28 October 2012

Annotated Game #69: It should have been easy

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

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

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

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

25 October 2012

Vacation; Blogger Quad Tournament

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

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

20 October 2012

Book completed: The Big Sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 October 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 October 2012

What makes an annotated game useful?

Perhaps it's better to ask what makes an annotated game most useful.  There are quite a number of things that we can look for in annotations, for example:
  • Openings guidance - traps to avoid, identification of critical lines, explanations of typical ideas and choices
  • Comparison of possible middlegame strategic plans, including ones not chosen
  • Examples of combinations
  • Key tactical ideas, either in the game itself or in variations
  • Methods of conducting an attack
  • Methods of conducting an effective defense
  • Understanding of key turning points in the game and how they came about
  • Evaluations of positional factors
  • Endgame strategies explained
  • Endgame technique explained
  • Meta-factors - these include things like the tournament standing of the players (does one need a win desperately?), personal rivalries, and past history of their meetings
Any game containing all of the above is sure to be very useful for the improving player's understanding of the game.  But how often do you see that?  Rarely, of course.  But some works do offer us this kind of high level of utility
  • Logical Chess Move by Move by Irving Chernev was the first book I completed after starting this blog.  Not all of the games contain all of the elements described above, but on the whole the collection does cover all the bases, at a level of explanation geared toward the club player.
  • I also own John Nunn's Understanding Chess Move by Move and read it a number of years ago.  I will definitely return to it, hopefully with greater concentration and deeper understanding.
  • I'm still working through Bronstein's Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 on my lunch hours, when possible.  His game annotations vary in depth but are among the most useful and engaging that I've run across.  Naturally those of his own games are very insightful and his willingness to present a critical view of his own thought processes and actions is quite refreshing, as well as instructive.
  • Anatoly Karpov's How to Play the English Opening is an outstanding example of instructive, high-level GM annotations.  Rather than produce a standard opening manual, Karpov annotated a large number of illustrative games in the English at the professional level.  As I noted in the original post, it's not for the faint of heart, although a focused club player should be able to keep up with most of it.
Perhaps you have your own favorites.

I also find it fun and valuable to look at annotated games from ongoing international events, for example those posted on the Chessbase news site.  A recent report on the Polish Team Championship drew my attention for the helpfulness of the two game annotations it contained, particularly the fact that explanations of ideas at key points were provided.  This sort of thing also shows that it doesn't take a huge effort to produce annotations with valuable insights.

While we're on the subject, I think it's also worth re-emphasizing the utility of annotating one's own games as a method of improvement.  In fact, it's hard to see how someone can make significant progress without analyzing and better understanding their own play.  As a somewhat crude example of this, it's been a bit embarrassing for me to repeatedly publish games with the same basic errors in them, for example in the Caro-Kann Advance variation series.  In the past I neglected this type of analysis and as a result simply wasn't even aware of the need to correct my play.  The implications of this for my performance at the chessboard are obvious, as are the benefits of doing game analysis now.

As a final note, one doesn't have to be a master-level player  to usefully annotate games, especially if they're your own.  Some other bloggers in the chess improvement community have done similar things and I'm always interested in seeing what they come up with.  My previous favorite example was TommyG's blog (now defunct) as it was always entertaining to read and the game annotations, which were geared towards self-improvement, I found both useful and motivational.

06 October 2012

Annotated Game #66: How do I hate thee, let me count the ways...

For this fourth-round tournament game, I won't dwell too much on the opening, as it's been the subject of previous posts, such as Annotated Game #63: Third time's the charm (?) - for this fourth time, I shall simple count the ways I hate it.

The rest of the game is in fact worthy of analysis, as the balance swings back and forth between the two sides' plans.  Black's inferior opening gives White an easily superior position and the initiative, but White fails to find the idea of pushing h6, which Black eventually blocks.  Black then strikes back on the queenside, although the basic idea of pressuring the c5 pawn is flawed.

Just as things seem completely locked up, White brashly sacrifices a knight on the queenside in order to get three connected passed pawns.  However, Black spots a key idea (35...d4!) which allows him to demolish the pawns via a deflection tactic.  By move 43 Black has also won the a-pawn and is on the road to victory. Sadly, he is unable to find the active ideas necessary to realize the advantage of the piece and accepts a draw on move 58.

In terms of bigger themes, this game shows:
  • How class-level players often make unsound sacrifices in hopes of winning.
  • How class-level players can fail to realize winning late middlegame/endgame advantages.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "106"] [EventDate "2006.??.??"] {B12: Caro-Kann: Advance Variation} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Be3 cxd4 6. cxd4 e6 $146 {and once again, Black reaches a tempo-down French defense.} (6... Bf5 {scores at least 50% for Black from here, according to the database.}) 7. Nc3 {White continues with comfortable, natural development to take advantage of this.} Nge7 8. Bd3 Qb6 {better would be to concentrate on development of minor pieces. The queen in fact threatens nothing.} 9. Nf3 Ng6 { this gives White a target later on and moves an already-developed piece.} (9... Qxb2 $2 {would be worse after} 10. Nb5 {and the threat to fork on c7 or trap the queen, along with White's lead in development, far outweigh the pawn.}) ( 9... g6 $5) 10. h4 a6 {Secures b5, but Black is getting further and further behind in development.} 11. h5 Nge7 12. Na4 Qc7 13. a3 {takes away b4, but White could increase the pressure with Rc1, for example.} Nf5 {a somewhat desperate defensive idea, which works due to White not continuing the attack in the most accurate manner.} (13... h6 $5 $14) 14. Bxf5 $18 exf5 15. Qb3 $6 $14 (15. h6 g6 $16 16. Bg5 Be7 17. Bxe7 Nxe7 {and Black's position is full of gaping holes.}) 15... b5 16. Nc5 (16. Nc3 $5 Be6 17. h6 $14 (17. Nxd5 $2 { fails because of} Qa5+ 18. Bd2 b4 $19)) 16... Bxc5 17. dxc5 Be6 {The original idea behind ...Nf5. The bishop is a "big pawn" here, but usefully so, since it blocks the e-pawn and supports the f5 and d5 pawns.} 18. Qc3 a5 $6 (18... h6 19. O-O O-O {would better address Black's kingside weaknesses.}) 19. b3 $6 (19. h6 $5 g6 20. Nd4 Nxd4 21. Qxd4 $16) 19... h6 $11 {Black finally gets this move in, preventing White's advance and controlling g5.} 20. O-O O-O 21. Bd4 { Here White starts going off the track. The idea is to overprotect e5 in order to free the Nf3 to move, but this in fact accomplishes little and gives Black a chance to launch a counterattack. Houdini strongly prefers activating the Rf1 instead, as it is currently doing nothing.} Qb7 {Black prepares the advance b4, notes Fritz.} (21... f4 {is what the engines prefer, leading to active play on the kingside if followed up with ...Bg4, or if Nh2 removing the knight from the action.}) 22. Nd2 {the point of the previous move, which however simply misplaces the knight.} (22. Qd2 $5 {would place the queen to cover more useful diagonals.}) 22... Rfb8 {continuing with the plan of pushing b4.} 23. Qd3 b4 {Black gets more space, finally making an incursion into enemy territory.} 24. a4 Rc8 (24... Qa6 {would be a nice way to activate the queen here, for example} 25. Qe3 f4 26. Qxf4 Qd3 27. Bb2 d4 {and now it is Black who has pressure and the initiative.}) 25. Rac1 Nxd4 {with the plan of subsequently pressuring the c-pawn.} 26. Qxd4 Rc6 27. Nf3 {illustrating the waste of time the earlier Nd2 was.} (27. f4 $5 {would at least give the knight maneuver some meaning and help support e5.}) 27... Qa6 28. Rc2 Rac8 29. Ne1 ( 29. Rfc1 {is more natural.}) 29... Qa7 {Increases the pressure on c5} (29... f4 {is still a theme favored by the engines, as White cannot capture it without losing the c5 pawn.} 30. Nd3 f3 {and White's kingside pawn structure will be disrupted.}) 30. Nd3 $11 Qe7 31. Rfc1 {now Black's plan is shown to be defective, as White is capable of overprotecting the pawn on c5.} Qb7 {Black simply wants to maintain a fortress and block any progress by White.} 32. f3 Qc7 33. Nxb4 $4 {White decides to sacrifice the knight, hoping for a win with the connected passed pawns. The engines disagree.} (33. Nf4 $14 {would instead safely activate the minor piece.}) 33... axb4 $19 34. Qxb4 Rb8 {at this point I felt snatching the pawn on e5 was too risky, although the engines are happy with that, since it allows Black to push d4 with additional support.} (34... Qxe5 $5 {keeps an even firmer grip, says Fritz.} 35. Qd2 $19 d4) 35. Qc3 d4 $1 {I nevertheless found the key idea, which shatters White's pawn formation. The b3 pawn is now doomed and the Be6 activated.} 36. Qxd4 Rxb3 37. Ra1 Qb8 (37... Qa5 $5 {makes more sense here. I suppose I didn't like the idea of using the queen as a blockading piece and preferred exchanging down.} 38. Rcc1 $19) 38. a5 Rb1+ 39. Kh2 Rxa1 40. Qxa1 Qa7 (40... Qc7 {immediately is better.}) 41. Qc3 Qc7 42. f4 Ra6 {thanks to the Be6, White cannot sufficiently protect the a-pawn.} 43. Rc1 Rxa5 44. Qd4 Ra6 {Black around here becomes overly conservative.} (44... Qe7 $5 {would be more active. With the Be6 covering the queening square, Black has little in the way of risks.}) 45. Kg3 Rc6 (45... Ra3+) 46. Rc3 Qd7 47. Qe3 (47. Qxd7 Bxd7 {would be a preferable endgame for White, if still losing.}) 47... Qd5 48. Kh3 Bc8 49. Qc1 Bb7 50. Qc2 Bc8 { Black is having trouble figuring out how to make progress.} (50... Qd4 { seems even better} 51. Qc1 $19) 51. Kh4 {ironically, this helps Black decide to play more actively.} Qd4 $19 52. Kg3 Ba6 (52... g5 $1 {was the key, to rip open the position in front of White's king.} 53. Qc1 $19) 53. Qc1 Bc8 {sadly, Black was exhausted and out of ideas and took the draw.} 1/2-1/2