31 March 2012

Chess Carnival "Best Of" - End of the Trilogy

The third and final installment of the Chess Carnival's "Best Of" series is now up at Robert Pearson's blog.  As usual, I'll post some thoughts on the Carnival content, which you can access via the link.

With this installment, I'd previously run across much of the content and have commented on my favorites elsewhere.  Nevertheless, a standout for me was Blue Devil Knight's post on "Lessons from blitz" which is both entertaining and thought-provoking, including its 30 comments.  The subject of blitz chess tends to raise a lot of passion in the chess improvement community, with some hardcore folks in both the pro- and anti-blitz contingents. 

I expect the level of passion and occasional rancor in the debate reflects the common desire for people to publicly justify their pursuits and opinions.  With some, it goes further, as they seem to want to impose their own views and practices on others at every opportunity.

Personally, I now avoid blitz completely.  Since this will probably be the only post I ever do on the topic, I'll mention the main reasons why:
  • My primary improvement needs are my thought process and endgame skills.  Blitz will assist poorly or not at all with these areas of my game.
  • Playing internet blitz normally involves lots of games with random people.  Inevitably, a certain, not-insignificant percentage of them will be jerks.  I have no need to meet more of them in my life, my blood pressure is borderline as it is.
  • Blitz easily becomes obsessive and a time suck.  I need to budget my time more effectively for chess improvement and enjoyment.
  • I simply enjoy other aspects of playing and studying more.
That said, I'm not one of those people who thinks blitz is completely useless and will rot your brain.  It's a fact that people have different approaches to learning and for some blitz may fit the bill as an aspect of their chess improvement program.  Some people also like blitz for pure enjoyment.  So I was able to enjoy reading BDK's post and watching some sparks fly afterwards.

24 March 2012

Annotated Game #37: Swindle

This next game, from round 3 of the tournament, should have been a loss (which would have resulted in "castling long" on the tournament scorechart, 0-0-0).  Black played an inferior English Four Knights variation with 7...f6 and White had winning tactics available as early as move 9, which however were ignored.  At the time, I had relatively poor tactical sight and rarely even looked for tactical possibilities in the opening; this failure to consider tactics in the opening phase is still something of a blind spot for me.

In any event, I continued playing "normal" developing moves and achieved a positional plus out of the opening, only to lose a piece to an unusual pinning tactic by Black.  Showing tenacity, however, I decided to fight on and play aggressively, looking for whatever counterchances might be there.  This was psychologically the right choice, as Black passes up multiple chances to exchange material and simplify down to a position where White has no real threats.  White then weaves a net of force with his major pieces and Black stumbles into it, losing material and then resigning just before mate.

While this was not a high-quality game, it had its moments and it was a significant turning point for the tournament, showing that I was in fact capable of winning - in an ugly but effective manner - after a year's absence from serious play.  This is also a good example of a successful swindle, where the player who should lose refuses to go down easily and works hard to generate threats, which can hit home if ignored or mishandled by the opponent, as happened here.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2003.??.??"] [TimeControl "240+2"] {191MB, Fritz8.ctg, LAPTOP A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 f6 {one of three ways to protect e5, the other two being (with game examples):} (6... Qd6 7. d4 exd4 8. Nxd4 Nxc3 9. bxc3 Bd7 10. Bd3 Ne5 11. Be2 c5 12. Nf3 Qxd1+ 13. Kxd1 Nxf3 14. Bxf3 O-O-O 15. Ke1 Be6 16. Bb2 c4 17. h4 Be7 18. a4 Bf6 19. g4 Bd5 20. Bxd5 Rxd5 21. g5 {Duverlie,V-Bonati,C/Cannes 2000/EXT 2001/1/2-1/2 (50)}) (6... Nxc3 7. Bxc6+ bxc6 8. bxc3 Bd6 9. Qc2 f5 10. d4 e4 11. Nd2 O-O 12. f4 Kh8 13. Bb2 Ba6 14. c4 c5 15. d5 Bb7 16. O-O-O Qe7 17. g4 fxg4 18. Rdg1 Rf7 19. Rxg4 Bc8 20. Rxg7 Rxg7 21. Rg1 {Syvanen,J-Pitkanen,J/Lahti 2000/CBM 79 ext/1-0 (47)}) 7. d4 {at this point the database only shows three games for White, all of them wins.} Bb4 8. Bd2 {safe development, protecting c3 again.} (8. Qb3 {would be the aggressive choice, directly pressuring Black's unwieldy group of pieces.}) 8... Qd6 $4 {this allows a winning tactic, which White however misses. It was reflective of my play at the time that I didn't look for tactics in the opening (still something of a weakness).} (8... Bxc3 {this exchange would help simplify Black's issues on the queenside.} 9. Bxc3 Nxc3 10. bxc3 {and White is still better positionally, but Black no longer has to worry about dropping a piece.}) 9. O-O (9. dxe5 $1 {exploits the fact that the Nc6 is pinned and therefore no help to its comrades.} fxe5 (9... Nxc3 10. bxc3 fxe5 11. cxb4) 10. Nxd5 Bxd2+ 11. Qxd2) 9... Bg4 $2 (9... Bxc3 $5 {is better, in order to remove the tactical vulnerability} 10. Bxc3 e4 $14) 10. Ne4 (10. dxe5 {was again possible.}) 10... Qe6 (10... Qe7 {was necessary to protect the bishop.}) 11. Bxb4 $18 Ndxb4 12. Qa4 $6 {a good positional move, but again some tactics are missed.} (12. a3 $5 Nd5 13. Nc5 Qc8 14. h3 Bd7 15. dxe5 {with a discovered attack on the Nd5} Nb6 16. exf6 gxf6 {and Houdini considers White's attack to be worth over a piece in value, although there's no immediate knockout.}) 12... O-O 13. a3 {this comes a move too late. Now Black's rooks are connected and he can hit back with ...a6.} (13. Nfd2 Qe8 $16) 13... a6 (13... Bxf3 $5 {is preferred by the engines.} 14. gxf3 a6 $14) 14. axb4 $16 (14. Be2 b5 15. Qd1 Nd5 16. Nc5) 14... axb5 15. Qxb5 (15. Qxa8 Bxf3 16. d5 Qxd5 $16 17. Nc3 { is the unanimous choice of the engines.}) 15... exd4 {my opponent evidently missed the counterattacking reply} (15... Bxf3 16. gxf3 Rxa1 17. Rxa1 exd4 18. Qxb7 dxe3 19. fxe3 $11) 16. Nc5 $14 Qd5 {this imposes a somewhat unusual pin on the Nc5, which I did not recognize at that time, so played} 17. Nxd4 $4 Nxd4 18. exd4 b6 $1 {exploits the lateral pin of the knight.} 19. h3 Be6 (19... bxc5 {is clearly weaker, comments Fritz.} 20. hxg4 Qxd4 21. Rxa8 Rxa8 22. Re1 $14) 20. Rad1 bxc5 21. dxc5 {the position is now clearly won for Black, as the two pawns that White has for the piece are easily bottled up on the queenside.} Qb3 22. Rfe1 {White's only hope is to try to create some threats with his better-coordinated and centralized pieces.} Bc4 (22... Rae8) 23. Qc6 Qxb4 24. Re4 {White continues to play aggressively, although not objectively best according to the engines.} Qb3 (24... Qb5 25. Qxc7 Rfc8 26. Qb6 Qxb6 {would be an easy way for Black to simplify towards a win.} (26... Rxc5 {is what the engine like, which however lets White get in a series of checks. Computers don't mind defending under pressure.} 27. Rd8+ Kf7 28. Re7+ Kxe7 29. Qd6+ Kf7 30. Rxa8 Re5 31. Ra7+ Kg6)) 25. Rde1 {more sloppy than aggressive.} (25. Rd7) 25... Bd5 26. R4e3 Qc4 (26... Bxc6 {would simplify down and remove most of White's possible threats.} 27. Rxb3 Rfe8 28. Rxe8+ Rxe8) 27. Qxc7 Rac8 28. Qd7 Qxc5 $2 {walks into} 29. Rc3 Qa5 $4 (29... Bc4 {is not easy for a human to find as a defense.} 30. Rec1 Rcd8 $11 31. Qg4 Rd2 32. Qh4 Rxb2 33. Rxc4 { and it's drawn.}) 30. Re7 $18 {with mate threats.} Bf7 (30... Rxc3 $4 {[%emt 0: 00:03] fails to mate in} 31. Rxg7+ Kh8 32. Rxh7+ Kg8 33. Qg7#) 31. Rxc8 Qa1+ 32. Kh2 Qxb2 {an amusing pawn grab before the curtain comes down on Black.} 33. Rxf8+ (33. Rxf8+ Kxf8 34. Rxf7+ Kg8 35. Qe8#) 1-0

17 March 2012

Chess King: not quite the full package

As part of my efforts to train with useful computer tools - see the previous post on chess software - I recently purchased the Chess King program.  The advertisements and tutorials looked promising, so I was eager to try it.  I noted in my earlier post that I hadn't found a single software package that could do everything that I wanted.  I don't need a lot of fancy features, just the solid basics.  Chess King looked like it could deliver on that.

Unfortunately, I've found that not to be the case, for my needs.  In chess training, I would ideally want software to be able to:
  • Provide a database of quality games that I can use to review my own games against, including the most recent games.  The Gigaking database that comes with Chess King is current through October 2011, but cannot be updated.  This contradicts what has been publicly advertised as a feature; see the tutorials link above for the part about users being able to "combine" (i.e. merge and update) the database.  This feature does not in fact exist in the current version, meaning there is no way to manually update the database (there is no auto-download feature).  There also is no position search feature for the database, although the tree display in the interface essentially fulfills the same function.
  • Manage multiple games databases.  The software can import PGN and Chess Assistant (CA) format databases, but the user cannot manage them easily.  It is impossible to delete a game from a database and saving new games into a defined database works only infrequently.
  • Analyze games with a strong engine.  Houdini 2.0c is included in the package in a dedicated version (i.e. it's not the UCI version that you can then use with other programs as well).  While the engine works well in the software interface, for game analysis my method is to look at the game until out of database, then start with the engine, which is standard practice.  If the database can't be made current, then it's not nearly as useful.  I would therefore have to do that portion of the game analysis with another program.
  • Play training games.  I wasn't looking for Chess King to do this, since I prefer using the Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition board and opponents.  Chess King has an interesting odds-based training game system which would probably be most useful for beginners or players who are not focused on playing tournaments.
  • Publish games to this blog.  I was disappointed with the Aquarium 2011 publishing feature, which for some unknown reason blanks out all previous posts on the main blog page.  If it weren't for that, I'd use it instead of ChessFlash.  As can be seen here, Chess King's game publishing feature doesn't have a scroll box, so can't in practical terms be used for annotated games, because the board scrolls out of sight when going through the game.
Perhaps future updates to Chess King (the above describes the features in version 1.0) will make the purchase worthwhile for me.  As it stands, at least it makes me feel a lot better about continuing to use ChessBase 10 for my game analysis and database management.  For other suggestions and comments on software, see the first link in this post.

Annotated Game #36: How Not to Play the Caro-Kann Classical

This second round tournament game (following Annotated Game #35) was not quite as awful, in the sense that I made some serious strategic errors out of the opening which my opponent took advantage of, rather than me going abruptly from a winning to a losing game.  So at least my opponent deserved the win, which is some consolation (?)

The opening is a Caro-Kann Classical, with White choosing a relatively non-threatening sideline on move 7.  Black goes astray strategically starting on move 10 with the errant plan of castling queenside.  In the old (pre-1980s) Classical variation, this was in fact Black's main idea and considered safe if leading to unambitious positions.  In this game, however, Black ignores the actual board situation to implement this idea, leaving White with a strategically won game as early as move 13.  Black has no counterplay and White's forces are already ideally lined up against Black's king position.  Some nice tactics for White end the game quickly after he ratchets up the pressure.

Black's main errors, from my point of view:
  • Making the all-too-common amateur mistake of deciding to change your openings in a game because of a "bright idea" at the board.  I had never played the queenside castling variation in a tournament game, despite having studied it superficially.  At the time I thought it was "safer" and was proven wrong.
  • Not calculating the consequences of my decision and relying on the current visual impression of the board.  Looking ahead 2-3 moves would have (or should have) revealed that Black had major problems in this line.  The position after move 12 for White is clearly unfavorable for Black.
  • The tactical error on move 17.  It combines some features of a counting error, in which the player doesn't visualize properly the results of a series of exchanges on a square, and missing the eventual skewer.  At the time, I was prone to counting errors and I believe this was the root of the problem, i.e. not being able to visualize the final result on the board and therefore not seeing White's Bf4 threat in time.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2003.??.??"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Bd3 {a sideline which is not considered particularly challenging.} Bxd3 8. Qxd3 e6 9. O-O Nbd7 10. Re1 Qc7 (10... Be7 { is by far most popular move in this position and also makes the most sense, developing the minor piece to its best defensive square.}) 11. c3 (11. c4 { is the most ambitious and popular choice.}) 11... O-O-O {the decision to castle queenside (presaged by Qc7) is the root of Black's strategic difficulties in this game.} (11... Be7 {scores much better, with the plan of kingside castling. A sample game:} 12. Be3 O-O 13. Rad1 Rad8 14. Qc2 c5 15. Qc1 Nd5 16. Bg5 Bxg5 17. Qxg5 h6 18. Qd2 N5f6 19. Qc2 a6 20. Ne4 b5 21. Nxc5 Nxc5 22. dxc5 Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Qxc5 24. h3 Rc8 25. Qd3 a5 26. Re1 Nd5 27. Re4 Nf6 28. Re5 Nd5 29. Re4 {1/2-1/2 Ong,Y-Wright,J/Dubai 1986/TD (29)}) 12. b4 {simple and effective. Black has little hope for counterplay and White risks little in pursuing a queenside attack.} Nb6 {the knight essentially becomes a target here and just gets in the way of the defense.} (12... Kb8) 13. a4 Kb8 14. a5 Nbd5 15. Bd2 Bd6 16. Reb1 Rhe8 {too slow, Black needs more desperate measures now.} (16... Nf4 {would at least attempt to stir up some counterplay.}) 17. b5 e5 $2 {this semi-clever attempt at counterplay in fact loses on the spot, due to White's ability to repeatedly take on e5 then play Bf4 with a skewer.} ( 17... Qc8 18. bxc6 Qxc6 19. c4 Nf4 {is suggested by Houdini, who nevertheless assesses the position as nearly a full pawn equivalent in White's favor.}) 18. bxc6 $18 {deflects the queen from the diagonal} Qxc6 19. dxe5 Bxe5 20. Nxe5 Qe6 $4 {I saw that I was lost after taking on e5, but this of course leaves me equally lost.} (20... Rxe5 21. Bf4 $1 {skewering the rook against Black's king. }) 21. Qb5 Re7 22. Nc6+ {a three-way fork and a fitting end to the game for Black.} 1-0

11 March 2012

Why I Play the English Opening

The English Opening has been very, very good to me.  (I haven't always been good to it, that's another subject.) But why play it?  What does it offer that others don't?

As I've mentioned before, it's likely to be unfamiliar to most opponents and therefore will provide a practical edge to someone who knows it better, although admittedly it's unlikely to score quick wins (with some exceptions).  It has consistent strategic themes in its various branches and is not sharp, so you don't have to worry about losing to a newly discovered tactic in opening theory.  These are good reasons to play it.

But it's not the best reason.

I recently got a copy of Starting Out: The English, which I'll eventually get around to going through completely (and did so: go here for a summary of the different lines and ideas in the English); right now I'm partway through Art of Attack in Chess and need to work on other aspects of my game besides openings.  But I'm already enthusiastic about the book.  It lists my own favorite English Opening work, How to Play the English Opening by Nigel Povah, in the bibliography.  In its first pages it also makes the audacious claim that if you have to play for a win, you should choose the English.

That's right.  Not 1. e4, so sorry.  Not 1. d4, move along.  The English.

When Kasparov was down 12-11 in the 1987 World Championship, with only one game remaining, what did he pull out against Karpov?  That's right, the must-win 1. c4.  I mean, how much more must-win can you get than having to win against Karpov or lose the world championship?

[Event "World Championship 34th-KK4"] [Site "Seville"] [Date "1987.12.18"] [Round "24"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Karpov, Anatoly"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A14"] [WhiteElo "2740"] [BlackElo "2700"] [PlyCount "127"] [EventDate "1987.10.??"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "24"] [EventCountry "ESP"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. b3 Be7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O b6 7. Bb2 Bb7 8. e3 Nbd7 9. Nc3 Ne4 10. Ne2 a5 11. d3 Bf6 12. Qc2 Bxb2 13. Qxb2 Nd6 14. cxd5 Bxd5 15. d4 c5 16. Rfd1 Rc8 17. Nf4 Bxf3 18. Bxf3 Qe7 19. Rac1 Rfd8 20. dxc5 Nxc5 21. b4 axb4 22. Qxb4 Qa7 23. a3 Nf5 24. Rb1 Rxd1 25. Rxd1 Qc7 26. Nd3 h6 27. Rc1 Ne7 28. Qb5 Nf5 29. a4 Nd6 30. Qb1 Qa7 31. Ne5 Nxa4 32. Rxc8 Nxc8 33. Qd1 Ne7 34. Qd8 Kh7 35. Nxf7 Ng6 36. Qe8 Qe7 37. Qxa4 Qxf7 38. Be4 Kg8 39. Qb5 Nf8 40. Qxb6 Qf6 41. Qb5 Qe7 42. Kg2 g6 43. Qa5 Qg7 44. Qc5 Qf7 45. h4 h5 46. Qc6 Qe7 47. Bd3 Qf7 48. Qd6 Kg7 49. e4 Kg8 50. Bc4 Kg7 51. Qe5 Kg8 52. Qd6 Kg7 53. Bb5 Kg8 54. Bc6 Qa7 55. Qb4 Qc7 56. Qb7 Qd8 57. e5 Qa5 58. Be8 Qc5 59. Qf7 Kh8 60. Ba4 Qd5 61. Kh2 Qc5 62. Bb3 Qc8 63. Bd1 Qc5 64. Kg2 1-0 '/>

(If you can't see at first why Karpov resigned, White will inevitably win Black's g-pawn after some bishop maneuvers, then it's all over.)

(Also, compare this with Annotated Game #2, which has some similar opening characteristics, although sadly it didn't turn out as well for White.)

The English happens to fit both my aesthetic and practical criteria for an opening selection, so I'm happy playing it.  I hope you're just as happy with your own opening selections.  If not, why not take a look at 1. c4?

10 March 2012

Annotated Games PGN database now available

Thanks to a query from Hieronymus, I've now made a PGN database of the annotated games on this site available for download (from the free MediaFire storage site), with a link on the sidebar.  I'd put off organizing all of the games into one database, since they were a mix of tournament and training games; they had also been in more than one format originally.  However, I think it's worthwhile to have done it.  I'll plan to keep the database current, updating it every time there's a new annotated game posted here.

(Addendum: now that the full database is up, I've removed the individual game links from the sidebar, which in any case would have eventually become too unwieldy.)

Annotated Game #35: Thou Shalt Falsify

Following Annotated Game #34, over a year passed between tournaments.  During this next tournament, I was at a point in my life where I had just moved and was preparing to move again soon for another job.  I also had not been serious about studying chess for a while.  These factors all combined to produce a notably poorer quality of play throughout the tournament.

In this game, the first round of the tournament, as White I get a very pleasant position out of an English Opening; my opening play continued to be effective, at least.  Black enters a dubious variation (a transposition to an Old Indian Defense) and drops a pawn, leading to an unusual middlegame where White has an outside passed pawn early on.  If White had known what plan to follow, this would most likely have led to victory.  However, rather than actively pushing the pawn and exploiting his queenside dominance, I played too passively and had a game-ending thought process mistake on move 19.  The failure to falsify my candidate move (which would have immediately picked up Black's threat to take the Nc3) was a reflection of an unstructured thinking process, something which in fact I've only recently rectified.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A54"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "86"] [EventDate "2003.??.??"] {A54: Old Indian Defence with Nf3, but without e4} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 d6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Be7 6. g3 Bd7 7. Bg2 Nc6 8. O-O Nxd4 {only one game in the database has this.} (8... O-O {is the overwhelming choice here}) 9. Qxd4 $14 {White already has a pleasant game and control of the center, while Black is slightly behind in development and must attend to the threat on the long diagonal.} Rb8 $6 {this simply drops a pawn.} (9... Bc6 $5 {is what the engines like. At first glance} 10. Bxc6+ bxc6 11. b3 {looks a bit ugly for Black with the doubled pawns. However, with the light-square bishop off the board, the c6 pawn is not so weak and it covers the key d5 square.}) 10. Qxa7 $14 {Fritz originally gave White more of a plus here, but Houdini shows about a half-pawn advantage for White. Black has the opportunity to get some initiative for the pawn, but it's not enough compensation in the long run.} Bc6 11. Bxc6+ bxc6 {unusually, White now has a passed a-pawn in the early middlegame. Houdini shows the best plan is to push it for all it's worth, something which I unfortunately neglect to do.} 12. Bg5 {probably not a move I'd choose today. The bishop itself is unprotected and exchanging it for the Nf6 would greatly improve the scope of Black's bishop. If Black simply castled here, he'd be OK. Taking the b-pawn is only a temporary gain for him, however.} (12. a4 $1) 12... Rxb2 $14 13. Rab1 Rxb1 14. Rxb1 O-O 15. Rb7 {the point of the sequence for White.} Ne8 16. Bxe7 {a typical reaction at the amateur level, only looking at the immediate capture.} (16. Rb8 Qd7 17. Bxe7 Qxe7 18. Qa8 { and White is dominant on the queenside and in Black's back rank, with the outside passed pawn waiting in the wings.}) 16... Qxe7 17. Qa4 (17. a4 { passed pawns must be pushed!}) 17... Qe5 18. Qc2 {a passive choice, either b3 or b4 would be a better square.} f6 19. Qe4 $4 {this kind of oversight (leaving the Nc3 hanging) is a thinking process flaw, namely failure to falsify.} Qxc3 $19 20. Qe6+ {the best chance for a swindle, although I'd seen that 21...Qe5 saves Black.} Kh8 21. Rb8 Qe5 22. Qxe5 fxe5 (22... dxe5 $2 { interestingly would have given the game to White, as Black couldn't untangle his pieces in time to stop the a-pawn without losing material.} 23. a4 c5 24. a5 $18 Kg8 25. a6 c6 26. Rc8 Kf7 27. a7 Nc7 28. Rxc7+ Ke6 29. Rxg7) 23. a4 Kg8 24. a5 Nf6 25. Rxf8+ Kxf8 {and now the knight can stop the a-pawn without difficulty. White is lost, as both the a- and c-pawns will inevitably fall (although in the game Black never gets around to taking the a-pawn).} 26. e4 Nd7 27. a6 c5 28. f4 Nb6 29. a7 exf4 30. gxf4 Ke7 31. Kf2 Ke6 32. Kf3 c6 33. h4 g6 34. Kg4 d5 35. e5 Kd7 36. f5 gxf5+ 37. Kxf5 dxc4 38. Kf6 Ke8 39. h5 c3 40. h6 c2 41. Kg7 c1=Q 42. Kxh7 Qg5 43. e6 Qe7+ 0-1

07 March 2012

Chess Carnival "Best Of", Part Deux

The second installment of Robert Pearson's "Best Of" Chess Carnival is now up.  As usual, I like to post some initial reactions to the Carnival content which you can find via the link.

My favorite part hands down is the reminder of  "Hardcore Pawnography" by chessloser.  It's now a zombie blog, but it's still the most hilarious (OK, perhaps only hilarious) chess blog in existence, although I have to give Liquid Egg Product part credit.  Like Dr. Frankenstein, I only became acquainted with the blog after its death, but thanks to the Wayback Machine it lives again.

That in turn leads to some thoughts about the dead blogs littering the internet landscape.  Chess is hardly unique in that respect, but it's too bad that some of the truly stellar chess blogs out there are either MIA or KIA.  Might have something to do with the fact that their authors put heart and soul into their efforts, which leads (inevitably?) to burnout in the long run.

As for this blog, I deliberately don't stray too far from its central purpose as a training tool, and rarely attempt to be witty and entertaining, so I think it'll be around for the long haul.

03 March 2012

Annotated Game #34: Importance of the Initiative

This game, the last in the tournament, features some instructive strategic errors and missed tactics.  After Black plays 6...Na6, he fails to follow up with the logical redeployment to c7, although White unintentionally makes the knight useful by trying to carry out an accelerated pawn push to b4.  White carries out a suspect operation of exchanging dark-square bishop for knight, after which Black has a slight positional plus and the easier game strategically, with play on the kingside.  Similar to the knight development, Black begins moving towards this logical setup with 17...Kg7, but then simply hands White the initiative and allows a strong knight outpost to be established on c5.

Although White gets his wish of focusing on queenside play, where he has some long-term prospects for an advantage, he also neglects Black's threats and unwisely weakens his king position, redeploying his fianchettoed bishop.  White's lack of a real plan shows in his move 28 blunder, which would allow an excellent tactical shot by Black, which (luckily for White) is a possibility ignored by both players.  Black continues to cede the initiative and loses to a tactic that employs a seventh-rank pin.

The role of the initiative struck me the most about this game, as psychology is the primary explanatory factor for both sides' performance in the middlegame.  Aside from the tactical missed opportunity by Black and White's ability to spot the winning one eventually, the middlegame maneuvers were not forced and White had no real prospect of making progress without Black's acquiescence.  If Black had followed up on what he started on move 17, he would have instead had the initiative and likely whatever winning chances there were in the position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2002.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 c6 {first deviation from a normal King's Indian setup} 6. O-O Na6 {a handful of games in the database feature this move. Normally the idea is to play Nc7 at some point, or alternatively hop into b4. The latter seems unlikely to be fruitful, however, as White can cover the square with a pawn.} 7. Rb1 {looking for accelerated play on the queenside. In light of Black's previous move, however, a better strategy would be to develop normally and leave the knight stranded doing nothing useful. The rook also proves misplaced on move 9.} (7. d3 {would be a more normal English setup}) 7... d5 {now out of the database} 8. cxd5 {no reason to let Black have a free hand in the center} cxd5 9. d4 Bf5 10. Ra1 Nb4 11. Bg5 (11. Bf4 {seems superior, seizing an excellent diagonal.}) 11... h6 12. Bxf6 {carrying through White's positionally suspect plan for exchanging bishop for knight.} Bxf6 13. a3 {Houdini prefers more active developing options, such as Qb3 or Ne5. The text move simply forces the knight to a better long-term square for it.} Nc6 14. e3 e6 {Taking stock, the game is level, with a slight plus to Black due to his superior light-square bishop. White has far to go to generate something meaningful on the queenside, his only real strategic option. } 15. Rc1 Rc8 16. b4 a6 {Secures b5, notes Fritz.} 17. Re1 Kg7 {this would normally be an indication that Black is seeking play down the h-file, with the king moving out of the way so he can play Rh8. However, Black doesn't follow up on this.} 18. Na4 b6 {although this prophylactically covers c5, Black is now reacting to White, who has something of an initiative with his queenside play.} (18... a5 {is preferred by the engines} 19. b5 Ne7 20. Rxc8 Nxc8 21. Ne5 $11) 19. Bf1 {this was the reason for White's move 17, redeploying the bishop. However, this leaves his king position significantly weakened (namely f3).} ( 19. Qe2 {would instead develop the queen to a useful square as well as forcing Black to make a positional concession with either a5, b5 or Nb8.}) 19... b5 { allowing White a strong outpost on c5.} 20. Nc5 $14 Nb8 (20... Qd6 {would be more active play.} 21. Nxa6 Nxd4 22. Nxd4 Qxa6) 21. a4 {White finds the correct idea to break through on the queenside.} Qb6 22. axb5 axb5 23. Qe2 Bg4 24. h3 Bxf3 $14 {forced} 25. Qxf3 Rfd8 26. Qe2 Nc6 27. Ra1 Ra8 (27... e5 $142 { the engines correctly identify the need for Black to generate counterplay in the center.} 28. Ra6 Qb8 29. Qxb5 Qxb5 30. Bxb5 Nxb4 31. Ra7 Ra8 32. Rea1 Rxa7 33. Rxa7 Rb8 34. dxe5 Bxe5 35. Nd7 {and White has a positional plus due to the weak d-pawn, but it's probably not decisive.}) (27... Nxb4 {fails after} 28. Reb1 Nc6 29. Rxb5) 28. f4 $4 {this misguided attempt to cover e5 gives Black a winning tactical shot, something both of us missed during the game.} ({Houdini finds White to have a big advantage after the straightforward} 28. Rxa8 Rxa8 29. Rb1 {with Black tied down to defending the b5-pawn as best he can while White also prepares to break through on the a-file.}) 28... Rxa1 $6 {this is sufficient for an advantage, but misses the win.} (28... Nxd4 {and Black has it in the bag, says Fritz.} 29. Qd3 (29. exd4 Bxd4+ 30. Kh1 Rxa1) 29... Nf3+ 30. Kf2 Nxe1 31. Rxe1) 29. Rxa1 $17 Nxb4 $2 {Black has let it slip away} (29... Nxd4 {still works, if not as well as before.} 30. Qd1 Nf5 $17 31. Ra6 Qb8 32. Kf2 {and Black is a clear pawn to the good.}) 30. Rb1 (30. Qd2 Nc6 31. Ra6 Qc7 32. Bxb5 {is a more effective method of recapturing the pawn, using the fact that the queen is tied to defending the Nc6.}) 30... Nc6 (30... Na6 31. Qxb5 Qxb5 32. Bxb5 Nxc5 33. dxc5 $14) 31. Rxb5 $14 Qa7 $2 {this removes the queen from the action, allowing a nasty tactical follow-up.} (31... Qc7 32. Rb7 Qd6 $14 {and e6 is protected.}) 32. Rb7 $18 Qa8 $6 {cannot solve the problems of the position, notes Fritz.} (32... Nxd4 {although the engines find this line limiting Black's material losses, it's difficult to find this sort of thing over the board. Black is still losing, in any case.} 33. Rxa7 Nxe2+ 34. Bxe2) 33. Nxe6+ Kg8 34. Nxd8 Bxd8 35. Qb5 {and the rest is easy for White, being the exchange and a pawn up while dominating the position.} Qa3 36. Kf2 {the engines say go ahead and take the Nc6, but I saw no reason to give Black even a hope of counterplay.} Qa2+ 37. Be2 Qc2 38. Qxd5 Be7 39. Rxe7 $1 {Eliminates the defender e7, trumpets Fritz, who gave the move the exclamation point. Houdini is less impressed and things Rc8 winning the knight is better. The text move simplifies down and gives White an easy and clear win, however.} Nxe7 {Deflection from d8} 40. Qd8+ {A double attack} Kg7 41. Qxe7 Qf5 42. g4 Qd5 43. Qe5+ {with the queens off, Black will inevitably fall.} (43. Qe5+ Qxe5 44. fxe5 $18) 1-0

Annotated Game #33: Stonewall Attack

This next tournament game serves up a mix of positional play and tactical play, along with a heaping portion of blunders on both sides.  The Stonewall Attack was completely unknown to me at the time (the computer classifies the opening as a transposition to a Caro-Kann Exchange variation, which is essentially true after move 5.)  However, I still equalize easily enough by move 10, when White misplaces his queen.

It's the middlegame where I go astray, but this in fact is related to my unfamiliarity with the opening and its resulting plans.  The Stonewall emphasizes using the knights to occupy key outposts at e5/e4, so challenging this idea is critical.  Black's 12...Nb6 is therefore a positional blunder and also demonstrates the classic amateur error of neglecting rook development with the alternative 12...Rac8 (a recurring theme from my tournament play during this period).  White plays the correct follow up, but then fails to take full advantage and misses a key pawn break on move 15, letting Black back into the game.

What follows from Black's point of view is a seesaw game where he is largely responding to White threats without much of an independent plan.  My tactical calculating ability at the time was also relatively undeveloped (shall we say), which meant that I missed a number of equalizing or winning opportunities, failing to think coolly under pressure.  Some days the bear gets you...

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "79"] [EventDate "2002.??.??"] {B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack} 1. d4 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Bd3 c5 4. c3 cxd4 (4... Nc6 {is most typically played here, as in this game fragment which features a true reversed Stonewall:} 5. f4 g6 6. Nf3 Bf5 7. dxc5 Bxd3 8. Qxd3 Ne4 9. b4 Bg7 10. Nd4 e5 11. Ne2 O-O 12. O-O exf4 13. Nd4 a5 14. b5 Nxc5 15. Qc2 Ne5 16. exf4 Nc4 17. Na3 Re8 18. Rd1 Ne3 19. Bxe3 {Berkes, F-Toth,A/Paks 1998/EXT 99/0-1 (38)}) 5. exd4 Bg4 6. Nf3 e6 (6... Nc6 {is the preferred move, with more flexible development.}) 7. Bg5 (7. Qa4+ Nbd7 8. Ne5 a6 $11) 7... Be7 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. O-O Nbd7 10. Qb3 (10. Qc2 {was a more promising square for the queen and consistent with the Stonewall Attack kingside strategy, generating pressure on the b1-h7 diagonal.}) 10... Qc7 $11 11. h3 Bh5 12. Rac1 Nb6 {moves a key defender away from the e5 square.} (12... Rac8 {was best here; once again, I fall into the common amateur pattern of error of not developing rooks early enough.}) 13. Ne5 Bd6 14. f4 Nfd7 { fixating on the e5 square and removing another defender from the kingside.} 15. Rce1 (15. c4 $1 {with a multitude of threats.}) 15... f6 {and Black has regained equality.} 16. Nxd7 Nxd7 17. Bh4 (17. Rxe6 $5 {is found by the engines } Nb6 ({not} 17... fxg5 18. Qxd5 {and the threat of discovered check along with White's attack is very strong.}) 18. Bh4 Bxf4 19. Qc2 $11) 17... Bxf4 { now with an extra pawn, Black is better equipped to ride out White's kingside attack.} 18. Nf3 (18. Qc2 {bringing the queen into the fight is necessary.}) 18... g5 (18... Rae8 {why not activate the do-nothing rook?} 19. Qc2 h6) 19. Bf2 $15 (19. Rxe6 {is again possible here, although it doesn't work quite as well.}) 19... Kh8 $6 (19... Bxf3 20. gxf3 Rae8) 20. g4 {although my opponent evidently wanted to stop Bxf3, this simply helps Black defend.} (20. Rxe6 $142 $5 Bf7 21. Re7 Rae8 22. Rfe1 Rxe7 23. Rxe7 Bd6 $11) 20... Bf7 $15 21. Qc2 h5 22. Bg6 ({Not} 22. gxh5 Bxh5 {gaining a tempo on the undefended Nf3 and creating kingside threats for Black as well.}) 22... hxg4 23. hxg4 Kg7 24. Bxf7 Kxf7 $4 {overly materialistic thinking, focusing on the immediate threat to e6 and not the queen penetration.} (24... Rxf7 25. Rxe6 Nf8 26. Re2 Ng6 {and it is Black who has winning chances.}) 25. Qh7+ Ke8 26. Rxe6+ Kd8 27. Rfe1 $16 Bd6 $2 {this is bad, but Black is otherwise still unsuccessfully struggling to try and defend both e8 and the pawn on d5 while White stomps all over him.} 28. Bg3 $4 {instead of simply winning the game, comments an incredulous Fritz.} (28. Qg6 {and White wins.} Qc6 29. Nxg5 Kc7 30. Nf7 Rxf7 31. Qxf7) 28... Bxg3 $19 29. Qe7+ Kc8 30. R1e2 (30. Qxf8+ {doesn't work:} Nxf8 31. Re8+ Kd7 32. R1e7+ Kd6 33. Rxc7 Rxe8 34. Rxb7 Re2 35. Rxa7 Rxb2 36. Ra6+ Ke7 37. Ra7+ Nd7 $19) 30... Qd8 $2 {doesn't lose, but fails to capitalize on the possibilities of active play.} (30... Qf4 {and Black has prevailed, notes Fritz. The c7 square is cleared for the king and Black now has major kingside threats.}) 31. Qa3 Kc7 (31... Kb8 {is the safer square, not leaving the king exposed to further checks.}) 32. Kg2 Bf4 33. c4 (33. Qa5+ Nb6 34. Qc5+ Kb8 35. Qe7 $19) 33... dxc4 34. d5 (34. Qa5+ {is insufficient:} Nb6 35. Qc5+ Kb8 36. Qb5 $19 Qc7) 34... b6 $2 {a beginner's error, creating more holes around the king and allowing White perpetual check.} (34... Rh8 $142 $19 {nails it down, states Fritz.}) 35. Nd4 Kb7 $4 (35... Nc5 36. d6+ Bxd6 37. Nb5+ Kc6 38. Nd4+ Kc7 39. Nb5+ {etc. is the shortest line for repeating the position, but there are others.}) 36. Qa4 $4 { not a good decision, because now the opponent is right back in the game, says Fritz.} (36. Re7 {pinning the knight wins:} Rc8 (36... Qc8 37. Qa4 Rd8 38. Ne6) 37. Ne6 Rc7) 36... Rc8 $4 {the mutual blunders continue.} (36... Be5 $142 { defending by interfering with the connection between the rooks.} 37. Nc6 Qc7 $17) 37. Nb5 $4 {stumbles just before the finish line, remarks Fritz.} (37. Nc6 $142 {with double threat of mate on a7 and taking the Qd8.} a6 38. Nxd8+ Rfxd8 39. Re7 $18) 37... Bb8 $2 (37... a6 $142 {and Black has triumphed} 38. Nd6+ Bxd6 39. Rxd6 Rf7 $19) 38. Re7 $11 Rc7 $4 {throws away the game} (38... Rc5 $11 {leads to another perpetual check.}) 39. Nxc7 $18 Kxc7 {(played with 5 seconds left on Black's clock)} 40. Qc6# 1-0