31 August 2012

Chess vs. Tennis - sporting lessons

With the U.S. Open tennis tournament now in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to post this.  I've been a tennis fan for a long time and enjoy playing the game recreationally.  Every time I watch matches during a tennis tournament, though, it also makes me think of dueling with another player over the chessboard, not just about what's happening on the court.

The value of seeing chess as an art has been mentioned before here, including the idea of it being a mental martial art, along with comparisons to other arts such as music.  I think looking at chess as a sport can be similarly interesting and useful, with the ongoing Olympiad in Istanbul being an excellent example of how it can embody the sporting philosophy in world competition.

In some respects chess and tennis are obvious comparisons as sports, as the most popular form of tennis (singles) is also a one-on-one duel.  There are in fact a number of aspects of tennis that have close equivalents in the sport of chess.
  • Each game/match tends to develop a rhythm between the two players.  There is normally a natural ebb and flow between attacking and defending phases for each side.  Critical moments also often occur which offer a player the chance to make or break a game.   
  • One side is given a small but real advantage in terms of initiative.  Being on serve in tennis is intriguingly like the benefit of being White, which sometimes creates pressure to "hold serve".  However, in both sports a player will have to alternate sides and must have a complete game in order to be successful in tournaments.
  • Players have different playing styles, although at the top levels the styles tend to converge towards what provides the most practical results.  One could liken swashbuckling gambit play in the Romantic era of chess to the serve-and-volley style of play in tennis; both have now disappeared from the top echelons of their sport as a dominant style, but are still crowd-pleasers when occasionally resorted to.
  • Players exchange moves/shots and move/shot selection is always important on a tactical level.  Sometimes a player has to make a defensive choice because of their opponent's previous move, while other times a player can choose to play more aggressively (and riskily) or more conservatively.  In both sports, aggressive and risky play generally leads to more more wins/winning shots, but also more losses/unforced errors when your opponent successfully defends.
  • Endurance over the course of a game/match is important.  Strong play in the beginning is good, but if a player weakens over time, their good initial results may disappear and be overtaken as their opponent outlasts them.
  • Tournament results can fluctuate wildly even with top-ranked players.  This year Serena Williams did terribly at the French Open and then won Wimbledon in crushing style, to cite just one example.
Aside from the game mechanics, the pivotal role of psychology and mental training is also a shared focus for both sports.  Having to overcome an opponent's intimidation factor (higher rating/ranking or poor previous match results against them), manage the pressure of a tournament as it progresses, and avoid anything that distracts you from your game are all key factors in players' success or failure.  Even players who are top ranked in terms of skill need that extra mental strength to achieve their goals, as Andy Murray for example has shown.  I've posted before on mental toughness in chess and it would be hard to find a chess player who didn't have their own stories of painful tournament collapses or key games thrown away because of their mental state, rather than a lack of skill.

Watching a high-quality tennis match gives me much the same pleasure as a high-level chess encounter and seeing players fight their duels is both motivational and educational.  There is something that master-level competition can bring out in all of us, a kind of inspiration to compete and succeed, that is the essence of sport.

25 August 2012

Annotated Game #60: Hung by Hanging Pawns

This third-round tournament game features an unusually quick rout of my English Opening, with the game effectively over after 20 moves.  Black chooses to enter a Queen's Indian Defense setup and White fails to take into account the specific requirements of the developing position, instead playing his own opening setup by rote (for example on move 7).  White continues to make developmental mistakes, including prematurely moving and misplacing his queen on move 9, where it will later become a liability.

Strategically, the decision to go for a hanging pawns structure (with Black pawns on c5 and d5 as occurred in the game) was an interesting one by White, but probably not the best choice.  Hanging pawns that are that well-protected from the start will be difficult to attack and White was not developed well enough to target his pieces against them.  Black's use of the hanging pawns to subsequently dominate the center and pressure White is instructive, as are some of White's other erroneous choices (such as 16. h4) which eventually lead to his downfall.

That particular error is worth noting, as earlier this week while reviewing Bronstein's Zurich 1953 tournament book, I found in his annotations a criticism of a similar type of h-pawn move.  Bronstein made the useful point that these types of moves should only ever be played when no alternative exists; here, White had the alternative of simply retreating the knight to avoid Black's tactical threat.  I enjoy finding these types of examples in my own analysis which reinforce master-level guidance, as it helps my ability to identify and eliminate errors.  This is also a good illustration of how analyzing your own games and studying master-level annotated games can generate a real synergy in your training.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A17"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "92"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4} 1. c4 e6 {a flexible move which is usually used by players looking to enter a QGD setup.} 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 b6 { Black instead opts for a Queen's Indian Defense setup.} 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 Be7 6. O-O O-O 7. d3 {this is not the best try by White. The largest number of games in the database simply transpose to a QID with d4 here, with Re1 a close second choice that has been used to good effect by Kramnik.} d5 8. cxd5 exd5 { this decision to retake with the e-pawn allows the hanging pawns structure to be created.} 9. Qc2 {it seems premature to develop the queen at this point and c2 is not a particularly good square for it, as will be seen later.} (9. Bf4 { is a superior alternative for development.}) 9... c5 10. d4 {the preferred move according to Houdini, which means that the earlier d3 just wasted a tempo. } Nc6 11. dxc5 {deciding to create the hanging pawns structure of c5+d5. The pawns are well supported, however, so pehaps this was not the best choice.} ( 11. Rd1 {is the other alternative.}) 11... bxc5 12. a3 {takes away the b4 square from the knight.} Rc8 13. Rd1 Qd7 {while this takes away the possibility for White to play Bh3, it still leaves the queen lined up on the d-file with White's rook.} 14. Bf4 Nd8 $6 {Black has several possibilities here, but the knight retreat - evidently intending to head for e6 - is too slow and awkward.} (14... Rfd8 {seems like a good developing move.}) 15. Ne5 { White goes for an obvious, easily countered threat and misses a good opportunity to improve his position.} (15. e3 $142 $5 $14 {was Fritz's original suggestion, fighting for the d4 square. Then upon} Ne6 16. Ne5 { is more effective} Qd8) (15. Nxd5 {is the tactical option Houdini spots.} Nxd5 16. e4 Ne6 17. Ne5 {and White is much more aggressively placed, also having eliminated the d-pawn and breaking up Black's center.}) 15... Qe6 $15 {unlike in the above variations, Black is simply able to put his queen on this square, an improvement from d7.} 16. h4 {this preempts the threat of ...g5, but significantly weakens the kingside. The simplest way to avoid Black's tactical threat would be to retreat the knight.} (16. Nf3 d4 17. Ng5) 16... d4 {Black now really starts rolling.} 17. Nb1 $2 (17. Bxb7 Nxb7 18. Nb5 $17) 17... Bxg2 $19 18. Kxg2 Qd5+ (18... Bd6 {is found by the engines, which would have immediately given Black a winning material advantage.} 19. Nd3 c4 20. Bxd6 cxd3 {White's vulnerable queen placement makes this possible.} 21. Qxd3 Qxd6) 19. Kg1 Ne6 20. Nf3 $2 (20. e3 {would allow White to fight on.}) 20... Nxf4 $19 21. gxf4 Bd6 (21... Qh5 {would be more effective, allowing the queen to penetrate into White's kingside. However, the text move is still winning for Black.}) 22. Qd3 Bxf4 23. b4 {White is simply desperate at this point, with no play for his pieces, a vulnerable kingside, and Black dominating the center.} Rfd8 24. bxc5 Qxc5 25. e3 Bh6 (25... dxe3 $2 26. Qxd8+) 26. exd4 Qh5 {now Black starts to exploit the weakened kingside.} 27. Nbd2 Bxd2 (27... Qg4+ $5) 28. Rxd2 Qg4+ 29. Kh2 $4 {the pressure is too much, White crumbles, says Fritz.} (29. Kh1 $142 $19) 29... Nd5 30. Rg1 Qf4+ {this now gains a tempo, with the king on h2.} 31. Rg3 Rc3 $1 32. Qe2 Rxf3 $1 {Eliminates a defender of both h4 and d2.} 33. Qxf3 {Deflection from d2} Qxd2 34. Rg4 Qc3 35. Qg2 {being a piece down with no compensation, White could simply resign, but decides to go down fighting.} Qc7+ 36. Kh1 g6 37. h5 Qc1+ 38. Kh2 Qc7+ {a useful move to get closer to the time control on move 40.} 39. Kh1 Nf6 40. Rh4 Qc1+ 41. Kh2 Qc7+ 42. Kh1 Rb8 { usefully brings the rook into the fight, sealing White's fate.} 43. Qg1 Qc6+ 44. Kh2 Qd6+ 45. Kh1 Qd5+ 46. Kh2 Nxh5 {and now lacking hope of any counterchances at all, White resigns.} 0-1

20 August 2012

Annotated Game #59: It's a marathon, not a sprint

This second-round tournament game features a side variation of the English Four Knights (6...d6) that you won't find in manuals, but is played fairly often in practice, according to the database.  The first four moves of the game are full of transpositional possibilities, but White was looking to go into a Four Knights and it seems that Black was happy to oblige.

The problem with this side variation, as is usual with deviations from theoretical main lines, is not that it's losing; it's simply not best.  In this particular case, it doesn't develop a piece (unlike the main line 6...Re8) and limits Black's mobility in the center and with his dark-square bishop.  White makes obvious moves to take advantage of this, kicking Black's bishop back to b6 and then developing with a threat to the kingside with Bd3.  At this point, though, White - perhaps focusing too much on the 100-point rating gap in Black's favor - opts for a weak plan of simply trading minor pieces.  By move 12, White has negated any opening advantage he had, allowing Black to pass him in development and also handing Black the initiative with threats down the c-fiile.

Black for a time presses his initiative well, but then lets up for one move and White is able to almost equalize again. Unable to make progress, Black trades down and enters a Q+2R late middlegame/endgame which White should be able to hold with little difficulty.  Unfortunately, after 32 moves of hard-fought battle and feeling the pressure, White fails to fully calculate his 33rd move, again focusing on the illusory simplification of the piece trade and not its consequences.  Black then penetrates with his queen and it's all over.

Although analysis shows some of my play to have been erroneous or not optimal before the final error, the  game was at least a worthy struggle.  The problem at the end was can be ascribed to laziness (or tiredness, more charitably).  I've seen this happen before in my games, including more recently, and it remains an object lesson.  A chessplayer needs to have the mental capacity of a marathon runner, treating all moves until the end of the game as important.  Just as importantly, a player needs to have the energy to tackle them appropriately.  Sprinting is good for as long as it lasts, but most games are going to go the distance.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "68"] {A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 Nc6 2. Nf3 e5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 Bb4 5. Qc2 O-O 6. Nd5 d6 {opening manuals only deal with ...Re8 here. White scores almost 60 percent from this position.} 7. a3 Bc5 8. b4 Bb6 9. Bd3 h6 (9... Nxd5 {is what Houdini prefers here and as an antidote to an earlier Bd3.} 10. Bxh7+ Kh8 11. cxd5 Ne7 12. Bd3 Nxd5) 10. Bf5 $146 {this was played with the misguided intention of simply looking to trade pieces. Black will be happy to do this and gain some time back.} (10. Nxf6+ {is the superior move, according to both human practice and computer analysis. Removing the defending knight gives White an edge on the kingside.} Qxf6 11. Bb2 $14) 10... Nxd5 11. cxd5 Ne7 12. Bxc8 Rxc8 {after this sequence, White has left developed only the Nf3, which has no useful squares, and the Qc2, which can be targeted by the Rc8. Black meanwhile has castled, has better minor piece placement, and nicely placed rooks.} 13. e4 {ignoring the looming threat on the c-file.} c6 14. dxc6 Nxc6 15. Qb3 Kh7 {Necessary to prepare the following move, but this unnecessarily gives White some breathing room.} (15... Nd4 16. Nxd4 Bxd4 17. Bb2 $17 Qg5) 16. O-O f5 17. d3 fxe4 18. dxe4 {While Black has an edge now after his plan with ...f5, it's not nearly as critical as the position after 15...Nd4, as White's king is no longer in the center.} Nd4 19. Nxd4 Bxd4 20. Bb2 Bb6 21. Bc1 {with the idea of Be3, exchanging off the dangerous Bb6.} (21. Rae1 {was Fritz's original recommendation here, as the engine saw that the e4 pawn is vulnerable after ...Qh4. However, Houdini spots an attacking continuation for Black that makes this line bad for White.} Qh4 22. Re2 Rf4 23. Qh3 Qxh3 24. gxh3 Rc4) 21... Bd4 {Black evidently has trouble figuring out how to make progress, repeating the position.} (21... Qh4 22. Be3 Qxe4 23. Bxb6 axb6 24. Qe3 Qxe3 25. fxe3 {and White can hope to hold in the endgame.}) 22. Bb2 Qb6 {f2 becomes the focus of attention, noted Fritz. However, the position is now equal.} 23. Bxd4 Qxd4 24. Rad1 Qxe4 25. Rxd6 {this should now be a draw. } Qf4 (25... Rc2 26. Qd3 Qxd3 27. Rxd3) 26. Qb1+ Kh8 27. Qb2 {defensive, but maintains equality.} (27. Rd7 {would be more active. One should almost never pass up the chance to put a rook on the 7th rank unopposed.} Rc3 28. Rxb7 Rxa3 29. Qc2) 27... Qf5 28. Qb1 Rc2 29. f3 {again defensive, but equal. However, this also opens the g1-a7 diagonal and weakens the king position, so White should have looked for a better alternative.} (29. Rd7 {effectively trading rooks would give White an easier game.} Qxd7 30. Qxc2) 29... Rfc8 {Black's pressure now starts getting to White, who fails to find the correct defense.} 30. Rfd1 $6 (30. Rd2 {would use the pin on the Rc2 to White's advantage.} Qh7 31. Rxc2 Rxc2 32. Rc1) 30... R8c7 (30... Rxg2+ {is found by the engines.} 31. Kxg2 Rc2+ 32. Qxc2 Qxc2+ 33. R1d2 $15 {;however, despite the computer's judgment of slight advantage to Black based on the extra pawn, this would be difficult to win.}) 31. Rd8+ Kh7 32. R8d2 Qg6 33. Rxc2 $4 {after a long period of pressure, White fails to do the necessary calculations. The focus was erroneously on the piece exchange on c2, while the subsequent threat to g2 (with a tempo-gaining check) was ignored.} (33. g3) 33... Rxc2 $19 34. g3 Qb6+ {now the weakness on the diagonal proves fatal, as Black is able to use the extra tempo obtained with check to penetrate decisively with the queen.} (34... Qb6+ 35. Kh1 Qf2) 0-1

19 August 2012

The importance of CCT: example #3 - Szabo-Reshevsky, Zurich 1953

I'm continuing to work my way through Bronstein's Zurich 1953 International Chess Tournament during my lunch hours at work and recently came across the following game (Szabo-Reshevsky, round 19 game 130 in the tournament book).  I have to admit that Reshevsky is one of my all-time favorite players and I always enjoy going over his games.  In this one, on move 20 he overlooks that, instead of the obvious recapture on f6 by White, there is a mate in 2 by his opponent after Qxg6+.  Szabo however also overlooks this and Reshevsky then eliminates the Bd5, which was the source of the tactic.  According to Bronstein, Szabo then realized his mistake and was thoroughly shaken for the rest of the game and for some time afterwards in the tournament.

This is another simple, clear example at the professional level that highlights the utility of CCT (Checks, Captures and Threats) in the thinking process.  There are two possible checks on the board for White on move 21.  Bxf7+ can be calculated very quickly as not working, while Qxg6+ can be calculated almost as quickly as leading to the mate.  Because the g6 pawn is optically protected by the f7 pawn, but is not protected in reality due to the pin on f7 by the Bd5, the capture with check is a non-obvious move unless the pin is explicitly recognized in the thinking process.  The "obvious recapture" on f6 is another distraction from recognizing the critical tactic.

The benefit of CCT comes from literally forcing the player to recognize this type of critical tactical element, which as we see from the game can otherwise be overlooked, even by world-class players.  Once Qxg6+ is contemplated, it immediately becomes apparent that fxg6 is impossible.  This requires very little expenditure of calculating time and energy, in exchange for a great reward.

14 August 2012

Annotated Game #58: The importance of CCT - example #3

The following first-round tournament game featured an early deviation from normal Slav lines with the Nbd2 development.  White's unchallenging setup gives Black a small plus out of the opening with comfortable development.  Some interesting analytic points come up in the opening and early middlegame where it was revealed that I could have made better decisions:
  • Move 7, where Black could have played less stereotypically and obtained an advantage in the center.
  • Move 12, where Black should have thought twice about moving the rook off the h-file instead of automatically castling.
  • Move 13, where Black could have opened up the center to his advantage.
In the middlegame, a premature pawn thrust from White is mishandled by Black, who could have obtained an easy game by redeploying the Nf6 to a better square. This inaccuracy was however offset by White allowing what kingside pressure he had to be nullified.  Black on move 23 again passes up the chance to open the center to his advantage, focusing only on the immediate material gain of a pawn.  As a result, the kingside and center become closed and play shifts to the queenside.  Black is too slow in redeploying his forces, however, and White gains a winning advantage before missing the best continuation and sliding into a draw.

Recent posts have highlighted the importance of CCT (Checks, Captures and Threats).  Here, White could have won the game by using CCT as part of his thinking process on move 37.  There are only two captures on the board and one wins by force (Bxa6), as the resulting series of recaptures ends with a knight fork.  Once you consider the possibility of Bxa6, the rest is actually rather easy to see and calculate.  However, the pawn is "obviously" protected and if a player does not force themselves to consider non-obvious moves like that, they will be overlooked.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "83"] {D11: Slav Defence: 3 Nf3 sidelines and 3...Nf6 4 e3 Bg4} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nbd2 {I don't play these types of queen pawn openings, but this can't be the most challenging continuation for White. Among other things, his dark-square bishop will now have to be developed to b2 or a3, unless the knight goes to b3 (not a great square for it).} Bf5 {Black continues with the standard Slav setup, with no reason to vary from it.} 5. b3 $146 {out of the database on move 5! Either fianchettoing the king's bishop with g3 or playing Nh4 followed by Qb3 are the most popular continuations here.} e6 $15 {by transposition, we are now back in the database, although with just a handful of games; Black wins 2/3 of the time.} 6. a3 {Prevents intrusion on b4, notes Fritz. Although have played Nd2 instead of Nc3, this seems rather a waste of a tempo.} Be7 7. Nh4 Bg6 (7... Be4 {is the active alternative favored by Houdini. White will be able to exchange knight for bishop if he wants to; if it's done on e4, Black gains more central control.}) 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. e3 Nbd7 10. Bd3 Qc7 11. h3 {Covers g4} O-O {Black should perhaps think twice about moving the rook off the h-file, given its greater scope there and potential White threats along it.} 12. h4 (12. Bb2 dxc4 13. Bxc4 Bd6 $14) 12... e5 {the correct reaction to a flank attack, a countermove in the center that creates activity for Black.} 13. cxd5 {White continues making unnecessary pawn moves rather than developing, with say Bb2 or O-O.} cxd5 (13... exd4 {should have been considered, with White's king still in the center.} 14. exd4 Nxd5 {and White cannot castle immediately due to the hanging h4 pawn.}) 14. Bb2 e4 {this gains space and highlights the problem with White's dark-square bishop development.} 15. Bb5 a6 16. Bf1 {this looks strange, but with the center pawns now fixed, White's king is in no immediate danger. The bishop having exhausted its possibilities on the queenside can now be redeveloped on the kingside.} Rac8 17. Rc1 Qd8 18. g4 $6 {this pawn thrust is premature and weakening.} (18. g3 { with the idea of Bh3 instead looks playable.}) 18... Rxc1 19. Bxc1 Nh7 { the right idea, but wrong square. Now the knight will either be locked away or waste additional time redeploying.} (19... Ne8 {is clearly superior.} 20. g5 Nd6) 20. g5 f6 21. h5 Qe8 {Black finds the correct (and only) defensive idea.} 22. Bh3 (22. hxg6 $5 {would be a more logical follow-up.} Qxg6 23. Qc2 $11) 22... f5 $15 {now White's bishops have almost nowhere useful to go.} 23. f4 gxh5 {the obvious choice for a material grab, but not the best.} (23... exf3 { would break open the center and make White's king position a major liability.} 24. Nxf3 gxh5 $17) 24. Bf1 {literally back to square one.} g6 {this prevents any further ideas of a kingside attack by White. The theater of battle now shifts to the queenside.} 25. Be2 Qf7 {clearing the way for the rook to get to the c-file.} 26. Nb1 Rc8 27. Kf2 Nhf8 28. Bd2 Ne6 29. Bb4 Ng7 (29... Bxb4 $5 { is preferred by the engines. The resulting doubled pawns would be weak and allow Black significantly better chances of breaking through on the queenside by targeting the pawns.} 30. axb4) 30. Qd2 $17 Nb8 $6 {this is too slow, as the other knight needed to be brought into the game with either Ne6 or Ne8.} 31. Bxe7 Qxe7 32. Rc1 Qd7 $2 {this is the pivotal move. Black is complacent and thinks only of recapturing on c8 with his queen, giving him the c-file. Even if that were sound tactically, White could easily play Qc3 afterwards, negating Black's control.} (32... Rxc1 {and Black retains his edge.} 33. Qxc1 Qd8) 33. Rxc8+ $16 Qxc8 34. Nc3 {the d5 pawn now inevitably falls, as neither knight can protect it and the queen if it did would be skewered against the king by Bc4 after recapturing on d5.} Qc7 {a move which does less than nothing, giving White a free tempo. Black should try to bring more pieces into the queenside battle with Ne8. Black was clearly shellshocked by his late realization of the tactic leading to the loss of the d5 pawn.} 35. Nxd5 $18 Qd6 36. Qc3 Nc6 37. Qc4 {here White fails to see the winning tactic and provides another good example of where using the CCT thinking process would have led to a victory.} (37. Bxa6 {it's the only capture White has on the board.} bxa6 38. Qxc6 {a classic psuedo-sacrifice, diverting the queen to a square where it will be forked.} Qxc6 39. Ne7+ Kf7 40. Nxc6 $18) 37... Kf8 $14 {now the forking tactic no longer exists.} 38. Nf6 (38. Nb6 $5 {with the idea of d5 would have put more pressure on Black.}) 38... Ne7 {fighting for the key d5 square.} 39. a4 Ne8 {forcing White to exchange.} 40. Nxe8 Kxe8 $11 41. Kg3 Qc6 42. Kf2 1/2-1/2

11 August 2012

The importance of CCT: example #2 - Biel round 9

The previous example featuring a calculation error that could have been avoided using CCT (Checks, Captures and Threats) showed how considering all checks - in that particular case, just one check was possible on the board - could have won the game.

This next example is from round 9 of the Biel super-GM tournament and illustrates the second C (captures) part of the thinking process.  See what happens on move 30, when White (Etienne Bacrot) fails to consider all possible captures by Black.  The Re1 is protected, so evidently GM Bacrot did not bother to calculate its possible capture.  White's multiple hanging pieces, however, means that this was an immediately losing oversight.

05 August 2012

The importance of CCT: example #1 - Biel round 1

When constructing a practical thinking process, I used as a centerpiece Checks, Captures and Threats (CCT).  This simple idea - beginning any search for candidate moves with these three categories of forcing moves, in the order presented - in fact can have a huge impact on your ability to find "hidden" or non-obvious move possibilities in a position.  CCT should therefore be applied both to identifying your opponent's possible threats (ideally right after he/she moves) and to your own candidate move selection.  The previous linked post goes into more detail on the overall thinking process, for those interested.

Of course, a thinking process is only effective if it's actually used.  Some of my recent games have reinforced this fact to me, as it's all too easy to fall back into bad old habits of only actively considering "natural" appearing moves and not looking past things like "obvious recaptures" as occurred in Annotated Game #57.  Breaking old (bad) habits is only possible by constructing new (good) ones to replace them, so I'm making an effort to consciously apply the thinking process and especially CCT.  Missing good opportunities for onself (or an opponent's threats) is otherwise all too easy.

Being dismissive of the need, or simply being too mentally lazy to apply CCT, has been an issue for me in the past.  One of the ways I'm trying to combat this tendency is by selecting professional examples of where the use of CCT would have changed the outcome of a game.  It's also a useful reminder for the improving player that sometimes failure does not mean you are doomed to chess purgatory forever; even the top levels of professional chess are susceptible periodically to making these types of errors.

The first example is the following game from round 1 of the recently-completed Super-GM level Biel tournament.  Watch what happens on move 33, when it becomes obvious that neither Morozevich nor Giri had done the first C in CCT.  Morozevich would have immediately obtained a winning advantage by playing the only check available to him on the board, had he considered the move.

04 August 2012

Annotated Game #57: Training game - English with a b6 twist

Prior to resuming my tournament game review, I wanted to look at the following "revenge" game played against the "Turk" Chessmaster personality, who in Annotated Game #56 had thrown me off my game by opening with 1. g3 and transposing into a King's Indian Attack.  Although it ended up in a draw, I should have been able to get the win.

This game I was White and knew enough about the English Opening to be able to quickly punish Black's 2...b6 approach after he opened with 1...e5.  White ends up with a pawn and the initiative out of the opening, able to rely on a strong center and open lines to use against Black's uncastled king.  A key attacking opportunity employing a pawn sacrifice is missed by White on move 21, although there were some other attacking inaccuracies prior to that which analysis also usefully revealed.  White soon afterwards very unwisely delays taking a pawn offered by Black, forcing White to then exchange down in order to neutralize Black's potential attack.  Despite being a pawn up when the dust settles, the opposite-colored bishops mean that the game is drawn.

Lessons taken away from the analysis include:
  • Don't stop analyzing prematurely after an "obvious recapture".
  • Look to maximize dynamic piece activity, even at the cost of a pawn or a positional defect, if concrete analysis supports it.
  • Don't trust your opponent; analyze carefully any potential gain of material and don't be deterred from taking it if there is no refutation.
  • When the conditions are right, keep your primary focus on attacking the opponent's king; other considerations are not as important.

[Event "Chessmaster: Grandmaster Edition Rated G"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.06.10"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Turk"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A25"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] {A25: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 but without early d3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 b6 $6 {if Black wants to play this early on, probably best to play it first, or at least not open with 1...e5.} 3. Nf3 {the preferred response, according to the database. White immediately hits the e5 pawn, which thanks to Black's second move is not defended, nor can the pawn be advanced to e4.} Nc6 4. g3 Bb7 5. Bg2 Nd4 6. O-O {a plurality of games in the database feature castling, which scores 85 percent for White. Black's lack of kingside development is one obvious drawback for him in this line.} Bxf3 $146 { exchanging the bishop rather than the knight essentially invalidates all of Black's opening ideas. Now White will have an unopposed Bg2 striking at Black's weakened queenside.} (6... Nxf3+ 7. exf3 Be7 (7... c5 8. Re1 d6 9. f4 Bxg2 10. Kxg2 f6 11. d4 cxd4 12. Qxd4 Qc7 13. Nd5 Qc6 14. Qe4 Rc8 15. b3 Ne7 16. Bb2 Nxd5 17. cxd5 Qd7 18. fxe5 dxe5 19. f4 Rc5 20. fxe5 f5 21. Qf3 Rc2+ 22. Kh1 {Gurieli,N (2375)-Plesnik,H Pula 1997 1-0}) (7... Bc5 8. Re1 Bd4 9. Nb5 Kf8 10. Nxd4 exd4 11. b4 c5 12. bxc5 bxc5 13. d3 Ne7 14. Rb1 Bc6 15. f4 g6 16. Qe2 Bxg2 17. Qe5 Rg8 18. Kxg2 d6 19. Qe4 f5 20. Qe6 Rg7 21. Rb7 Nc6 22. Rxg7 { Arnlaugsson,G-Kantardzhiev,M Buenos Aires 1939 0-1 (36)}) (7... Qf6 8. d4 exd4 9. Re1+ Ne7 10. Nb5 O-O-O 11. Nxa7+ Kb8 12. Nb5 Nc6 13. Bf4 d6 14. Qa4 Qf5 15. b4 g5 16. Bxg5 f6 17. f4 d5 18. cxd5 Rxd5 19. Re8+ Bc8 20. Bxf6 Bg7 21. Re5 Qxf6 22. Bxd5 {Anoshin,G-Rovner,D Moscow 1958 1-0}) 8. Re1 d6 9. d4 exd4 10. Qxd4 Nf6 11. Nd5 Bxd5 12. cxd5 O-O 13. Bd2 Qd7 14. Rac1 Rac8 15. f4 Rfe8 16. Bc3 Nh5 17. Re3 Bf6 18. Qd1 Rxe3 19. fxe3 Bxc3 20. Rxc3 g6 21. e4 {Gres, V-Kirichenko,M Lviv UKR 2011 1-0 (46)}) (6... Bd6 7. b3 $14) 7. exf3 {the doubled pawns here are not a serious weakness, especially since White will be able to immediately place a rook on the half-open e-file.} c6 {Black moves to combat the latent threats on the h1-a8 diagonal and to take away the b5 and d5 squares from the White knight. Howver, Houdini judges developing Black's pieces is more important with} (7... Bd6 8. Nb5 Qf6) 8. Re1 $16 Be7 (8... Bc5 9. Rxe5+ Ne7 10. Na4 $16) 9. d3 {this releases the Bc1 and prepares f4. The e5 pawn is not defensible without causing additional problems for Black.} (9. Rxe5 {immediately snatching the pawn is Houdini's preference.}) 9... Kf8 (9... Nf6 { is a better try, according to Houdini, getting another piece out.} 10. Rxe5 O-O 11. f4 $16) (9... d6 $6 10. f4 {and Black will have to defend the weakness on c6 as well as his problem on the e-file, while his king is in the center and White increases his activity.}) 10. Rxe5 Nf6 (10... Bf6 11. Re1 $16) 11. Re1 { White decides to simply consolidate his advantage.} (11. Be3 {is what Houdni prefers, but I didn't like the potential for Black to kick the Re5 around, with it cut off from retreat. The engine thinks White can get compensation for the rook, however.} Ne6 12. f4 d6 13. Rxe6 fxe6 14. Bxc6 Rc8 15. Qa4 $18) 11... Bd6 12. Be3 Nf5 13. Qd2 {White accepts the knight for bishop trade. Houdini would prefer to keep the bishop on the board, moving it to d2 or g5.} Nxe3 14. Rxe3 h5 {Black proceeds with the only active plan available to him, a kingside attack using the h-pawn.} 15. Ne4 (15. h4 $18 {is Houdini's defensive suggestion. It's not rated much higher than the text move, but it is a much simpler way of defusing Black's threats.}) 15... Nxe4 $2 (15... Be7 16. Rae1 $16) 16. fxe4 {White focuses too much on un-doubling his pawns and misses a much more active option.} (16. dxe4 $142 $5 Qe7 (16... Be7 17. Rd3 d6 18. e5) 17. Rd1 $18 Bc5 18. Rd3) 16... h4 17. e5 Be7 18. d4 Rc8 19. Qe2 {choosing the wrong file with better defenses for Black; it would have been best to concentrate on the d-file instead.} (19. d5) (19. Rd3) 19... hxg3 20. fxg3 $18 {here the usual "capture towards the center" rule is overridden by the concrete benefits of 1) opening the f-file on which Black's king sits, and 2) allowing White freer movement along the second rank. For example, the Qe2 can now easily defend h2 if needed, by moving the Bg2.} c5 $2 {while it may look reasonable at first glance to challenge White's central dominance, now the Bg2 dominates the long diagonal and the d5 square is permanently ceded to White.} ( 20... d6 21. e6 f6 22. Rf1 $18) 21. d5 $6 {White chooses the obvious move, but ignores more active attacking options.} (21. Bd5 {Houdini doesn't hesitate to give up the d-pawn.} cxd4 22. Rf3 f6 23. exf6 gxf6 $18 24. Raf1 {and White would have an overwhelming attack.}) 21... Bg5 $2 (21... d6 $16 {is the logical follow-up to Black's previous move.}) 22. Re4 (22. Rf3 {is the best way to reposition the rook, although it temporarily blocks the Bg2. Black's weak king position overrides other considerations.} d6 23. Raf1 Rc7 24. Qf2) 22... d6 23. h4 (23. exd6 {I didn't think would get me anywhere, but Houdini spots the better opportunity, as Black cannot recapture the pawn.} Rb8 (23... Qxd6 24. Qg4 $1 {forking the Bg5 and Rc8, which I didn't spot due to stopping my calculation after the "obvious recapture"}) 24. Re1 Bf6 $18 25. Bh3 { with the idea of forcing d7, for example} Rxh3 26. Qg4 Rh8 27. d7 g6 28. Re8+) 23... Be7 24. e6 Bf6 25. Bh3 Rc7 26. Re1 Re7 {White has been steadily ramping up the pressure, but now needs to regroup before continuing.} 27. b3 Bd4+ 28. Kg2 g5 $2 {this pawn offer in fact does nothing for Black, although I was put off from taking it by the fact that it would open the h-file and give Black a potential target on g5. However, Black's pieces are not coordinated well enough to exploit these potential weaknesses, a fact which would have been revealed by concrete calculation.} (28... f6) 29. exf7 (29. hxg5 {and White takes home the point, says Houdini via the Fritz interface.} a6 30. Rf1 b5 31. Rxf7+ ({or simply} 31. Ref4)) 29... Re5 30. hxg5 $4 {now White's judgment fails, as Black's previous move opened lines for his heavy pieces, which can take advantage of all of the obvious drawbacks of the pawn capture.} (30. h5 $18 {is the way to deal with the threats.}) 30... Qxg5 $14 31. Qg4 {at least I was able to rally and play the correct defensive move sequence at this point.} Qxg4 32. Bxg4 Rxe4 33. Rxe4 Kxf7 34. Be6+ {with the opposite-colored bishops, this now looks like a draw, but White tries to make the most of the g-pawn.} Ke7 35. g4 (35. Rh4 Rxh4 36. gxh4 Kf6 $14) 35... Be5 $11 36. Re2 Rh2+ 37. Kf3 Rxe2 38. Kxe2 {and a draw was agreed, as White has no way to break through a dark-square blockade of the g-pawn.} 1/2-1/2