 26. Rxc7 gxf5 27. Rxa7 Bf8 $18) 26. Rc8+ Bf8 27. Bb4 {I have to admit that I stopped calculating at this point, seeing no viable way out for Black.} g5 {I told Rocky in the post-game discussion that this was a fiendishly clever try. It certainly made me work for the win. the point is that the rook can now contribute defensively, unlike after ...g6.} 28. Bxf8 {not the quickest way, but still a mate.} Rc6 {stopping Bh6 delivering mate.} 29. Qxg5+ {it took me a while to figure out an accurate continuation. Among other things I considered bailing out into a won queen endgame by exchanging rooks on c6, which however would have been a real struggle. The necessary follow-on Qd8 was not obvious to me, at first.} Rg6 { forced. Now White finds the move that protects the rook and keeps the back rank mate threats alive. Black will have to either give up the queen or accept mate immediately.} 30. Qd8 {RockyRook resigns} 1-0

28 November 2012

Annotated Game #72: Round 1 - Round Turkey Tournament

This was technically the first round game of the 2012 Round Turkey tournament, although it was in fact played after the round 2 game (analysis forthcoming) against Rocky Rock.  TomG graciously took over Wang's spot, after the latter was a no-show, and played an interesting take on the Slow Slav as White against me.

One of the two main points of analytical interest in this game actually occurs quite early on, with move 6.  Black makes a standard-looking developing move (...Nbd7), which is in fact an unintended pawn sacrifice, a fact which I spotted immediately afterwards.  The variations that flow from the initial tactic, which involves a queen fork on b5, show a dynamic balance between material on the one side, and piece activity and placement on the other, that is worth studying.  White however avoids the line, instead relieving the central pawn tension with 7. c5, at the same time gaining a bit of space on the queenside.  I usually am perfectly happy to see these types of moves, since they pose no immediate problems and offer possibilities of counterplay by attacking the head of the pawn chain.

The second main point of interest is the 17th (and last) move of the game.  As played, it was the result of a misclick, the electronic equivalent of a touch-move fault in an over-the-board (OTB) tournament.  With 16. e4, TomG had thrown down the gauntlet in the center and I was forced to consider the various permutations of pawn exchanges and follow-up moves.  Unfortunately, this type of pawn structure is a particular weakness for me, as I have trouble calculating and evaluating it.  However, that makes it all the more important for me to play.  My intended move (17...Qe5) was fine on the surface, but would in fact have lead to a significant White plus following the next round of exchanges.  Taking with the pawn in the center would have led to equality instead.

Props to TomG for a well-played game until that point, which despite the premature ending still provided value to me in the post-game analysis process.

[Event "rated standard match"] [Site "Free Internet Chess Server"] [Date "2012.11.22"] [Round "?"] [White "TomG"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D10"] [WhiteElo "1420"] [BlackElo "1713"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "34"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] [TimeControl "3600+5"] {D10: Slav Defence} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Nc3 Bf5 5. Bd3 Bxd3 6. Qxd3 Nbd7 {this was played rather quickly on general principle. I then spotted, however, that White could win a pawn by force, although Black would have some compensation in development.} (6... e6 {is the overwhelming choice here. Normally a game would transpose back into a standard Slow Slav variation after this, unless White deliberately avoided Nf3.}) 7. c5 {White either didn't see the chance to pick up a pawn, or didn't want to go down that road. This removes the central tension early, which is tempting but dampens White's possibilities in the center.} (7. cxd5 cxd5 8. Qb5 {with a double attack on d5 and b7.} e6 {is what Houdini prefers as a response, giving the line as equal.} 9. Qxb7 Be7 10. Nf3 O-O {at this point Black has a small lead in development and White has to take some care with his queen placement, so as not to get it trapped.} 11. Qa6 Rb8 {and now if} 12. Qxa7 Bb4 13. Qa6 Bxc3+ 14. bxc3 Ne4 { is considered equal by the engine, with Black having enough superior piece activity to provide compensation for the material.}) 7... e5 {the obvious pawn break, taking advantage of the fact that White has delayed playing Nf3. This gains space for Black in all variations.} 8. f3 $146 {Secures e4+g4, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} (8. b4 {is Houdini's choice and a logical follow-up to the c5 thrust, which gained a bit of space for White on the queenside. This would support c5 against Black undermining it from the front with ...b6.}) 8... Be7 9. Nge2 O-O 10. O-O {this marks the start of the middlegame, at least for Black; White still needs to fully complete his development.} Qc7 {largely a developing and waiting move, connecting the rooks and putting the queen on a more useful square supporting e5.} 11. Bd2 b6 { after some thought, I didn't see much of a future for kingside play for Black, so decided to work to undermine White's pawn structure and play on the queenside and center.} 12. b4 Rab8 (12... Rfe8 {immediately probably was better, as the e-file is relatively more important and potentially useful to Black.}) 13. Rab1 b5 {here Black is guilty of prematurely releasing the tension. No reason not to keep the pressure up on c5.} (13... Rfe8 14. Rfc1 $11 Bf8 {with a similar idea as to the game continuation.}) 14. Ng3 Rfe8 15. Rbe1 Bf8 {intending eventual redeployment on g7, if possible. Otherwise, the bishop still provides a useful extra defender of the king position and its retreat activates the Re8.} 16. e4 {bold play and the most active choice. I have problems evaluating these kinds of positions where pawn duos are facing off against each other and there are different permutations involving their exchanges.} exd4 17. Qxd4 Qd6 {ChessAdmin resigns} (17... Qe5 {was my intended move, which I thought would hold things together in the center.} 18. Qxe5 Nxe5 {was essentially where I stopped my analysis, not seeing any major threats. However} 19. exd5 {is awkward for Black and Houdini points out a nasty variation:} Nxd5 20. Nxd5 cxd5 {with a positional plus for White due to the isolated queen pawn, with an additional tactic} 21. Rxe5 Rxe5 22. Bf4 { available to increase that plus.}) (17... dxe4 {is instead recommended.}) 1-0

24 November 2012

Annotated Game #71: Mate in Never

Once the 2012 Round Turkey tournament is completed, I'll post analyses of those games.  This time, I'll continue my past tournament game analysis with this heartbreaker.

Following the relative success in Annotated Game #70 against a higher-rated opponent, in the next round of the quad tournament I faced another Class A player.  My opponent employed an offbeat defense as Black, starting with a queenside fianchetto; see Annotated Game #30 for a similar start.  Although White could have made some early improvements in play, he gets a favorable position out of the opening.  By move 11 there is an opposite-sides castling situation, which even without queens on the board can be dangerous for the player (in this case Black) with a weaker king position.

The course of the rest of the game demonstrates how weak my thinking process was at the time and the dangers of passive play once a winning advantage has been obtained.  Black in the middlegame ignores White's potential threats down the half-open c-file, which eventually are realized on move 22.  Breaking into Black's king position, White misses a mate in 3 on move 26 - a shocking rook sacrifice to shut off the king's escape - but nevertheless emerges with a comfortable winning material advantage.  Here is where things start going wrong, ironically.

Black refuses to go quietly and instead plays the most threatening moves possible, which is the best (and usually only) way to aim for a swindle.  White's key mistake is on move 35, where instead of calmly taking Black's h-pawn, he backs his king into h1. Objectively he is still fine, but the conditions for the swindle have now been created.

Black's immediate next move gives White a mate in 2.  I recall thinking hard about the position, knowing that there must be a winning possibility, but I was simply unable to see it.  The psychological pressure - all self-inflicted - simply got to me.  This is also another example of the importance of CCT (checks, captures and threats) in the thinking process.  The failure to see the mate is also symptomatic of a more general weakness of mine in visualizing mating nets.  I've gotten better at it, especially in the last year, but it's still an area for improvement.  The ratings gap (around 300 points) also contributed greatly to the psychological pressure; I've subsequently learned to put aside ratings fear and instead treat it as an opportunity.

The remainder of the game - still won for White up until move 43 - is a classic example of the winning side making a series of passive moves and failing to calculate the more active ones, for fear of losing.  This is punished effectively by Black, who never stops looking for aggressive continuations and finally traps White's king on the back rank.

I remember that after the game, one of the kibitzers mentioned to me that I had missed a mate.  I told him, feeling somewhat bitter, that I knew that.  Too bad that as it happened, it was a mate in never.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "88"] {A10: English Opening: Unusual Replies for Black} 1. c4 b6 2. Nf3 Bb7 3. g3 Bxf3 4. exf3 d5 $146 {that's right, out of the database on move 4. This can't really be good for Black.} (4... c5 {is overwhlemingly played here.}) 5. Bg2 ({ The obvious} 5. cxd5 Qxd5 6. Nc3 {is also good for White's development.}) 5... dxc4 6. Qa4+ {White is in a bit too much of a hurry to recover the pawn.} (6. f4 {looks strong here, will be necessary at some point anyway, and gains a tempo with the attack on the Ra8.}) 6... Qd7 7. Qxc4 Qc6 8. Na3 (8. d3 { would be the alternative choice to help White's development. I preferred the idea of the central knight placement, however.}) 8... Qxc4 {while the queen exchange simplifies down material, it also leaves Black with weaknesses on the queenside and in the center.} 9. Nxc4 Nd7 10. f4 O-O-O 11. O-O {White has a much better king position, by comparison. Even without the queens on the board, Black has to worry about king safety.} Ngf6 {developing knights before bishops, but ...e6 would have allowed Black to cover b4 with the bishop.} 12. Rd1 (12. b4 {would have taken advantage of Black's failure to play ...e6 by gaining space on the queenside.}) 12... g6 {Black prefers developing his bishop on the long diagonal. This should not be a surprise, considering his first two moves.} 13. Ne5 {this prematurely gives up White's hold on e5; the minor piece exchange also favors Black, since the Nc4 is superior to the Nd7.} Nxe5 14. fxe5 Ng4 $2 {this is tactically unsound due to a pinning theme, which I unfortunately failed to find.} (14... Nd5 {is the logical central spot for the knight, which cannot be chased away by a pawn.} 15. d4 $11) 15. d4 $6 { focusing on the "obvious need" to protect the e5 pawn.} (15. Bh3 {a shame that White overlooked this excellent chance, says Fritz.} h5 16. f3 $18) 15... Nxe5 $11 {the only way to get the knight back in the action. This works due to the hanging Rd1.} 16. Bf4 {White is unfazed by the sacrificed pawn, which allows him some useful initiative.} Nc4 17. Rac1 Nd6 18. a4 $6 (18. Rc2 {sometimes the obvious plan is the best. Black is going to be on the defensive due to the half-open c-file and White's bishops pointing in his direction.} Kb8 19. Rdc1 Rc8 20. Bh3 f5 21. Re1) 18... h5 {with opposite-side castling, the middlegame can be a race to see who gets in their attack first. Black here makes his first aggressive move.} 19. Re1 e6 {this solves Black's immediate problem of freeing the bishop from protecting the e-pawn, but also creates other positional weaknesses.} 20. Be5 {obvious but not best.} (20. a5 {is Houdini's attacking choice. White advanced the pawn already, so why not use it?} bxa5 ( 20... b5 {is assessed as best by Houdini, declining the second pawn.}) 21. Be5 Bh6 22. Ra1 Bd2 23. Re2 Bb4 24. Bxh8 Rxh8 $14) 20... Rg8 (20... Bh6 {as in the above variation would more creatively help solve Black's problems by getting the bishop out.}) 21. Rc6 Bg7 $4 {ignoring White's threats on the c-file.} ( 21... Ne8 $11 {is the defense preferred by the engines, also removing the knight from potential tactics involving the pin of the c-pawn.}) 22. Rec1 $18 { now the doubling of rooks is obvious.} Bxe5 $2 (22... Ne8 23. Bxc7 Rxd4 24. Bxb6+ Kd7 25. Bxa7 Rd3 $18) 23. Rxc7+ (23. dxe5 $6 {is clearly worse} Ne8 $14) 23... Kb8 24. dxe5 Nf5 {this allows a mate in four. Let's see how far White goes along the mating path...} (24... Ne4 {no good, but what else? Says Fritz.} 25. Bxe4 Rd1+ 26. Rxd1 Kxc7 $18) 25. Rb7+ {so far so good...} Ka8 26. Rxb6+ { not leading to mate, but still winning.} (26. Rc8+ $1 {at this point in my career, I would not have even considered this type of tactical, sacrificial move.} Rxc8 27. Rxb6+ Rc6 28. Bxc6#) 26... Rd5 $18 27. Bxd5+ exd5 28. Rbc6 { White emerges an exchange and a pawn up. Unfortunately, Black does not just roll over and die and I start getting careless as a result.} Rg7 29. b4 (29. Rc8+ {and White can already relax, comments Fritz.} Kb7 30. R1c7+ Kb6 31. Rc6+ Ka5 32. Rb8 $18) 29... Nd4 30. Rc8+ Kb7 31. R1c7+ Kb6 32. Kg2 g5 33. Rd7 h4 34. Rxd5 h3+ 35. Kh1 {Although this move still wins in objective analysis, it is the root of White's coming loss, giving the king no escape squares off the back rank.} (35. Kxh3 {was perfectly fine, but I didn't bother calculating it because it superficially looked too dangerous.} g4+ 36. Kg2 $18) 35... Ne6 { this gives White another mating opportunity, this time a mate in 2. An excellent example of where using CCT would have made the difference.} 36. Rd7 ( 36. Rb5+ Ka6 37. Rc6#) 36... g4 $18 37. a5+ (37. Re8 {would have made excellent use of the pinned pawn on f7.} Rg5 38. Ree7) 37... Kb5 38. Rxa7 Rg5 39. Rc1 Rf5 {Black continues to play for a swindle, setting up the most aggressive and threatening continuation possible.} 40. Kg1 (40. Ra8 {the engines aren't afraid of the threat to f2.} Rxf2 41. a6 Ra2 42. Rb8+ Kxa6 43. Ra8+ Kb5 44. Rxa2) 40... Nd4 41. Rb1 {White continues to make passive moves and does not calculate more active possibilities.} (41. Rb7+ Ka4 42. a6 Ne2+ 43. Kf1 Nxc1 44. a7 $18) 41... Nf3+ 42. Kh1 Nd2 43. Rb2 {the careless, losing move.} (43. Rb7+ {again wins, but is not as easy to see here.} Ka6 44. Rb6+ Ka7 45. Rd1 Rxf2 46. Rh6 $18) (43. Rc1 {would have kept the win in hand as well, more simply.}) 43... Rxf2 (43... Rxe5 {is the quicker mate.} 44. Rb7+ Ka6 45. Rb6+ Ka7 46. Ra6+ Kxa6 47. b5+ Ka7 48. Rb1 Nxb1 49. b6+ Ka6 50. b7 Re1#) 44. Rxf7 (44. Rb1 {does not improve anything} Nf3 45. Rb7+ Ka4 46. Ra1+ Kb3 47. Rb1+ Ka2 48. Ra1+ Kxa1 49. e6 Rxh2#) 44... Rxf7 (44... Rxf7 45. Rb1 Nxb1 46. Kg1 Nd2 47. e6 Rf1#) 0-1

22 November 2012

Book completed: The High Window

From Chapter 15 of Raymond Chandler's The High Window:
The chessmen, red and white bone, were lined up ready to go and had that sharp, competent and complicated look they always have at the beginning of a game.  It was ten o'clock in the evening, I was home at the apartment, I had a pipe in my mouth, a drink at my elbow and nothing on my mind except two murders and the mystery of how Mrs Elizabeth Bright Murdock had got her Brasher Doubloon back while I still had it in my pocket.
I opened a little paper-bound book of tournament games published in Leipzig, picked out a dashing-looking Queen's Gambit, moved the white pawn to Queen's four, and the bell rang at the door.

From Chapter 36:
It was night.  I went home and put my old house clothes on and set the chessmen out and mixed a drink and played over another Capablanca.  It went fifty-nine moves.  Beautiful, cold, remorseless chess, almost creepy in its silent implacability.
When it was done I listened at the open window for a while and smelled the night.  Then I carried my glass out to the kitchen and rinsed it and filled it with ice water and stood at the sink sipping it and looking at my face in the mirror.
'You and Capablanca,' I said.

18 November 2012

2012 Round Turkey Tournament (final update - Nov 26)

2012 Round Turkey Tournament organization 

Organizer: Rocky Rook


Rocky Rook
TomG (replacing Wang)

Time Control: 60 5 (Game/60 plus 5 second increment)

Site: FICS

Round 1:

TomG vs. ChessAdmin   1-0
Rocky Rook vs. Moth    1-0

Round 2:

ChessAdmin vs. Rocky Rook   1-0
Moth vs. TomG  1-0

Round 3:

Moth vs. ChessAdmin  0-1
TomG vs. Rocky Rook  0-1


I'll keep the above updated with results as they come in.  Once I have a chance to analyze my games, I'll also put up annotated versions as separate posts.

Will have to think about my openings selection for this tournament.  Should I use the tried and true ones, but which my opponents can prepare for ahead of time?  Or go with new, untested weapons that may still be partly on the drawing board?  Hmm....

Nov 22 update:  It's been an interesting two games so far.  The one with TomG would have been a whole lot more interesting if I hadn't misclicked and put my queen down a square off, which forced an early resignation. Will be useful to look at the game up to that point in analysis, though.

Nov 24 update:  Had a nail-biter of a game against Moth (Tim Clark), managed to pull it out in the end.

Nov 26 update:  Final results are in and I've won the tournament on tiebreak.  Many thanks to Rocky for coming up with the tournament idea and to him and my other two opponents for playing such interesting games, which will be analyzed over the next week or so.

04 November 2012

Annotated Game #70: Early endgame struggle

This next tournament game is from the first round of a quad.  My Class A opponent chose early to head for a queenless middlegame, which I think mostly benefited Black.  Some interesting tactical and positional themes arose at various points and in the final position I had the only winning chances, but accepted a draw due to the ratings difference (over 250 points).  While an understandable decision, this really isn't the way to improve one's chess, which requires the mental toughness to take on and defeat superior opponents.

Some highlights of the analysis:
  • The White line with 4. a4 is considered a sideline of the Slav with 3. Nc3, apparently with good reason.  Black scores quite well in it and is not seriously challenged.  The counterblow 4...e5 is quite effective here.
  • The tactic on move 9 that White missed is instructive.  The White knight can simply run roughshod over Black's queenside, which is undeveloped, with the dual threat of Nc7+ and Nb6.  The intermediate bishop capture on d2 for Black doesn't help.
  • Black shied away from concrete analysis on move 18 of the obvious pawn advance, kicking the Nc3 and winning a pawn on d5 after the exchanges are through.  The actual move played, 18...Nd4, in fact invalidates Black's potential tactic by blocking the pin on the d-file.  This shows how my thinking on tactics was in the past much more muddled; I was unable to clearly break down the tactical elements in a position.
  • Black keeps plugging away, however, and makes the good strategic choice to simplify down into a minor piece endgame where by move 27 his pieces are relatively stronger.
  • The move 33 variation with ...h5 is an excellent example of endgame strategy and tactics.  Black could have assured his superiority on the kingside with this tactic.
  • The move 39 variation has a game-winning tactic based on promotion and a unique X-ray motif.  Another useful pattern, along with the move 33 variation, to keep in mind for potential endgame tactics.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "85"] {D10: Slav Defence: cxd5 (without early Nf3) and 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. a4 {White evidently doesn't want to play a gambit line and looks to recover the pawn as soon as possible.} e5 {end of personal book. The idea is of course similar to other lines in the Nc3 variation, for example after 4. e4, giving back the pawn in order to disrupt White's play.} 5. dxe5 Qxd1+ 6. Nxd1 Bb4+ {Black scores over 50% from this point with all moves in the database, but especially well with this one.} 7. Nc3 b5 $6 $146 (7... Nd7 { is the best by test, although there are very few games in the database. This was also Fritz's preference. Here's the highest-level example:} 8. Nf3 Nc5 9. Be3 Nb3 10. Rd1 Bf5 11. Nd4 Bg6 12. g4 h5 13. Bg2 Ne7 14. h3 hxg4 15. hxg4 Rxh1+ 16. Bxh1 Nc5 17. Ra1 O-O-O 18. Bg2 a5 19. f4 Be4 20. Kf2 Bxg2 21. Kxg2 Bxc3 22. bxc3 Nd5 23. Kf3 Rh8 24. Bf2 Rh3+ 25. Bg3 Nxc3 26. Kg2 Rxg3+ 27. Kxg3 Nb3 28. Nc2 Nxa1 29. Nxa1 Nxa4 30. f5 Nc5 31. Kf4 b5 {0-1 (31) Gavrilov,O (2338) -Danielian,E (2433) Minsk 2005}) 8. Bd2 Bd7 $6 {Black's intent when playing ... b5.} (8... Ne7 {would cover d5 and keep things relatively even.} 9. Nf3 $14) 9. e4 {This overlooks a tactical resource for White where he could exploit the d5 hole with his knight following the pawn exchange on b5.} (9. axb5 $5 cxb5 10. Nd5 Bxd2+ 11. Kxd2 {now Black cannot adequately defend against the knight's threats, as his rook is trapped in the corner.} Kd8 12. Nb6 axb6 13. Rxa8 $16) 9... a5 {now Black's rook has an out.} 10. axb5 cxb5 11. Nd5 Bxd2+ 12. Kxd2 Ra7 13. Ne2 (13. Nf3 {would give the knight greater scope and not block the Bf1.}) 13... Nc6 14. f4 Nge7 {a position of dynamic equality. } 15. h3 {Secures g4, notes Fritz. However, the bishop development to g2 takes some extra time, which Black uses to good effect.} (15. Nxe7 {is Houdini's preference, which would avoid later problems down the d-file.}) 15... O-O 16. g4 Rd8 17. Bg2 ({Bailing out with} 17. Nxe7+ {was still possible.}) 17... Be6 { putting White in a bind.} 18. Nec3 $2 (18. Kc1 {is what the engines agree is the best defense.} Rad7 (18... Nxd5 19. exd5 Bxd5 20. Bxd5 Rxd5 21. Nc3) 19. Nxe7+ Rxe7 $15) 18... Nd4 $6 {an overly cautious move that lets the Nd5 off the hook by breaking the pin.} (18... b4 {is the obvious and best response.} 19. Na4 Nxd5 20. exd5 Bxd5 21. Bxd5 Rxd5+ $17 {and Black is a clear pawn to the good with his pieces better placed than White's.}) 19. Rad1 $11 b4 { a move too late.} 20. Nxe7+ Rxe7 21. Nd5 {Now instead of being a pawn up, Black has another Nd5 to contend with.} Nc6 (21... Red7 $5 $11) 22. Kc2 Red7 { Black's pieces look menacing, with the pressure on the d-file and d5, but White has everything covered.} 23. Rhe1 b3+ {this is a bit impatient.} (23... a4 {is what Houdini advises.}) 24. Kb1 $6 (24. Kc3 {would take advantage of the new hole on c3.}) 24... Nb4 $15 {The black knight is well posted, comments Fritz.} 25. Nc3 Rxd1+ 26. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 27. Nxd1 Nd3 {without the rooks on the board, Black's well-placed knight is relatively stronger.} 28. f5 {interesting that it took White such a long time to play this. Despite the loss of the e5 pawn, White needs to extend his space on the kingside and drive Black's bishop away.} Bc8 29. Ne3 Nxe5 30. Bf1 Bb7 (30... Ba6 {is also possible, but I felt this would tie Black to the c-pawn in an uncomfortable way.}) 31. Nxc4 (31. Bxc4 $5 {would be the better way to capture, according to the engines.} Bxe4+ 32. Kc1 Nxc4 33. Nxc4 a4 $15) 31... Nxc4 32. Bxc4 Bxe4+ 33. Kc1 Bg2 (33... h5 { played immediately is a more sophisticated way to attack White's kingside pawns.} 34. Bxb3 h4 {the key move. Now the h-pawn will fall to Black's bishop and give White winning chances .}) 34. h4 Bh3 35. Be2 h5 36. g5 Bxf5 37. Bxh5 { In contrast with the above variation, here black's extra queenside pawn gets him very little, with proper defense.} Kf8 38. Bd1 a4 39. Kd2 $2 {a major tactical error, which I fail to spot.} (39. Be2 Bd7 $15 {and it looks quite drawish.}) 39... Ke7 (39... a3 $1 40. bxa3 (40. Bxb3 axb2 41. Bc2 b1=Q 42. Bxb1 Bxb1) 40... b2 41. Bc2 b1=Q {and the x-ray motif wins the bishop.} 42. Bxb1 Bxb1) 40. Kc3 Bd7 (40... f6 {immediately is a better try for an advantage, hoping to exchange off pawns and then pick one up with the king.}) 41. h5 f6 42. gxf6+ $2 (42. h6 $5 {is the best option White has, notes Fritz.} gxh6 43. gxh6 Kf8 44. Bh5 f5 45. Bg6 Kg8 $11) 42... Kxf6 $19 43. Kb4 {and here Black takes the draw due to the ratings difference, although he was in no danger and could have played on to see if there were winning chances.} 1/2-1/2

28 October 2012

Annotated Game #69: It should have been easy

The following, a final-round tournament game, follows the path of Annotated Game #53 through move 10 in a quirky sideline of the Caro-Kann Classical.  In contrast to the previous game, this time I correctly hit on the idea of playing 12...Qa5+ and equalize immediately.  However, I choose a somewhat passive follow-up with ...Qc7 and then give White some chances to obtain the initiative.

A further bit of awkward play by Black allows White to create some menacing-looking threats down the h-file.  White manages to use the optical threat - as the engines point out, there is no real one - to bluff Black out of accepting a bishop sacrifice on move 22.  Black was too afraid of the h-file "threats" to see that White in fact cannot break through.  Despite this, Black is still equal and then manages to build up some real threats of his own on the queenside using the half-open c-file.  Alas, Black mishandles the attack and settles for a drawn position in the end, where his rook perpetually chases the White king around.

This really should have been an easy game for Black, whether to secure equality and a likely draw early on (with 13...Qf5) or to win by picking up the piece on move 22.  Instead, Black sees too many ghosts and makes things much more complicated than they should be.  At least the failed attack on the queenside is instructive, among other things showing how Black should have opened rather than closed lines with his pawns and could have better exploited the c-file.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 {this allows the coming move-order trick. If White wants to play h4, it should be done immediately.} Nf6 {the main line is ...Nd7 and if Black plays only this, White's move-order would not make a difference.} 7. h4 Nh5 $5 {this always surprises White. Now the h5 advance is blocked and exchanges are difficult to avoid.} 8. Ne5 (8. Ne2 {is the only way to avoid an exchange of minor pieces. For example:} Bf5 9. g3 e6 10. Bg2 Nd7 11. O-O Bd6 12. b3 O-O 13. Bb2 Qc7 14. c4 Nhf6 15. Qc1 Rad8 16. Re1 Rfe8 17. Nc3 Bf8 18. Ng5 g6 19. d5 cxd5 20. cxd5 e5 21. Nce4 Qb6 22. Qc4 Rc8 {Georgiev,K-Schlosser, P/Germany 1999/GER-chT/1/2-1/2 (49)}) 8... Nxg3 9. Nxg6 hxg6 10. fxg3 e6 { the position is equal. I find it easier to play as Black, though, given White's more fractured pawn structure.} 11. Bf4 (11. c3 {was the choice in the only game in the database with this line:} Bd6 12. Qf3 Nd7 13. Bg5 Qxg5 14. hxg5 Rxh1 15. O-O-O Rh5 16. d5 Ne5 17. Qe3 cxd5 18. Be2 Rh2 19. Qg1 Rh7 20. c4 Nxc4 21. Bxc4 Rc8 22. Qxa7 Rxc4+ 23. Kb1 Rh5 24. Qxb7 Rxg5 25. a4 Rxg3 26. Rh1 Rc7 27. Rh8+ Ke7 28. Qa8 Kf6 29. Qd8+ Ke5 30. Qh4 Kf5 31. a5 Be5 32. a6 Ra7 33. Qh1 g5 34. Rh3 Rxh3 35. Qxh3+ g4 36. Qd3+ Kf6 37. b4 {1-0 (37) Vasylius,K (2105) -Kaunas,K (2275) Vilnius 2009}) 11... Bd6 12. Qf3 Qa5+ {a typical queen development in the Caro-Kann Classical. White either plays c3 and accepts a pawn structure weakness, or plays Bd2 and admits that Bf4 was a mistake.} 13. Bd2 Qc7 {a passive placement for the queen. Houdini assesses that White can ignore the threat to the g3 pawn and proceed with development, or protect it with the rook, with a slight advantage.} (13... Qf5 {would be best. Black should be happy to exchange queens if that is the outcome. Otherwise, his queen is actively placed.} 14. Qxf5 gxf5) 14. Bf4 (14. O-O-O Bxg3 15. Bd3 Nd7 16. Rdf1 {and White's initiative on the kingside provides compensation for the pawn.}) 14... Qa5+ 15. Bd2 (15. c3 Bxf4 16. gxf4 Nd7 $11) 15... Qc7 16. Rh3 { White now avoids the position repetition and chooses the defensive option.} Nd7 (16... Qe7 {would be a more defensive choice for Black, paying more attention to his kingside weaknesses.}) 17. O-O-O Nf6 18. Bc4 O-O-O 19. g4 Nd5 20. g3 { Secures f4, notes Fritz.} Rd7 {an awkward move that now leaves the Rh8 hanging. } (20... Kb8 {would be a simple preparatory (for a c5 pawn break) and waiting move.}) 21. h5 {White now has what appear to be worrying threats on the h-file, although Black is in no real danger.} b5 {overly optimistic.} (21... e5 { would be a useful pawn break, countering White's flank attack in the center.} 22. c3 exd4 23. cxd4 Qb6) 22. h6 $4 {White lets it slip away} (22. Bb3 { was simplest and best.}) 22... gxh6 $4 {here Black panics and doesn't correctly calculate the piece sacrifice, which gives White nothing.} (22... bxc4 $142 {a pity that Black didn't try this, comments Fritz.} 23. hxg7 Rg8 24. Rh8 Rdd8 $19) 23. Bxd5 cxd5 {now it would be obviously better for black to have his king on b8 and the possibility of playing Rd8-c8, instead of the Rd7 placement.} 24. Bxh6 (24. Rxh6 {is superior:} Rxh6 25. Bxh6 Bxg3 26. Rd3 Be1 27. Bf4) 24... Kb7 (24... Bxg3 $5 {is now a nice tactical possibility, due to the deflection of the Rh3 from protecting the Bh6.} 25. Rdh1 Rxh6 26. Rxh6 Qf4+ 27. Qxf4 Bxf4+ 28. Kd1 Bxh6 29. Rxh6) 25. Rdh1 Rc8 26. Qb3 Qb6 27. Be3 Rdc7 $15 {Black now has some momentum going on the queenside.} 28. R1h2 a5 29. Qd3 a4 { Black gains space} 30. Bf4 Bxf4+ 31. gxf4 Qa5 {not the strongest follow-up.} ( 31... a3 {is the audacious attacking move that Houdini suggests.} 32. bxa3 { is not advisable:} Rc3 33. Qf1 (33. Qxc3 Rxc3 34. Rxc3 Qxd4 35. Kb2 Qxf4) 33... Qa5 34. Kb1 b4 {with a nice attack.}) 32. c3 $6 (32. Qd1) 32... b4 $17 33. Rc2 b3 {after this, Black's attack has nowhere to go.} (33... Qb6 $5 $15 {is what Fritz suggests.}) (33... a3 {is still Houdini's choice.}) 34. axb3 $15 axb3 35. Rch2 $2 (35. Rd2 Ka8 $15) 35... Qa1+ {here I saw the route to a draw and could not see the route to an advantage.} (35... Rc4 $142 $17 {is what the engines find. One possible continuation is} 36. Rh1 Qa2 37. Rd1 Rxc3+ 38. Qxc3 Rxc3+ 39. Rxc3 Qa1+ 40. Kd2 Qxb2+ 41. Kd3 Kb6) 36. Qb1 $11 {the draw is now clear. Black will be able to chase White's king around and also threaten pawns, although will not be able to make progress.} Ra8 37. Qxa1 Rxa1+ 38. Kd2 Kc6 39. Rh8 Rb1 40. Kd3 Rd1+ 41. Rd2 Rg1 42. g5 Rg3+ 43. Ke2 Rg2+ 44. Ke3 Rg1 45. Rb8 Rb7 46. Rc8+ Rc7 47. Ra8 Rh1 48. Rf2 Re1+ (48... Rh3+ {would be more accurate.} ) 49. Kd2 Rb1 1/2-1/2

25 October 2012

Vacation; Blogger Quad Tournament

I'll be on vacation until mid-November.  Or "on holiday" if you speak the Queen's English.

I expect to return refreshed and ready for the chess fight.  Hopefully the Blogger Quad, or as Rocky Rook calls it, the Round Turkey Tournament, will be waiting for me when I get back.  If it goes off as planned, I will analyze the games here for everyone's enjoyment (or horror, depending on how the games go).

20 October 2012

Book completed: The Big Sleep

From Chapter 24 of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep:
I went over to a floor lamp and pulled the switch, went back to put off the ceiling light, and went across the room again to the chessboard on a card table under the lamp.  There was a problem laid out on the board, a six-mover.  I couldn't solve it, like a lot of my problems.  I reached down and moved a knight, then pulled my hat and coat off and threw them somewhere.  All this time the soft giggling went on from the bed, that sound that made me think of rats behind a wainscoting in an old house.

And a bit later...
I looked down at the chessboard.  The move with the knight was wrong.  I put it back where I had moved it from.  Knights had no meaning in this game.  It wasn't a game for knights.

Annotated Game #68: How to deal with the QGD setup in the English?

The following seventh-round tournament game features an old problem: how to deal with the Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) setup in the English.  White tries yet another approach, this time exchanging on d5 immediately.  Analysis of the game shows that this is not a bad way to play, particularly if White had tried a different approach on move 8; the game included in the notes from Jesse Kraai is interesting to see, in that respect.

Prior to embarking on a comprehensive analysis of my tournament games, I had not realized either the frequency with which I had actually faced the QGD, or the difficulties inherent in playing the English against it, rather than simply transposing with d4 to the main lines.  (There of course are plenty of other difficulties involved in that, including the large body of opening theory.)  As a result, I've now worked out a reasonably consistent approach involving an early e3, which I'm satisfiied with (if not completely happy).  This should have better practical results than essentially randomly picking from the variety of other early move choices (4. g3, 4. b3 and 4. cxd5).  As I noted in Annotated Game #64, the lack of such a consistent approach made it feel like I was playing a new, unfamiliar opening each time.

Going back to the actual game, White makes a number of small errors and one significant one on move 13.  The engines' recommendation of 13...a5 I found instructive, showing how Black can use that type of pawn lever against White's queenside formation when it is left underdefended.  Although Black retains a noticeable advantage, thanks to White's somewhat incoherent strategic play, White is smart enough to realize it and then manages to trade down into a drawn position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A17"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 {I've played a number of moves at this point against the QGD setup. The most popular way to play this position is to simply transpose to a QGD after d4. The text move is the second most popular.} exd5 5. g3 {again, transposing with d4 (into an Exchange QGD) is the most played here, but I prefer to take an independent route and keep the game in English territory. The text move is again second most popular.} Bd6 {this makes the d5 pawn weaker and doesn't seem to place the bishop on a particularly useful diagonal. c6 is most often played and seems logical to play immediately, thereby reinforcing d5 again and blunting the Bg2 development.} 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O c6 8. a3 {Prevents intrusion on b4, notes Fritz. The point was to prepare and then execute the b4 advance.} (8. d3 {would seem to be a more useful move, if one intends to avoid more standard play with d4. Here is an interesting sample game from Jesse Kraai.} Nbd7 9. e4 dxe4 10. dxe4 Qc7 11. Nd4 Rd8 12. Nf5 Bf8 13. Qc2 Ne5 14. Bg5 Bxf5 15. Bxf6 gxf6 16. exf5 Qa5 17. Ne4 Be7 18. Qe2 Rd7 19. Qh5 Rad8 20. Qh6 Ng4 21. Qh5 Ne5 22. g4 Nd3 23. Qh6 Qe5 24. f4 Qxb2 25. g5 Nxf4 26. Rxf4 Qxa1+ 27. Bf1 Rd1 28. g6 Rxf1+ 29. Rxf1 Qd4+ 30. Nf2 fxg6 31. fxg6 hxg6 32. Qxg6+ Kf8 33. Qh6+ Kf7 34. Qh7+ Kf8 35. Qh8+ {1/2-1/2 (35) Kraai,J (2454)-Pilgaard,K (2440) Budapest 2003}) 8... Re8 9. b4 Nbd7 10. d4 {White, having carefully avoided this move until now, plays it at a bad time.} (10. Bb2 {would have been a more logical follow-up for development, taking advantage of the pawn not being on d4 to cut off the bishop's long diagonal.}) (10. Re1 {is Houdini's top choice. The rook is best placed on the e-file.}) 10... Nf8 (10... h6 {is a good example of a useful prophylactic move.}) 11. Bg5 {White's idea is to exchange off the knight, which is well-placed for sallying onto e4 or g4. Having now locked the bishop out of the long diagonal, perhaps it's not such a bad idea.} (11. b5 {however would be a nicely disruptive move on the queenside.}) 11... h6 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. Rc1 $6 {the c-file is not a productive place for the rook, which is better placed on the a-file.} (13. Re1 Bf5 $11) 13... Bf5 (13... a5 { is how the engines exploit the rook move. for example} 14. bxa5 Bxa3 15. Rb1 { and the a-pawn will fall.}) 14. Na4 $15 {now ...a5 would still break up White's queenside formation to Black's advantage, but no longer lead to a material loss.} Ne6 (14... a5 15. Nc5 axb4 16. axb4 Bxc5 17. bxc5 Ra2 18. e3 $15) 15. e3 {White sees Black's latent threats down the e-file.} Bg6 {waste of a move.} (15... Bg4 $5) 16. Nh4 Bh7 17. Qf3 {White decides that Black has all the play in the position and attempts to head for a draw.} Qxf3 18. Bxf3 $6 { This leaves things awkward for the Nh4.} Ng5 (18... g5 {would have driven the point home.}) 19. Bg2 Rac8 $11 (19... a5 {again would be a good try for Black to generate play on the queenside.}) 20. Nf3 Nxf3+ {Black would need to preserve the knight in order to attempt to play for an advantage.} (20... Ne4) 21. Bxf3 {White can now successfully block any attempt at progress by Black.} Bf5 22. Rc3 Bd7 23. Nc5 {this forces the exchange of bishop for knight, Black gets to decide which bishop. Without the two bishops, any theoretical plus for Black vanishes.} Bxc5 24. bxc5 Rc7 25. Rb3 Bc8 (25... Bf5 {would be a cleaner defense, controlling the diagonal including b1 and not blocking the 8th rank. However, the position is still drawn.}) 26. Rfb1 Rce7 27. h4 g6 {Covers h5} 28. Kh2 Kg7 29. Bg2 f5 30. Rh1 {neither side will be able to break through.} 1/2-1/2

14 October 2012

Annotated Game #67: Queen's Pawn Opening or Caro-Kann?

This sixth-round tournament game is of generally higher quality than I played in the previous rounds.  White chooses an unchallenging sideline of the Caro-Kann Classical, reached from a rather unusual third-move transposition.  After a double queen pawn opening appears, White's 2. Nc3!? perhaps could have been met more creatively by Black, but after 2...c6 I wanted to see how well my opponent could play either a Caro-Kann (what we ended up with) or a Slav-type structure where the Nc3 would not seem well-placed.  At the board, I had figured that 2. Nc3 implied my opponent would follow up with e4 and was correct.

Black is in fact the first to get into real trouble, with the premature ...c5 pawn break.  This is a repeated conceptual error of mine (as in Annotated Game #62) and a major learning point from the game.  Black's subsequent lack of development and poor protection for his king in the center gave White a real opportunity to put more pressure on.  However, by move 15, Black manages to fully equalize and passes the danger zone.  Now White decides to play too optimistically for a win, disdaining an initial queen trade and then finally being forced into one under less favorable circumstances.  The next turning point comes when Black pressures the isolated d-pawn and White fails to protect it adequately due to a tactical pawn break.  An interesting point of technique by the move 24 variation, in which White voluntarily gives up the d-pawn in order to shatter Black's pawn structure and achieve a level ending.

Despite Black's winning the d-pawn, he soon fritters away his advantage, being overly concerned about White's rook play on the g-file.  After rooks are exchanged off into a drawish knight and pawn ending, White  for some reason essentially deactivates his own pieces, allowing Black to centralize his king and obtain passed d- and a-pawns, giving him a won game...if only Black had pushed his passed pawns.  Black fails to advance one to gain a crucial tempo, then White forces the draw.

Aside from the lesson of the premature ...c5 break, my main takeaway from this game is the value of piece activity in the endgame and some practical experience in analyzing N+P endgames.  The opening transposition is also worth some consideration.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "104"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 c6 {Perhaps this isn't the best way to exploit White's second move, but I thought my opponent might well play e4 and was happy to play a Caro-Kann.} 3. e4 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. c3 {a move that does almost nothing for White, other than avoid book lines.} Nf6 7. Bd3 {standard development for White, otherwise Black's Bg6 is a dominating piece.} Bxd3 {the standard reply for Black. Although the exchange isn't forced, White exchanging on g6 can weaken the pawn shield on the kingside and give White some chances later on the h-file.} 8. Qxd3 e6 (8... g6 {is an interesting possibility, as this game shows.} 9. Bf4 Bg7 10. O-O-O O-O 11. h4 Qa5 12. Kb1 Nbd7 13. Bd2 Qb6 14. h5 e5 15. h6 Bh8 16. Nf5 Rfe8 17. Nh4 exd4 18. cxd4 Nd5 19. Ngf3 Nc5 20. Qc2 Ne4 21. Be3 Nec3+ 22. Ka1 Nxd1 23. Rxd1 Nxe3 24. fxe3 Rxe3 25. Qf2 Rae8 26. Ne5 {0-1 (26) Chidi,L-Yilmaz,G (2030) Manila 1992}) 9. Nf3 c5 $146 {a very premature pawn break. Black should have continued with his development.} 10. O-O (10. Bg5 {immediately would have upped the pressure on Black.} cxd4 11. Bxf6 {and Black is in a difficult situation with his king in the center White's potential to exploit the d-file. For example} Qxf6 12. Qb5+ Nd7 13. O-O dxc3 14. Rfd1) 10... cxd4 11. Bg5 (11. Rd1 Nc6 12. Qe2 Be7 $14) 11... Be7 {a safe choice.} (11... dxc3 {is the engines' recommendation, although this would require calm nerves from Black.} 12. Qxc3 (12. Qxd8+ Kxd8 {and the endgame is assessed as being in Black's favor, with the Black king not being in enough danger to offset White's material advantage.} 13. Rad1+ Ke8 14. Ne4 Nbd7) 12... Nd5 13. Qd3 $11) 12. Rad1 (12. Nxd4 Nc6 $11) 12... O-O {Black is behind in development, notes Fritz. } 13. Bxf6 Bxf6 14. Qe4 Nc6 15. cxd4 (15. Nh5 {is preferred by the engines, using White's slight advantage in development to play more actively, although Black is in no danger.} Rb8 {is probably the simplest way to defend.}) 15... Qd5 {Black has finally achieved equality and would be happy to exchange down at this point.} 16. Qg4 {White is unwilling to head for a draw, but this gives Black better chances for a win.} g6 {Consolidates f5+h5, as Fritz notes. The threat was Nh5 attacking the now-unprotected (due to the g-file pin) Bf6.} 17. b3 Rac8 $15 {Black's counterplay now begins to appear, as he has threats down the c-file and his knight has a good square on b4 waiting for it.} 18. h4 h5 { the correct response, Black must prevent the h-pawn from advancing further. His dark-square bishop is unopposed and can easily handle the defensive duties on the kingside.} 19. Qf4 Bg7 20. Ne4 Rfd8 {The pressure on the isolated pawn grows, comments Fritz.} (20... Nxd4 $2 {doesn't work because of} 21. Nxd4 e5 22. Qf3 $18 {setting up a discovered attack on the Qd5 with Nf6+, should Black recapture with exd5.}) 21. Nf6+ {forcing the exchange of Black's dark-square defender. However, with almost all the minor pieces gone, White cannot break through.} Bxf6 22. Qxf6 Qf5 {safely forces the trade of queens.} 23. Qxf5 gxf5 {Black prefers to keep a lock on d5, so captures with the g-pawn. Houdini has the same balanced/slight advantage to Black evaluation for this and for exf5, although the pawn structures are rather different.} 24. Rfe1 (24. d5 Rxd5 25. Rxd5 exd5 {would be the more sophisticated way to play for White. With Black's pawn structure shattered, it is unlikely he can make any real progress in the endgame.}) 24... Rd5 {Black seizes the chance to blockade the isolated pawn.} 25. Re3 {the problem with this rook placement soon becomes apparent.} (25. Rd2 Kg7 $15) 25... Rcd8 $17 26. Red3 e5 {now the Rd3 is revealed as underprotected. } 27. Ne1 (27. R3d2 e4 28. Ng5 Rxd4 29. Rxd4 Rxd4 30. Rxd4 Nxd4 {looks like a better practical try for White, as Black is going to have trouble trying to win this N+P endgame.}) 27... Rxd4 28. Rg3+ Rg4 {any king move would have been better than this, maintaining the pressure on the d-file. I was overly concerned about White following up with Rg5, which is not a real threat.} ( 28... Kf8 $5 29. Rxd4 Rxd4 30. Rg5 {actually ends up losing the Ne1 because of the pin.} Rd1 31. Kf1 Nd4 32. Rxh5 Rc1 33. f3 Nc2) 29. Rxd8+ $15 Nxd8 {things now look rather drawish, as the 4v3 majority on the kingside isn't enough, especially with the weak pawn structure.} 30. Rd3 Rd4 {either Ne6 or Nc6 would have been better, centralizing the knight. With the rook exchange, Black has little prospect of playing for a win.} 31. Rxd4 $11 exd4 {here is where both sides start to demonstrate that they don't know how to play a N+P endgame very well.} 32. Nd3 (32. Kf1 {would activate the king more quickly and keep the next knight move flexible.} Ne6 $11) 32... f6 (32... Ne6 33. Kf1 $15 Kg7) 33. f4 $6 {unnecessarily weakens and fixes White's pawn structure, handing the e4 and g4 squares to Black.} (33. Nf4 $5 $11) 33... Kf7 $15 34. Kf2 a5 {there was no particular need to start moving the queenside pawns. Better to get the knight into the game.} (34... Ne6 $5) 35. a4 $6 b6 (35... Ne6 36. b4 axb4 37. Nxb4 Nxf4 {would be a more straightforward way for Black to pursue an advantage.}) 36. Ke2 Ke6 (36... Ne6 {is again ignored by Black.}) 37. b4 $2 ( 37. Nb2 $5 $17) 37... Kd5 $19 {the centralized king will be very powerful and White can do little about it. Black has a technically won game.} 38. bxa5 bxa5 39. Nf2 Ne6 40. Kf3 {White has managed to essentially neutralize his own activity.} Nc5 41. Nh1 (41. Ke2 {the only chance to get some counterplay} Kc4 42. Kd1 $19) 41... Nxa4 {Black has two separated passed pawns on the queenside and White's pieces are out of the fight. Game over...unfortunately not, for Black.} 42. Ng3 Nb2 43. Nxh5 Ke6 $2 {Black throws the win away. Pushing either passed pawn would do it.} (43... a4 44. Nxf6+ Ke6 $19 45. Ne8 a3 46. Ng7+ Kd5 47. Nxf5 a2 {and Black will comfortably win the queening race.}) (43... d3 44. Ke3 a4 45. Kd2 Kd4 46. Ng3 Nc4+ 47. Ke1 a3 48. Nxf5+ Kc3) 44. Ng7+ $11 Kf7 45. Nxf5 d3 46. Ke3 a4 47. Nd4 a3 48. g4 Nd1+ (48... a2 49. Nb3 $11) 49. Kxd3 Nf2+ 50. Kc3 Nxg4 51. Kb3 Kg6 52. Kxa3 Ne3 1/2-1/2