28 July 2012

Annotated Game #56: Training game - King's Indian Attack

This training game (against Chessmaster personality "Turk") was the first time I had faced 1. g3 and perhaps the innocuous start by White made me more aggressive than usual, as I chose a somewhat dubiously threatening line with 5...Bc5 instead of transposing to the normal Caro-Kann line versus the KIA.  An inadvertent pawn sacrifice from Black makes the early part of the game interesting, where White needs to be careful in order not to give Black too much activity and developmental lead.

Positionally, Black is unreasonably fearful of having a two-pawn center and as a result does not achieve an optimal set-up in the middlegame.  I had worried that the pawn center could be too easily undermined by White, but analysis shows this was not the case.  This judgment error is a good example of  how an uncritical preference for a type of position (or against one) can lead to less effective play.

Around move 30 my calculation and judgment began declining rapidly when Black was faced with a menacing White pawn mass on the queenside.  At least I had a bailout into a drawn position, rather than fully collapsing into a loss.  "Turk" had played a typical computer handicap move on move 20 to give me the advantage, so I guess I just ended up returning the favor.

The training game was useful for highlighting the individual calculation and judgment errors mentioned above in the opening, middlegame and endgame phases, so was successful from that perspective.

[Event "Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition Rated G"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.06.03"] [Round "?"] [White "Turk"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] {A00: Irregular Openings} 1. g3 d5 2. Bg2 c6 3. d3 Nf6 4. Nd2 e5 5. e4 Bc5 ( 5... Bd6 {would transpose into the main Caro-Kann line against the King's Indian Attack, assuming White goes ahead with Ngf3. This is probably Black's best course of action here.}) 6. Ngf3 Qb6 $146 {this is aggressive-looking, but the threat to f2 is easily parried.} (6... O-O {appears to be the most interesting option here.} 7. O-O (7. Nxe5 {is tempting but doesn't fare too well, for example:} dxe4 8. Nxe4 Nxe4 9. dxe4 (9. Bxe4 Re8) 9... Qxd1+ 10. Kxd1 Bxf2) 7... Re8 8. Qe2 Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 10. Re1 Nbd7 11. Nf1 Qc7 12. g4 Bg6 13. Ng3 Nf8 14. Nh4 Ne6 15. g5 Nd7 16. exd5 cxd5 17. Bxd5 Nd4 18. Qd1 e4 19. Be3 exd3 20. cxd3 Ne5 21. Nxg6 hxg6 22. Rc1 Qd6 23. Be4 Rad8 24. Kg2 b6 25. f4 Nec6 26. Bxd4 Nxd4 27. Qg4 Ne6 28. Rf1 Be3 29. Rc6 Nxf4+ 30. Kh1 Qd4 31. Rc4 Qxb2 32. Qf3 Qd2 33. Rc7 b5 34. Rb7 Rc8 35. Bd5 Rc2 36. Bxf7+ Kf8 37. Ne2 Qxe2 38. Qxe2 Rxe2 39. Bxg6 Rc8 40. Bh5 Rd2 41. Rd7 Rcc2 42. Rd8+ Ke7 43. Re8+ Kd7 {0-1 Fernandez,D (2423)-Pruess,D (2400)/ICC INT 2005/CBM 108 ext}) 7. Qe2 (7. O-O Nbd7 $11) 7... Bg4 {this ignores the threat down the e-file and involves an inadvertent pawn sacrifice in the game line, which however is still good enough for equality. Houdni prefers a positional approach (8. h3) which would seize the two bishops and gain time for White in the opening.} (7... O-O) 8. exd5 (8. h3 Bxf3 9. Nxf3 Bd6 $14) 8... O-O {here the e5 pawn is defended indirectly, with the Re8 potential pin.} (8... Nxd5 $2 {doesn't work} 9. Nc4 ({ or simply} 9. Qxe5+) 9... Qd8 10. Ncxe5 Bxf3 11. Nxf3+ Be7 12. Qd2 $16) ({ Instead of} 8... cxd5 9. Qxe5+ Be7 10. O-O $14) 9. h3 (9. dxc6 Nxc6 {and Black is actually doing reasonably well, with his lead in development and piece activity compensating for the pawn.}) 9... Bxf3 $11 {the decision to exchange bishop for knight in these types of Caro-Kann positions is actually quite common. The downside to keeping the bishop would be its limited scope and loss of time as White could further threaten it.} 10. Nxf3 Nxd5 {one of those seemingly minor yet important recapture decisions. Black declines to have a two-pawn center, concerned it could be undermined or attacked easily.} (10... cxd5 {is preferred by Houdini. Having two central pawns is of course worth something.}) 11. Nd2 (11. O-O Nd7 $11) 11... Nf6 $14 {simply a waste of time. I was too concerned with avoiding having the two pawns in the center after an exchange on d5, which would a) not be so bad in itself, and b) require White to give up the two bishops.} (11... Nd7 {develops a piece instead.}) 12. Nc4 { the e5 pawn remains poisoned.} Qc7 13. c3 {Secures b4 and d4, but weakens d3. Castling immediately would be better.} (13. Nxe5 {still doesn't work, as I saw in the game:} Re8 14. Bf4 g5 $17) 13... Re8 {no more fooling around with tactical defenses for e5.} 14. O-O Nbd7 15. b4 Bf8 {a solid defensive move, bringing the piece back to help cover the king position.} 16. a4 Nb6 17. Bg5 Nxc4 {trading off White's superior knight.} 18. dxc4 Re6 {too artificial a move. I was looking to protect against doubling pawns on the f-file after Bxf6 and also to double rooks on the e-file, but there is nothing concrete gained by the move.} (18... Be7 {is the simpler choice.}) 19. Rfd1 h6 (19... Rae8) 20. Bxh6 $4 {computer handicap move.} (20. Bxf6 {is best according to Houdini, with the plan of following up with a gain of space on the queenside and the center.} Rxf6 21. a5 $14 Re8 22. c5 a6 23. Qe4) 20... gxh6 $19 21. g4 $2 Bg7 ( 21... a5 $5 {would apply some prophylaxis to the queenside, where White has some counterplay potential with his mass of pawns.}) 22. a5 Rd8 {Black starts to look to exchange down and simplify, with the material advantage.} (22... e4 {instead would shut out the Bg2 from the action.}) 23. Rdc1 $6 {perhaps "Turk" is looking for swindling chances, keeping both rooks on the board. Letting Black have the d-file is a problem, however.} Red6 24. Rd1 {deciding the d-file must be challenged after all.} (24. a6 {is no salvation, notes Houdini.} b6 25. Rd1 e4 26. Rxd6 Qxd6 $19) 24... Rxd1+ 25. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 26. Qxd1 Qd7 (26... e4 $5 {again would help neutralize the Bg2;}) (26... a6 {would be a good prophylactic move.}) 27. Qxd7 Nxd7 {Black still has a winning material advantage, but now White springs into activity with counterplay.} 28. a6 b6 { I had thought this would be sufficient to stem the tide on the queenside.} ( 28... bxa6 $142 $5 29. Bxc6 Nb8 $19 {is Houdini's line. A sample continuation:} 30. Be4 a5 {this is the idea, to undermine and attack the pawn group.} 31. c5 axb4 32. cxb4 Na6) 29. Bxc6 $17 Nb8 30. Bb7 Bf8 {not the best diagonal for the bishop, although it guards c5.} (30... Bf6 {keeps the bishop more active and with the threat of winning the c3 pawn after the e4 advance.}) 31. f3 f6 (31... e4 $5 $17 {I had seen this possibility earlier with the bishop on g7, but discarded it. The idea of moving Bg7 and then winning the c3 pawn is, remarkably, still the best.}) 32. Kf2 $15 Kf7 33. c5 $2 (33. Ke3 $11) 33... bxc5 $19 34. b5 Nxa6 $4 {here I didn't calculate correctly and thought that White would queen a pawn if the knight didn't prevent it.} (34... Nd7 {would have given Black the upper hand, notes Houdini. I had been concerned about the b6 advance clearing the way for the a-pawn; however, of course this would not work with the knight on d7.}) 35. bxa6 $11 {and now the opposite-color bishops ensure that it's a draw.} Kg6 36. Kf1 Kg5 37. Bc8 Bd6 38. h4+ Kxh4 39. Kg2 h5 40. gxh5 Kxh5 41. Kf2 Kg5 42. Ke3 Bc7 43. Bb7 Ba5 44. c4 1/2-1/2

21 July 2012

Annotated Game #55: Slice and Dice

This last-round game in the weekend Swiss open tournament shows how White takes advantage of passive play and effectively uses his two bishops in the end to slice and dice like knives through Black's position.  As Black, I deliberately selected a slightly inferior variation in the Two Knights variation of the Caro-Kann - done in order to save having to memorize the variation's main line - but quickly go wrong with it in the early middlegame.  This is a typical error of mine (and for many amateurs), related to lack of depth in opening study.  The failure to understand the important elements of the early middlegame that result from a particular opening line is, time and again, the root cause of a lost game.

In this case, the apparently subtle defensive move 12...Re8 was called for, which would have neutralized White's future threats along the evil e-file, although this does not become apparent for several moves.  This is also a reflection of the common general amateur error of not developing rooks early enough in the middlegame.  My opponent, an Expert, avoids this problem and the note to move 20 points out how effective his one developed rook is, combining with his other pieces to make threats while my rooks merely sit on the sidelines.

In terms of positional themes, the other dominant one is of course the two bishops.  In the opening, Black deliberately gives White this advantage, along with a small advantage in development, in compensation having easy development for himself and no structural weaknesses.  However, White's edge out of the opening is real and Black needed to concentrate harder on identifying and carefully neutralizing White's play.  Black instead focused on the more crude plan of simply exchanging down wherever possible, which worked up to a point but ignored White's positional threats.  The domination of the two bishops at the end of this game is an object lesson in why they are considered an advantage.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "69"] {B10: Caro-Kann: d3 and 2 c4} 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 {the Two Knights' variation} dxe4 {this sideline can result in a structure similar to the mainline Caro-Kann, once White plays d4.} (3... Bg4 {is the standard move here, leading to true Two Knights positions.}) 4. Nxe4 Bf5 {other standard moves (Nd7, Nf6) are very likely to transpose into their respective mainline Caro-Kann variations. Here, the move is the signature for the Classical variation, but as we'll shortly see White would get a major advantage if Black tried to play for a transposition.} 5. Ng3 Bg4 {this leads to a slightly inferior position for Black, which is however playable.} ({Playing} 5... Bg6 { as the analagous move in the Classical variation would only lead to a strong White initiative here.} 6. h4 h6 7. Ne5 Bh7 8. Qh5 {and White scores 70 percent from here in the database. The difference from the Classical variation is that while White has not played d4, Black has not played either Nd7 or Nf6, either of which would prevent White's attack.}) 6. h3 Bxf3 7. Qxf3 Nf6 8. Bc4 e6 {here we can take stock of the opening drawbacks for Black. White has three pieces developed to Black's one, and also possesses the two bishops. However, Black's position has no organic weaknesses.} 9. c3 Nbd7 10. d4 Be7 11. O-O O-O 12. Re1 Nd5 $146 {now out of the database.} (12... Re8 {strengthening Black's defenses on the "evil" e-file is the move of choice among high-level players, for example:} 13. Nh5 Nxh5 14. Qxh5 Nf6 15. Qf3 Nd5 16. Qg4 Nf6 17. Qf3 Nd5 18. Qg4 Nf6 19. Qf3 {1/2-1/2 Antoniewski,R (2585)-L'Ami,E (2592)/Hamburg GER 2011/ The Week in Chess 892}) 13. Ne4 N7f6 14. Bd3 {White redeploys on a more promising diagonal, also freeing the c4 square for a pawn push.} h6 {Prevents intrusion on g5, notes Fritz, but also gives White a kingside target.} 15. g4 { a very aggressive choice. White is looking to take advantage of Black's evident passivity.} (15. Nxf6+ $5 Nxf6 16. Bf4 $14 {is the choice of the engines.}) 15... Nxe4 {the correct reaction, exchanging off a potential attacker and redeploying the Nd5.} 16. Qxe4 Nf6 17. Qg2 {signaling further aggressive intent down the g-file. Houdini now evaluates the position as equal, however.} Qd5 (17... Nd5 $5 $11 {is an alternative, keeping the queens on the board. Black's defensive task may in fact be easier this way.}) 18. f4 (18. Bf4 Qxg2+ 19. Kxg2 Nd5 20. Be5) 18... Qxg2+ {Black accomplishes his single-minded goal of trading down pieces.} (18... Rad8 {would instead develop the rook and help prepare the ...c5 break.}) 19. Kxg2 c5 {Black is unfortunately ignorant of the coming threat down the e-file. Bd6 would be more appropriate, moving the unprotected bishop out of the line of fire from the Re1.} 20. f5 {White immediately capitalizes on Black's mistake. Note how effective the one White developed rook is, compared to zero effectiveness for Black's rooks.} Kh8 $2 ( 20... cxd4 {is a viable option, says Fritz.} 21. fxe6 fxe6 22. Rxe6 Bc5 $14 { is rather ugly, but Black is still hanging on for the time being.}) 21. fxe6 $18 Nd5 (21... cxd4 {is still Black's best option, but now he's further down material.} 22. exf7 Bc5 23. cxd4 $18) 22. dxc5 (22. exf7 {is strongly preferred by the engines.} Bf6 23. Be4 Rad8 24. dxc5 Rxf7 $18 25. Rd1) 22... Bh4 {a cheap and pointless threat, made out of a growing sense of desperation. Simply recapturing with Bxc5 was better.} 23. Rf1 (23. Re2 $5) 23... fxe6 24. Bd2 Rf6 $6 {this takes away the best retreat square for the knight, which White immediately sees.} (24... Rfd8) 25. c4 Nc7 $2 {this actually was Black's original idea, to protect the pawn on e6, but the passivity of the piece compared to White's increasingly active bishops will in fact doom Black.} ( 25... Rd8 $142 26. cxd5 Rxd5 $18) 26. Bc3 Rff8 27. Be5 $6 {this in reality forces the knight to a better square and should lose White the c5 pawn.} (27. Be4 {makes it even easier for White, says Fritz.} Bf6 28. Bxf6 gxf6 29. Bxb7 $18) 27... Na6 28. Bd6 Rf6 $2 (28... Rfc8 {would win back the pawn, at least, although Black is still losing.} 29. b4 Nxb4 $18) 29. Be4 {now the two bishops effectively help White finish carving up Black's position.} Rd8 30. Bxb7 Nb4 31. Be4 Rd7 32. a3 Na6 33. b4 Rdf7 34. Rxf6 Bxf6 35. Bg6 1-0

Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition - Windows 7 installation issues

Similar to what occurred with Fritz 13, I had to overcome some issues while installing the Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition DVD onto my new Windows 7 laptop.  The DVD autorun file didn't work at all, so I had to find the setup.exe file in the English-language installation folder on the DVD and create a shortcut to it on my desktop.  I then edited the shortcut properties (via right-click menu) to have the program run in Windows XP compatibility mode and as an administrator.  As a precaution, I also disabled the McAfee virus scan software for the duration of the installation.

After this, the installation went fine, although I discovered that you have to let the install program try and install DirectX, even if you already have it on your computer.

If anyone else has problems with their installation, this may be of help.

15 July 2012

Book completed - Starting Out: The English

Starting Out: The English by [McDonald, Neil]

I recently completed Starting Out: The English by Neil McDonald (Everyman Chess, 2003).  As with the Caro-Kann book in the Starting Out series, this was an opportunity to fill in gaps in my opening repertoire, learn more broadly about the opening, and focus on typical plans and ideas in certain position-types.  In working through the book, I used a mix of a tournament-sized chessboard (largely for the unfamiliar lines) and a computer for reviewing more familiar lines in my repertoire database.

The review linked above does an excellent job of summarizing the book's strengths (and few weaknesses).  Here I'll comment on its utility from my perspective, that of a Class player who has used the English for a number of years.

For a general survey and one-volume treatment of the opening, I still rate Nigel Povah's How to Play the English Opening as the most useful book I've read, although it's out of print.  This makes McDonald's work probably the best single-volume introduction currently available.  At 190 pages, it's significantly longer than the Povah book and also somewhat longer than most other Starting Out series books (including McDonald's Dutch Defense volume).  That said, it is by no means comprehensive and someone who wants to play the English will have to obtain supplemental book/DVD resources or do significant database research to flesh out their desired repertoire.

The general strengths of the Starting Out series are on display in this volume, where the author takes a significant amount of space to explain important ideas for both sides at key points in variations and often points out why superficially attractive moves do not work in some concrete variations.  This presentation of the typical plans for both sides - in the process showing a balanced perspective regarding evaluations of different lines - is what makes the book most valuable for me, especially since the Povah book did not cover some of these ideas, particularly in the Symmetrical lines.

For those interested, here's a more detailed breakdown of the perceived utility of the various chapters.
  • Symmetrical English 1: Black's Kingside Fianchetto.  This was probably the most valuable chapter for me, since I have had little practical exposure to, or understanding of, the Symmetrical variations in general.  By coincidence, I played a recent tournament game in one of these lines where I had gone out of my own book at move 5, so this section helped plug a large hole in my repertoire.  The example games I thought were particularly well-chosen to illustrate White's plans.
  • Symmetrical English 2: Early Action in the Centre.  I was able to largely ignore this chapter, since my chosen repertoire doesn't feature these variations.  However, I was careful to look at certain variations that Black could use to ensure they did not pose a threat.
  • Symmetrical English 3: The Hedgehog.  This chapter discusses a complex position-type that can also arise from other openings such as the Sicilian.  It features deep maneuvering and relatively few tactics, although one has to keep some possible tactical points in mind along the d-file especially.  I found the discussion of both sides' ideas to be quite valuable, although the complexity of the variation and some of White's move choices are not treated in depth.
  • The Nimzo-English.  The main line with 4. Qc2 is what I play and is looked at only on a superficial level.  Given that the basic ideas in the line are positional and not terribly complicated, this is forgivable.  More space is allocated to the tactical Mikenas Attack with 3. e4 (in place of the normal 3. Nf3) and the 4. g4 attacking thrust.  I appreciated the author's evaluation of the greater danger for Black in the latter two lines, as well as his explanations of White's ideas, and may look more closely at them in the future for my own use.
  • The Four Knights (including the Reversed Dragon).  The author's presentation of key lines matched up well with my own repertoire with 4. e3, which has been extensively researched due to the common nature of the variation at the Class level.  However, in general the coverage of the alternatives to 4. g3 was superficial, with only one response (4...Bb4) to e3 presented.
  • Black Plays a King's Indian Setup.  This was the second most valuable chapter for me, introducing some key late opening/early middlegame concepts and exploring the different alternatives for White to meet Black's basic kingside attacking plan.  The variations covered here also tend to be commonly encountered in tournament play, so are important to study; Annotated Game #12 is a good example of this.  I found the chapter title to be somewhat misleading, however, as it doesn't really cover a "pure" KID setup against the English.  In contrast, Povah's book distinguished between the two, having a separate short KID chapter and placing these variations in a chapter entitled "Closed Systems II" because they typically begin with 1...e5 and feature Black's knight developing to c6.
  • Reti Lines.  The author gets significant credit for including these lines, which White can use against a Slav or Queen's Gambit Declined setup and which are often reached via the Reti Opening (1. Nf3).  However, the lines are only shallowly covered from White's perspective and are probably more useful for Black players for study purposes.  Nevertheless, this is a neglected area of the English and helps fill in a White player's repertoire, avoiding the idea that White should simply transpose to the main lines of the QGD or Slav with an early d4.  (Perhaps this is a good idea for d4 players to avoid certain Black move-orders in these openings, but for the English Opening player this would mean studying a lot more theory.)
  • Other Variations.  The author usefully touches on the Dutch and Grunfeld setups for Black and how White can (and should) vary from the usual queen pawn opening ideas.  Other irregular responses are mentioned as well (for example 1...b6 and the sequence 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 d6) and some basic ideas given, but players will have to do their own homework on specific variations.

14 July 2012

Annotated Game #54: Clubs and Stones

The third round of this tournament featured me doing a caveman impression with my attack on the Black king position.  However, this was not due to the "caveman attack" being my preferred style of play; rather, it reflected the shockingly basic level of my attacking skills at the time.

The opening is worth examining, being a good example of when the opponent (Black in this case) varies from standard opening play with a solid and reasonable, yet theoretically inferior move (4...d6).  There is of course no immediate punishment for the move; in fact, it transposes into an opening formation for Black - both knights developed plus the d6-e5 pawn chain - which can result from the Black Knight's Tango, Panther, or Old Indian Defense (the root of the previous two openings).  The difference between this game and the main line of the other defenses is that White has played e3 instead of d5; for more on the Panther setup, there's an interesting series of articles at the Kenilworthian.

Returning to the game, the first major decision occurs on moves 7-8, with Black exchanging central pawns on d4 and White deciding to recapture with pieces rather than the e3 pawn.  It's these sorts of decisions that will greatly affect the structure and flow of a game, although they may appear innocuous at the time.  It was interesting to see that the choice I made was supported by 100% of the master games in the database.  At the time, I went that route largely through a greater familiarity with the central structure in question, which is in fact not a bad reason.  From an objective standpoint, the alternative central pawn structure (pawns on c4+d4 with an open e-file) is a little loose for White and I think Black finds it easier to play against, with the idea of undermining White's pawns and eventually putting a rook on the e-file.

The early middlegame features some silly maneuvering on both sides, although Black's turns out to be a bit sillier, since he maneuvers his knight into a pin against g7 on the long diagonal from White's Q+B battery.  The threat of mate on g7 dominates the rest of the game, although analysis points out where both sides could have profitably broken out of this situation.  Things are finally brought to a head when White goes caveman starting on move 20.  After a rather lengthy sequence he manages to exchange off Black's defending knight, although analysis shows that by this point it had no real impact on Black's defenses.

One of Black's problems throughout this game was that he was evidently thinking only one ply ahead on a number of his previous moves - the antics of both the knight and the light-squared bishop are witness to that - and missing obvious replies from White.  Unfortunately for Black he does the same thing again on move 27, attacking White's "caveman" rook but failing to count the number of attackers against g7.  The end is brutal, with White throwing stones and then clubbing Black to death.

Moral of the story: brains can beat brawn, but only if they are used for thinking ahead more than one move.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "57"] {A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d6 {this move is normally not covered in opening books on the English, as developing with either Bb4 or Be7 is preferred. The text move locks in the bishop prematurely.} 5. Be2 (5. d4 {is normally played in this position, which is more active and immediately challenging; this would transpose to a Black Knight's Tango/Panther setup where White foregoes the push d5.}) 5... Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. d4 {now White transposes anyway.} exd4 {one of a wide variety of choices for Black here.} 8. Nxd4 {one of those seemingly arbitrary recapture decisions that in fact have a great deal of influence on the rest of the game. All of the master-level games in the database feature the knight recapture, rather than the pawn.} Nxd4 {Black eliminates the more active and centralized White knight.} 9. Qxd4 {if White had wanted to recapture with the pawn, he would have done so before. The Old Indian structure of Black's development (Be7, Nf6 and d6) is now evident.} c6 {Secures b5+d5, notes Fritz. Again, a wide variety of choices for Black here, with Be6 played most often.} 10. Bf3 { while this isn't bad, it's not clear that the bishop is better situated here in the long term.} (10. e4 {is the engines' preference, gaining space in the center, challenging again for control of d5 using another pawn, and opening the c1-h6 diagonal for the bishop.}) (10. b3 {is the humans' preference, developing the bishop to b2 and taking advantage of the queen's placement.}) 10... Qc7 11. b3 Nd7 {Black needs further his development here, rather than move away the only minor piece guarding the kingside. It seems that the knight's intention is to head for e5 to try and exchange off the Bf3.} 12. Ne4 $6 {White commits the same error, neglecting development. It's not clear what the knight is doing on e4, as d6 is adequately protected and it doesn't influence any other useful squares.} (12. Bb2 {is obvious and best.} Bf6 13. Qd2 Ne5 14. Be4 {and White will have a lasting initiative with pressure down the d-file and his pieces effectively pointing at Black's king.}) 12... Nf6 $6 {Black's idea seems to be to exchange off the Ne4, but this simply walks into the pin on the long diagonal after White's next move.} (12... f5 13. Nc3 $11 Bf6 {is preferred by the engines, which rate the position as equal.}) (12... Ne5 {is the logical follow-up to Black's previous move and is also rated equal. }) 13. Bb2 $14 {now the knight is pinned against the g7 mating square.} Rd8 14. Rfd1 {d6 draws heavy fire, comments Fritz.} d5 15. cxd5 Rxd5 {essentially forced, since after cxd5 the isolated queen pawn becomes a huge target and of course Nxd5 loses to the mate on g7.} 16. Qc3 (16. Nxf6+ $2 {of course fails to } Bxf6) 16... Rxd1+ 17. Rxd1 Be6 {the bishop is finally developed, although f5 would be a better square.} 18. Ng5 {the knight has this square thanks to the Nf6 blocking the Be7. However, it can be easily kicked away with h6.} (18. Nc5 {is preferred by Houdini, with a neat tactical threat against b7. For example, if Black continued} Bf5 {then} 19. Nxb7 Qxb7 20. Bxc6) 18... Bf5 {if my opponent was not willing to exchange the bishop on e6, this should have been played a move earlier.} 19. Be2 {White clears the f3 square for the Ng5 and prepare to redeploy the bishop, but in fact does neither of these things as a follow-up.} (19. e4 {is the vigorous move found by the engines. At this point in my career, attacking play was obviously not my strength.} Bg6 $14 20. e5 { a standard attacking theme increasing the pressure on Black.} Nd5 21. Bxd5 Bxg5 22. Ba3 {threatening to go to d6, which Black cannot stop:} Be7 23. Bd6 Bxd6 24. exd6 {and Qxd6 fails to Bxf7+.}) 19... Bg6 20. h4 h6 21. Nh3 Bf8 {Black defends g7 again, anticipating White's attempt to get rid of the Nf6.} (21... Rd8 {is the more active defense recommended by Houdini.} 22. Nf4 Rxd1+ 23. Bxd1 Qd7) 22. Nf4 Bh7 23. Nh5 Nxh5 24. Bxh5 {the ultimate point of the long knight maneuver, but the position is completely equal according to the engines.} Qe7 { here is where Black starts to go seriously wrong, evidently not anticipating White's follow-up maneuver. Rd8 was necessary.} 25. Rd4 Rd8 {a move too late.} (25... Be4 {instead would prevent White from making progress with the rook.} 26. Qc4 Bf5) 26. Rg4 {the "caveman" approach to attacking g7.} (26. Ba3 $1 { is the missed tactic here.} Qf6 27. Rxd8 Qxd8 28. Bxf8 Qxf8 29. Qd4 Qb8 30. Qd7 f6 31. Bf7+ Kh8 {and White has a significant endgame advantage.}) 26... Rd1+ $15 27. Kh2 Bf5 $4 {whoops! Black obviously miscounts the number of attackers against g7.} (27... f6 {and White can do nothing more with his attack on Black's king.} 28. Qxf6 Qxf6 29. Bxf6 Rd5 30. Be8 Bf5 31. Rg3 Rd2 {and Black regains the pawn with much better rook activity and an endgame advantage.}) 28. Rxg7+ Bxg7 (28... Kh8 {fails to} 29. Rh7+ $3 {Clearance to allow Qc3-h8, notes Fritz.} Kxh7 30. Qh8#) 29. Qxg7# 1-0

06 July 2012

Annotated Game #53: Immediate Punishment

This second-round tournament features a quirky sideline of the Classical Caro-Kann allowed by White's move-order choice on move 6.  The resulting positions from this sideline tend to bear little resemblance to the normal ones, throwing both players out of book quite quickly.  Here, White seemingly plays aggressively with 8. Ne5, but the following exchanges are mostly unavoidable, leaving the players with no pieces developed on move 10. White in compensation for a wrecked kingside pawn structure has the two bishops and somewhat more active prospects for his pieces.

Black plays rather conventionally, overlooking some interesting active possibilities such as 11...Qa5 which would have thrown White off his game, but is not in any real trouble until he gets lazy on move 17.  Centralizing the knight looks good for all of one move, then White's pawns immediately start rolling over Black's pieces, punishing him for lack of attention.  Black misses a rather complicated defensive idea and then is down a full piece, putting up staunch resistance in the endgame but to no avail.

I got the most positive value from analyzing this game from looking at the piece exchanges resulting from the opening, which look OK for Black, and understanding how moves like 11...Qa5 can be advantageous.  The negative lesson is rather obvious, since Black failed to falsify his move, which would not have been very difficult to do (i.e. simply seeing the move 18. c4! from his opponent, hitting the Nd5.)  It's interesting to see how easy it is to pick out thought process mistakes in game analysis, which leads in turn to a significant part of the improvement process, that of recognizing and correcting recurring mistakes in play.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "77"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. h4 Nh5 {White's move-order with 6. Nf3 instead of 6. h4 allows Black to vary from the main line, which would be reached with 7...h6.} 8. Ne5 {an unusual try which looks aggressive but scores poorly for White.} (8. Ne2 {is the highest-scoring move choice in the database. Sample continuation:} 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 {otherwise Black's knight is out of place on h5.} 9. Nxg6 $146 (9. fxg3 {was played in all other database games. However, the move-order of the captures does not appear to be of significance.} Nd7 10. Nxg6 hxg6) 9... hxg6 10. fxg3 e6 {now ...Nd7 would of course reach the same position as above.} 11. Be3 {treating the bishop like a big pawn doesn't seem like good piece play, although the move usefully overprotects the d4 pawn while keeping the option of pushing c4.} (11. c3 Bd6 12. Qf3 Qc7) 11... Bd6 ( 11... Qa5+ {would now exploit the bishop move, however, as Houdini points out. White would have to block the diagonal with c3 after all, or lose a tempo by moving the bishop again.}) 12. Qf3 Qc7 13. Bf2 (13. O-O-O {is a pawn sacrifice that is liked by the engines.} Bxg3 14. Rh3 Bd6 15. Kb1 Nd7 16. g4 {and the problem is that Black's king can't castle without causing further problems, so White has pressure against the king in the center for his pawn.} O-O {for example leads to} 17. h5 gxh5 18. gxh5 {with lots of open lines for White's heavy pieces and bishops to assault Black's king, along with the h-pawn.}) 13... Nd7 14. O-O-O Nf6 (14... O-O-O {immediately is best, as the Nd7 is fine where it's at. The f7 pawn is protected tactically now, due to possibility of a rook going to f8 in response to Qxf7.}) 15. Bc4 (15. g4 {is more challenging, at the same time also getting the pawn away from the pressure at g3 and allowing the Bf2 to protect the h-pawn.}) 15... O-O-O {White has a small advantage due to the two bishops and more active prospects for his pieces.} 16. Bb3 Kb8 17. g4 Nd5 $2 {a classic case of not considering the opponent's possible (and obvious) reply, which hits the knight and then immediately afterwards the bishop.} (17... Nd7 $14 {and Black hangs on, comments Fritz.}) 18. c4 $18 Nf6 {this simply makes the knight a target on f6, however, and also blocks the advance of the f-pawn.} (18... Ne7 {is a better defense.} 19. c5 ( 19. Qxf7 $2 {still doesn't work due to the bishop on f2 being targeted in an x-ray attack.} Rhf8 20. Qxg7 Rxf2 $19) 19... Bf4+ 20. Kb1 $18 {and the Bf4 can only survive if Black allows other material losses.} f6 21. g3 Bh6 22. Bxe6) 19. c5 Bf4+ 20. Kb1 {now Black doesn't have the possibility of playing ...f6 and the ...Bh6 retreat, while also needing to worry about the potential Bg3 skewer of Qc7 to Kb8 if the bishop moves off the h2-b8 diagonal.} Nd5 (20... Nh7 {is the best try, according to the engines, but Black is already essentially lost.} 21. g5 Ka8 22. g3) 21. g3 {the bishop is now out of safe squares.} g5 22. gxf4 gxf4 23. g5 g6 {and the rest is just mopping up by White, although Black attemps to tenaciously resist.} 24. h5 gxh5 25. Rxh5 Rhg8 26. Qe4 Rg7 27. Bxd5 cxd5 28. Qe5 Rdg8 29. Qxg7 Rxg7 30. Rh8+ Qc8 31. Rxc8+ Kxc8 32. Rg1 Kd7 33. Kc1 Ke7 34. Kd2 Rh7 35. Ke2 f6 36. g6 Rg7 37. Bh4 Rg8 38. Kf3 Rh8 39. Rg4 {and Black admits that the endgame is now hopeless.} 1-0

04 July 2012

Computer Resources - July 2012 update

My use of computer resources has evolved since last year's posts on the subject.  In addition to updating comments on individual tools, I'll also provide an outline of how this particular Class player is using computer tools to train.  I'm always interested in hearing how other players are training using computer tools, either with the same software or different choices.

The core resource for me continues to be a database analysis program with a comprehensive, updated games database and engine plugin.  Because of my approach to training, which features regular analysis of my own games and related comprehensive opening study (including identifying typical middlegame plans and reviewing complete games), this is the most important computer tool.
  • I recently settled on using ChessBase 11 as the primary database software package, along with a 2012 ChessBase format database. This was primarily due to the analytical features available in the package, the ease of generating commentary, and to legacy factors; I've been using ChessBase format for a long time.  After having used CB10 for a number of years, I can say that the CB11 interface and display is in fact much improved.  The most important improvement for me is better integration of the game reference display, which I use continually.  I also observed calculation errors CB10 made in terms of the move results percentages, which CB11 does not do.  CB11 also seems to run chess engines with fewer issues as well; CB10 would occasionally lock up, while I've had no errors with CB11 so far.
  • Tech note: CB11 took several tries to install and activate on my new Windows 7 laptop.  Running the install program in XP compatibility mode and with administrator access eventually worked; I also had issues installing the Fritz 13 program from DVD.  CB11's current version has a number of bugfixes and updates; I've had no stability issues or errors since install.  I do run it in XP compatibility mode, however, which was a suggestion I found in researching the product before purchasing it.
  • The main retail alternative is the Chess Assistant 12 software package from ChessOK.  It has its own proprietary database format, as does Chessbase, so the analytic software and databases are integrated (and often sold as packages).  Both CB and CA can read and process PGN files, however, so are not limited to the proprietary database formats.
  • The latest Scid vs PC package is a popular freeware alternative database program which uses PGN format files.  It has a number of analytic features and supports UCI and Winboard chess engines.
  • Also free are "lite" versions of the CB and CA software, although these tend to be more useful as "try before you buy" programs, rather than something for permanent use, now that fully-functional freeware programs like Scid vs PC are available. 
Closely associated with the above is the use of chess playing and game analysis software.  These days there tends to be a large overlap in software categories, as database programs have chess engines integrated into them and chess playing programs have database features.  However, the overlap is not quite complete, since the database programs include many more features for processing the database information, while having few if any options for play or complete game analysis.
  • Fritz 13's playing and analysis features have changed little from previous versions, although the new proprietary "Let's Check" feature, which uses an online cloud database to enhance position analysis, is an interesting new tool.  I primarily use the software for full-game commentated analysis, as part of my computer-assisted analysis practice.
  • Houdini 2.0 is now my engine of choice for full-game analysis using the Fritz interface and in CB11 position analysis.  I have experienced no issues so far with it in either program.  Its free predecessor (version 1.5, still available for download from the site) also worked quite well.  The Houdini engine seems to generate better text commentary in the Fritz interface than the Fritz engine does, although that's not a scientific observation.  A number of strong freeware engines with a variety of "styles" are also available.
  • Aquarium 2011 is the ChessOK retail alternative playing/analysis package, which is set up more for analysis than play.  The latest version comes packaged with Houdini 2.
  • I still use Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition for longer-duration training games, employing a "ladder" approach against the CM personalities and always playing the recommended next opponent.
  • There are a lot of freeware programs that are available for playing and game analysis purposes, including earlier versions of some of the principal retail programs.
While I use the ChessBase lineup and am quite happy with CB11 and Fritz 13's performance and features, selection of computer tools I think is primarily a matter of personal taste; this is especially the case for us non-professional players.  You can find advocates for both CB and CA products with an internet search, although user experiences can vary widely with both packages.  It's also difficult to find an objective and contemporary (2012) review and comparison of features.  The proprietary formats employed by the two companies mean that users, for convenience's sake, are best off using the respective database and playing/analysis software as a package.  For example, I own Aquarium 2011, but the necessary process of converting files to PGN and back for use with the database software (among other things) deters me from using it with my personal games database; it is of course not compatible with the CB format main reference database that I use.  

If someone is just starting out with using computer tools, I would recommend comparing the CB lite, CA lite, and Scid vs. PC software (at minimum) before choosing a particular path to follow.  If saving $$ is important, the freeware options in the link above offer some great resources and a PGN database can be updated with new games for free using weekly downloads at the TWIC site.  Related to that and as mentioned in previous commentary, I had hoped that the Chess King retail package would provide a useful basic-needs approach to integrating database and playing/analysis software, especially since Class-level users like myself may end up not using a lot of the features of the more expensive software programs; however, the lack of database functionality and bugs in the software meant that it was not usable for my training program.

03 July 2012

Fritz 13 and Windows 7 installation issues

I recently solved a Fritz 13 installation problem, so thought it would be worth sharing the procedure.  A Google search didn't help me out when I was wrestling with it, although it pointed out one Amazon.com review where someone had the same issue, so I knew I wasn't alone.

After getting a new laptop with Windows 7 - the previous one was running XP - of course the first thing on the list was to re-install my chess software.  However, the Fritz 13 DVD refused to install.  I would be able to get to the first autorun screen with the "install" button; however, the DVD would just spin after that and nothing would happen, other than my computer slowing down while it tried to process things.

Repeated tries, including running the Setup program on the DVD under different XP compatibility settings, didn't work, so I temporarily gave up.  At one point canceling out of the install resulted in the error message: "The installer package could not be opened. Contact the application vendor to verify that this is a valid Windows installer package"

However, when re-installing some other software, during installation I received an error message that a file was allegedly missing; immediately afterwards, my McAfee security software said it had deleted a trojan.  False detection errors can be a common error with security software during software installation, so I turned off McAfee and then successfully re-installed the other program.

Returning to Fritz 13, after two tries I was able to get it fully installed.  To be safe, I ran the install in XP compatibility mode, but the key part was clearly disabling the McAfee security software.  (On the XP installation, I had a different security program running.)  If anyone else is having the same issue, hopefully the above will help.

EDIT: I put in a request for technical assistance at Chessbase.com and did in fact receive a response, although after I had resolved the issue.  It reminded me that along with running Setup.exe in XP compatability mode, it might be necessary to run it as an administrator as well (which I had in fact attempted originally with no luck).  Disabling the anti-virus software still appears to be the most critical step.

01 July 2012

Why I Play the Slav

During my initial process of openings selection, I settled on the Slav rather early as my defense to 1. d4. Unlike with the 1. e4 suite of openings, I didn't try out as many different defenses, only playing the King's Indian Defense and the Queen's Gambit Accepted in informal games prior to deciding on the Slav.  At the time, I simply didn't understand the KID and was not a tactically-oriented player, so passing on the KID was a good choice.  The QGA I felt more comfortable with, but I did not handle very well the more open positions that resulted from it.  The Slav is characterized by semi-open positions, as with the Caro-Kann, so it fit my needs at the time.

What follows is my first tournament game ever - a win with the Slav.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "1985.??.??"] {D10: Slav Defence: cxd5 (without early Nf3) and 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 {this is remarkably common at the Class level, rather than Nf3, perhaps because it is the standard move in reply to the Queen’s Gambit Declined with .. .e6.} dxc4 {the most challenging move, taking the game into different variations than occur after 3. Nf3.} 4. e4 e5 5. Nf3 {an important decision by White, deciding to avoid the exchange of queens on d1.} (5. dxe5 Qxd1 6. Kxd1 Be6 7. f4 g6 8. Nf3 Na6 9. Be3 O-O-O 10. Ke1 Bc5 11. Kf2 f6 12. Be2 Nh6 13. Bxc5 Nxc5 14. exf6 Ng4 15. Kg3 Nxf6 16. Ng5 Rd2 17. Nxe6 Nxe6 18. Bxc4 Nd4 19. Rad1 Nh5 {Prudnikova,S-Stefanova,A/Belgrade 1998/CBM 63 ext/1/2-1/2 (52)}) 5... exd4 6. Nxd4 {this is comparatively rare, but keeps the queens on the board.} (6. Qxd4 {heads for a queenless middlegame. Here is a contemporary example of a Black victory at the GM level.} Qxd4 7. Nxd4 b5 8. a4 b4 9. Nd1 Nf6 10. f3 Ba6 11. Be3 Nfd7 12. Rc1 c5 13. Nb5 Bxb5 14. axb5 Nb6 15. Bf4 N8d7 16. Ne3 g6 17. Nxc4 Bg7 18. b3 O-O 19. Kf2 f5 20. e5 Rfe8 21. Nxb6 axb6 22. Bc4 Kf8 23. e6 Bd4 24. Kg3 Ne5 25. Bxe5 Bxe5 26. f4 Bd4 27. Rc2 Ke7 28. Kf3 Red8 29. Rd1 Ra3 30. h3 h5 31. g4 hxg4 32. hxg4 Rh8 33. gxf5 gxf5 34. Rg2 Rh3 35. Rg3 Rxg3 36. Kxg3 Ra1 37. Rd2 Rc1 38. Ra2 Kf6 39. Ra8 Rc3 40. Kg2 Rxc4 41. bxc4 b3 42. Rh8 b2 43. Rh1 Be3 44. Re1 Ke7 45. Rb1 Bc1 46. Kg3 Kxe6 47. Kh4 Bxf4 48. Rxb2 Ke5 49. Ra2 Kd4 50. Ra4 Kc3 51. Kh3 Kb3 52. Ra6 Kxc4 53. Ra4 Kxb5 54. Rxf4 c4 55. Kg2 c3 56. Rf1 Kc4 57. Kf3 c2 58. Ke2 Kc3 59. Ke3 b5 60. Ke2 b4 {0-1 (60) Ju,W (2519)-Shen,Y (2443) Jiangsu Wuxi 2011}) 6... Bc5 {only one game in the database with this move (a loss for Black).} (6... b5 {is preferred at top levels. Here is an example from Max Euwe, a great Slav player: } 7. a4 b4 8. Nb1 c5 9. Bxc4 Nf6 10. Nb3 Qxd1 11. Kxd1 Be6 12. Bxe6 fxe6 13. Be3 Nxe4 14. f3 Nd6 15. Bxc5 Nc4 16. N1d2 Nxd2 17. Kxd2 Nd7 18. Rac1 Nxc5 19. Nxc5 Bxc5 20. Rxc5 Ke7 21. Rc7 Kf6 22. Rhc1 Rhd8 23. Ke3 Rd5 24. Rb7 Re5 25. Kf2 Rd8 26. Rcc7 Rd2 27. Kg3 Ree2 28. Rf7 Ke5 29. f4 Kd5 30. Rfd7 Kc4 31. Rxd2 Rxd2 {1/2-1/2 (31) O’Kelly de Galway,A-Euwe,M Beverwijk 1952}) 7. Be3 Nf6 {this was played in the database game. It ignores the fact that the Bc5 is hanging, however, and gives White a possibly winning tactic.} (7... Qe7 {was found by both Fritz and Houdini to keep the balance.}) 8. Bxc4 {obvious but not best.} (8. Nxc6 Nxc6 9. Qxd8 Kxd8 10. Bxc5 Be6 {although material is even, Black’s king is stranded in the center and White’s two bishops look powerful. The engines show White around a pawn up equivalent.}) 8... O-O (8... Qe7 {is still needed to avoid the Nxc6 tactic.}) 9. Qd3 Nbd7 {now Black is fine.} 10. f4 Ng4 {aiming to eliminate the two bishops for White.} 11. Rd1 (11. O-O-O {is what Houdini assesses is needed to keep the game level, moving the king to relative safety.}) 11... Nxe3 (11... Qh4 $5 {is what Houdini pointed out for Black.} 12. g3 Qh3 {and now White’s king is in the center with a weakened position.}) 12. Qxe3 Nb6 13. Bb3 Qc7 (13... Qe7 {is the better way to move the queen off the d-file, pressuring e4 and protecting the Bc5.}) 14. Qd3 $2 {this just gives up the f4 pawn with no compensation.} Bg4 {this in-between move before the pawn capture actually detracts from Black’s threats, as now the Nd4 could move to e2 and out of a potential pin by a Rd8.} (14... Qxf4 {is simplest and best.} 15. Qf3 Qh4 16. g3 $19 Qh3) 15. Rd2 $2 (15. Nde2 $142 $5 $17) 15... Qxf4 $19 16. Rf2 $2 (16. Qg3 {minimizes the damage.} Qxg3 17. hxg3 Rad8 18. Nf3 $19) 16... Qc1 17. Bd1 Bxd1 {still winning, but Black misses the more devastating attack on the d-file} (17... Bxd4 18. Rc2 (18. Qxd4 $2 Rad8) 18... Bxc3 19. bxc3 Qxd1 20. Qxd1 Bxd1 21. Kxd1 Rad8 22. Kc1 $19) 18. O-O Qg5 (18... Bc2 {is overlooked by Black.} 19. Qxc2 (19. Rxc1 $4 {a tasty morsel with a slight problem, notes Fritz.} Bxd3 20. Nce2 Nc4 $19) 19... Qxc2 20. Nxc2 $19) 19. Nxd1 $6 {the alternative rook capture would add a defender for d4, although White is still going to lose a piece.} (19. Rxd1 Rad8 20. Nce2 $19 Bxd4 21. Nxd4 c5 22. Rf5 Qe7) 19... Rad8 20. Rf5 Bxd4 21. Kh1 Qe7 22. Qe2 f6 23. b3 Rfe8 {Black continues to make progress with simple, powerful moves. White cannot cover all his weaknesses and Black’s heavy pieces and bishop dominate.} 24. R5f4 Qd6 (24... Nd5 $5) 25. Qc2 Be5 26. Rh4 Qd2 27. Qb1 { evaluated as slightly worse by Houdini, although my opponent likely felt he had better practical chances by keeping the queens on.} Re7 (27... Qe2 $5 { makes it even easier for Black} 28. Nf2 Rd2) 28. Nf2 Qb2 29. Qe1 Qxa2 30. Qe3 Bd4 31. Qh3 h6 (31... Bxf2 {is one of those moves that the engines love, since it’s "winning even more", but during a real game would be unnecessary and risky to play.} 32. Rxh7 Qe2 33. Rh8 Kf7 34. Qh5 Qxh5 35. Rxh5 Rxe4) 32. Ng4 Qe2 {now Black penetrates with the queen and the end is in sight.} 33. Rb1 Bb2 34. Kg1 Rd1 35. Rxd1 Qxd1 36. Kf2 Bd4 37. Ne3 {and my opponent resigned, with further material loss and mate coming after Qd2} 0-1'/>

The basic ideas in the Slav I find easy to comprehend and implement during a game.  Black's central pawn presence is supported with c6 and the light-squared bishop normally finds a home on f5 before e6 is played, with standard development occurring with Be7/Bb4 and Nbd7 in many lines.  This, along with the opening's generally solid nature, have given me no cause for complaint over the years.  There is also enough variety in the different variations, including some White gambits and Black sidelines, that keep the opening from being stale.  It is also an opening in which knowledge and preparation can pay off against any level of opposition, for example in the simul game with GM Alex Yermolinsky (which also highlights my poor endgame play, but that is another story) and in the "Punishing Slav" game.

In order to increase my winning potential against queen pawn openings - if White wants a draw against the Slav, he can usually obtain one easily - and expand my chess horizons, I've been looking at the Dutch Defense. However, I'll never abandon the Slav, which has done well for me, from the very beginning until the present day.