30 December 2013

A business model for effective training programs

By coincidence I recently read a business article that I found very relevant for chess training programs, bearing on ideas discussed in "Do study techniques matter in chess?"  The article "What Makes Strategic Decisions Different" by Phil Rosenzweig - from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) November 2013 issue whose theme is "How to Make Smarter Decisions" - posits that we need to understand what type of decision to make in different situations.  This means not simply applying a single optimized game theory or decision-making process.  The idea is that such an "optimized" approach, which works well in simple models with fixed rules we cannot influence, fails to take into account dynamic factors such as our own ability to influence the situations we face - changing the rules, as it were.

The model the author uses is a 2x2 matrix of different "fields" with the axes (variables) being Performance (absolute vs. relative) and Control (low vs. high); diagram below is reproduced from the above link.

Training programs fall into the category of High Control - Absolute Performance ["Influencing Outcomes", the author's second field].  In this case, we can through our own efforts materially effect the outcome of our decisions.  In the case of chess, this is reflected in performance improvement as measured on an absolute scale reflected by our rating.  Progress requires analytic ability and effortful study (your "control factor" over the long term).  However, individual competitions (games or tournaments) would fall under the category of High Control - Relative Performance ["Managing for Strategic Success"], which calls for a different approach, namely emphasizing a strong positive attitude (your "control factor" in the short term) and making informed choices that also take into account your competitors' abilities when possible.

The most relevant portion of the article for chess training purposes is excerpted below.  It's worth noting that "The Making of an Expert" article cited below used as a case study the training and performance of the Polgar sisters, so it's certainly not a stretch to apply these types of ideas to the chess world, given that some of them in fact originated there.
Many decisions involve more than selecting among options we cannot improve or making judgments about things we cannot influence ["Making Judgments and Choices", the author's first field]. In so much of life, we use our energy and talents to make things happen. Imagine that the task at hand is to determine how long we will need to complete a project. That's a judgment we can control; indeed, it's up to us to get the project done. Here, positive thinking matters. By believing that we can do well, perhaps even holding a level of confidence that is by some definitions a bit excessive, we can often improve performance...
Some activities call for us to move between the first and second fields, shifting our mind-set back and forth. The approach known as "deliberate practice," which can lead to expert performance (see "The Making of an Expert," by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely, HBR July-August 2007), is based on objective and deliberate thinking before an event, full commitment with a positive attitude while taking action, and then a return to dispassionate analysis after the event--what is known as an after-action review. The ability to shift effectively between mind-sets is a crucial element of high performance in many repeated tasks of short duration, from sports to sales.
What the article describes above seems to fit well the general process that I've outlined here, in various places, that emphasizes similar elements: crafting a structured training program, creating a positive mental outlook when going into a competitive situation, then objectively analyzing your performance afterwards.

Given recent discussions about training methods, it might be worthwhile to put up a more comprehensive and updated post outlining my training program and methods, which would be personally useful as a reference and perhaps offer a suitable opportunity for others to share their own ideas and comparative experiences.

29 December 2013

Commentary: Snowdrops vs Old Hands 2013 - round 1

This commentary game features WGM Nastassia Ziaziulkina (18, Belarus, 2350) versus GM Iossif Dorfman (61, France, 2580), from round 1 of the Snowdrops vs. Old Hands 2013 tournament in the Czech Republic.  While the tournament theme of young, rising female players versus "senior" grandmaster types is something of a publicity stunt, all the players seem to enjoy themselves and it can be entertaining to follow; complete tournament results can be found here.

For those who don't play (or play against) the Caro-Kann, this is not a terribly exciting game, but for me it is a good example of pursuing opening study by selecting complete games to analyze, which also contributes to a a holistic approach to chess training.  I now have a much better sense of this sideline, which among other things saw some action in the 1960 Tal-Botvinnik World Championship (game included in the notes).  For me the key new items were looking at the all-important transition from opening to middlegame and subsequent strategic ideas that Black can pursue.

[Event "Vrsanska Uhelna chess match 2013"] [Site "Podebrady"] [Date "2013.11.30"] [Round "1.4"] [White "Ziaziulkina, Nastassia"] [Black "Dorfman, Iossif"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "56"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:07:17"] [BlackClock "0:07:21"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Bc4 {a sideline that has been popular in the past, for example used in the Tal-Botvinnik matches, where its theory evolved considerably. White targets f7 and plans to follow up with N1e2-f4, eyeing tactics on e6.} e6 7. N1e2 Bd6 {Black's response in this variation to White's strategic plan is simple: exchange off the knight if it goes to f4.} 8. h4 h6 9. Nf4 Bxf4 10. Bxf4 Nf6 11. h5 {in line with Spassky's "modern" method of how to use the h-pawn in main line Caro-Kann. Here's an alternate take from the 1960 Tal-Botvinnik World Championship match:} (11. Qd2 Nbd7 12. O-O-O Nd5 13. Rde1 N7b6 14. Bb3 Nxf4 15. Qxf4 Nd5 16. Qe5 O-O 17. Ne4 Qb8 18. Nd6 Rd8 19. Nc4 Nb6 20. Qxb8 Raxb8 21. Ne5 Bh7 22. Rh3 Nd7 23. c3 Nxe5 24. Rxe5 b6 25. Rhe3 Rbc8 26. Bc4 Rc7 27. b4 Kf8 28. g4 Bg8 29. Bb3 Bh7 30. f4 Bg8 31. Kb2 Bh7 32. h5 Rdc8 33. Bc2 Bg8 34. g5 f6 35. R5e4 c5 36. Bb3 cxb4 37. cxb4 hxg5 38. fxg5 fxg5 39. Rg3 Rf7 40. Rxg5 Rf2+ 41. Ka3 Rc7 {1/2-1/2 (41) Tal,M-Botvinnik,M Moscow 1960}) 11... Bh7 12. O-O O-O 13. Bd3 $146 {in comparison with the main line, White now takes an extra tempo to exchange off the Bh7. This is a reasonable trade in strategic terms, as Black's bishop occupies an excellent diagonal and its White counterpart is hemmed in by Black's pawn structure. Although this is one of Houdini's top choices, according to the database it is a novelty. Presumably White players are normally looking for something more ambitious in this variation.} Bxd3 14. Qxd3 Nbd7 {we now have a standard-looking Caro-Kann structure from the main line, the difference being that White has bishop for knight. While this may provide a slight edge, it is worth noting that White's knights can be effective attackers in the main line, especially when targeting e6/f7, which is not possible here due to the absence of both the light-square bishop and a suitably placed knight.} 15. Rfd1 Re8 16. c4 Qa5 {the idea being to restrain b4 and develop the queen to a more useful square. Also worth noting is how the queen exerts lateral force along the fifth rank, especially against the h-pawn, although Black is not able to make anything of it during the game.} 17. a3 Rac8 18. b4 Qa4 {Black takes advantage of the lack of a light-square bishop to occupy the hole on a4.} 19. Qf3 (19. Ne4 $5 {threatening to occupy d6} Nxe4 20. Qxe4 a5 {is still all right for Black, but White would thereby accentuate the B v N dynamic.}) 19... a5 20. Bd2 (20. bxa5 Qxc4) 20... axb4 21. axb4 Qc2 { Black logically continues her campaign of penetrating White's queenside with her queen.} 22. Rac1 Qa2 23. Qc3 Qa8 {Black now opts to continue maneuvering with her queen, rather than changing the position's structure.} (23... b5 { would be a little more ambitious, although still generally equal.} 24. cxb5 ( 24. Rc2 Qxc4 25. Qxc4 bxc4 26. Rxc4 Nb6 27. Rc5 Nbd5) (24. Qd3 bxc4 25. Rxc4 Red8 {now the c-pawn is protected tactically, for example} 26. Rdc1 $2 (26. Rc2 Qd5 27. Rdc1 Rb8) 26... Ne5) 24... cxb5 25. Qxc8 Rxc8 26. Rxc8+ Kh7 {would produce a situation where the queen should be a little better than the two rooks, for example.}) 24. Ra1 Qb8 25. Qc1 Qd6 26. Bf4 Qe7 {there is no rush to capture on b4, as Black cannot hold the pawn.} 27. Re1 Qxb4 28. Rb1 Qa5 { the probable continuation would be 29. c5 Ra8 30. Rxb7 Ra7 followed by a rook exchange, which appeared sufficiently drawish for the two players to call it a day.} 1/2-1/2

28 December 2013

Do study techniques matter in chess?

Part of the quest for chess improvement is, of course, some type of study plan.  I prefer to think of mine as being part of an overall training program, as this conveys more of the breadth and long-term nature of the improvement process.  Training is something that a professional athlete, martial artist or chessplayer is always doing, in some form or another, for their entire career.  Serious amateurs, ones who care about advancing their game, will also need to have their own training program - perhaps a less intense one and one that is not central to their livelihood, like the professionals, but nonetheless a program that is 1) structured in some fashion and 2) generally followed over time.  There are naturally a huge variety of ways to structure a chess training program or a personal study plan.  And unfortunately it can be difficult to follow any plan over time, as our energy wanes or other things disrupt our studies.

In "Tournament Preparation: Chess Skills" I made the assertion that it is more important for a player to train all the various skill sets before a tournament, rather than how exactly they go about it.  This parallels my general outlook on chess training, as captured in the early post "Reflections on Training".  A recent thoughtful comment queried whether after my experiences in chess training over the past two years, I think that study techniques matter - one way to rephrase the concept.  A good question and one that, to answer fully, requires some further reflection on the entire chess training process.

Looking at any training program, one must consider the performance objective and how to train the component parts that go into it.  For chessplayers, the primary long-term objective is to increase your playing strength to improve game performance; put more simply, to win more often and against stronger opponents.  While it's not completely cut-and-dried, chess can usefully be broken down into opening, middlegame and endgame phases, with different principles and techniques that dominate in each.  To use a sports analogy (as in "Chess vs. Tennis - sporting lessons"), if one is training to be a better tennis player, the primary objective (win more and against better opponents) is exactly the same, while the game can be broken down into elements such as your service game, return game, baseline play, net play and shot selection.  Other sports analogies can be used as well, for example long-distance running.  That is an excellent illustration of the fact that while it's important to train a variety of things, the main focus needs to be on actually doing the activity you are training for; runners can do other types of physical and mental training, but in the end the best training for running is, in fact, running.  (My view of chess training is broadly similar, as reflected in "Analyzing your own games is more than just analyzing your own games".)

I use the sporting analogy because it may help highlight the idea, in a more intuitive way, that chess performance in the end is a combination and culmination of many different things - training of component skills, application and integration of those skills in a "real-world" environment, judgment, mental toughness and creativity.  Perhaps it's because so much goes into a chess game or tournament that our egos often become involved and if we're not careful, it can seem like our personal worth is on the line with the result.  The same thing happens in sports - I consider chess to be a mental, individual sport - as athletes have good days and bad days in team matches, or in an individual sport get crushed in one tournament but then find the mental fortitude to do well in the next one.

So how does this broader perspective factor into the question of study techniques in chess?  I think improving players can often lose sight of the goal, namely improving playing strength and performance in actual games, while focusing on training component parts.  This is most obvious with tactics drills, where it is easy to keep solving problem after problem and honing your ability to find 1001 mating solutions in the quickest way possible, then fail to find the way forward in over-the-board situations where mating attacks are nowhere to be found.  While the description is somewhat exaggerated, this is in fact a common trap.

Does this mean that tactics drills are useless to improve your performance, as are other specific study techniques for openings, middlegames and endgames?  Of course not.  I used to be quite weak on tactics (believing myself to be a "positional" player - the subject of "Playing Styles Deconstructed" - and therefore not needing to dirty my hands with it).  Once I realized the folly of this, I greatly improved my tactical understanding and performance by studying Understanding Chess Tactics and applying myself on the Chess Tactics Server and the Chess.com tactics trainer.  I do believe, however, that any training program that fails to take a holistic approach to chess and instead focuses only on training a single component skill will ultimately fail.  Also, your training program must be realistic and calibrated to your current level of understanding - pushing the envelope, as mentioned in "Mindfulness and Effortful Study", but not ripping it to shreds.

Finally, an important consideration when determining how you should study, as compared to generally what should you study, is your learning style.  Learning styles vary greatly and I think this fact is underappreciated in the chess improvement community.  Some common training principles are worth emphasizing, as I did in the tournament chess skills post, but especially at the amateur level I'm a big believer in the "whatever works" school of training.  This is because it's done as a pastime, for love of the game, so the motivational factor is so important; if you hate a training method, you're simply not going to want to do it any more, regardless of how effective it is supposed to be (according to Authority X).  If you don't believe this is important, simply search through the chess improvement blogosphere, which is littered with dead "Seven Circles (of Hell)" blogs.

26 December 2013

Commentary: Nakamura-Li, World Team Championship Round 5

This next commentary game also features American super-GM Hikaru Nakamura as White.  His play in this game is something to be emulated, as he expertly calculates, evaluates and makes winning decisions all along the way.  His play is dynamic and very instructive in the way he sacrifices a pawn in the opening, then immediately takes over the initiative with active piece play, tying Black in knots using repeated threats and then regaining his material while maintaining his positional advantage. Some highlights:
  • Black's decision to take the pawn on d4 may not be the worst move in the position, but it certainly leads to strategic problems for him. One of the variations included shows how Black could retain the material, albeit with major difficulties as White has more than sufficient compensation. In the game continuation, Black ends up with less than nothing to show for his troubles and his dark-square bishop is also traded off, giving White a major strategic and tactical advantage.
  • White's b-pawn is tactically protected or "poisoned" for the entire game in a remarkable fashion, due to a variety of different tactics.
  • White makes the practical decision to exchange down to a winning endgame, rather than go in for additional middlegame complications. The point is that if you can calculate to a point where you evaluate you can win the game, it doesn't matter whether computer analysis afterwards would give you additional points for a different continuation.

[Event "World Teams 2013"] [Site "Antalya TUR"] [Date "2013.11.30"] [Round "5.5"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Li, Chao b"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D90"] [WhiteElo "2786"] [BlackElo "2679"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2013.11.26"] [WhiteTeam "USA"] [BlackTeam "China"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "CHN"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 {we now have a Gruenfeld-English setup on the board} 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Qb3 {White has a number of different options here. The text move scores well at 62 percent in the database.} Nb6 {the overwhelming choice is to retreat, rather than exchange off the knight. Interestingly, Nakamura has also played this line as Black (see move 7 game variation).} 6. d4 Bg7 7. e4 {developing the dark-square bishop here is more popular, as in this earlier top-level game featuring Nakamura as Black:} (7. Bf4 Be6 8. Qa3 Nc6 9. e3 O-O 10. Be2 a5 11. O-O Nb4 12. Rfc1 c6 13. Be5 Bh6 14. Ne4 Nd7 15. Nc5 Nxc5 16. Rxc5 Nd5 17. Bc4 Qb6 18. e4 Nf6 19. Bxe6 fxe6 20. Rc2 Qb4 21. Qd3 Rac8 22. Ne1 Nd7 23. Bg3 c5 24. d5 Nf6 25. d6 Qxe4 26. dxe7 Rfe8 27. Qb5 Qb4 28. Qf1 Rxe7 29. Nd3 Qb6 30. Ne5 Nd5 31. Qe2 Nb4 32. Rc4 Bg7 33. Bh4 Ree8 34. Rd1 Nc6 35. Nd7 Qxb2 36. Qxb2 Bxb2 37. Rxc5 Rc7 38. Bg3 Rcc8 39. Rb5 Bg7 40. Rxb7 Nb4 41. a4 Nd5 42. Nb6 {1/2-1/2 (42) Kramnik,V (2800)-Nakamura,H (2758) Moscow 2011 }) 7... Bg4 {Black indirectly pressures the White center with this move. Strategically, we have a situation with a classic pawn center versus an Indian-style development by Black designed to put pressure on it.} 8. Bb5+ { White knows well that Black will block with the c-pawn. The point of the move is to cause Black to take away the c6 square from his own knight, forcing it to a lesser square that does not influence d4.} c6 9. Ng5 {we are still in theory here, but this is nonetheless an instructive in-between move. Rather than simply retreat the bishop, White looks to improve his position first. But what about the d-pawn?} e6 $146 {all previous games had featured castling, as in the following high-level contest:} (9... O-O 10. Be2 Bxe2 11. Nxe2 e5 12. dxe5 h6 13. Nh3 N8d7 14. f4 Nc5 15. Qc2 Nd3+ 16. Kf1 f5 17. exf6 Rxf6 18. Be3 Rf7 19. Rd1 Rd7 20. Nf2 Nxb2 21. Rxd7 Qxd7 22. Bc1 N6c4 23. h4 b5 24. Rh3 Rd8 25. Rg3 Nd1 26. e5 Qf5 27. Qxf5 gxf5 28. Rg6 Nce3+ 29. Kg1 c5 30. Ng3 Kf7 31. Ra6 Bf8 32. Rxa7+ Be7 33. Nxd1 Rxd1+ 34. Kf2 Ng4+ 35. Ke2 Rxc1 36. Nxf5 Ke6 37. Nxe7 h5 38. Nc8 c4 39. Nd6 Rc2+ 40. Kf3 Rc3+ 41. Ke4 Re3+ 42. Kd4 Rd3+ 43. Kc5 c3 44. Rc7 c2 45. Kxb5 Ne3 46. f5+ Kxe5 47. Nc4+ Nxc4 48. Rxc4 Rd5+ 49. Kc6 Rd6+ 50. Kc7 Rd2 51. a4 Rd4 52. Rc5+ Kf6 53. a5 Rd5 54. Rc6+ Kxf5 55. a6 Ra5 56. Kb6 Ra2 57. a7 Rb2+ 58. Kc7 Ra2 59. Kb7 Rb2+ 60. Kc7 {1/2-1/2 (60) Topalov, V (2769)-Caruana,F (2786) Bucharest 2012}) 10. Be2 Bxe2 11. Nxe2 Bxd4 {in the analagous position in the variation where Black castles first, only one person in the database dared take the central pawn, and lost.} 12. Nxd4 Qxd4 {What is going on here, then? Black is currently a pawn up and White apparently has no immediate threats that could recoup the material. For Class players, most of us would therefore hate to be White. One clue, however, is that Houdini rates this position as a half-pawn advantage to White. Let's see how this is translated on the board.} 13. Bd2 {threatening the skewer on c3} Qc5 (13... O-O 14. Qh3 $16) 14. Rc1 Qe7 15. a4 {the idea is to kick the Nb6 and expose the half-open b-file.} N8d7 $6 {this allows White to implement his plan without a fight.} (15... h6 $5 16. Nf3 Na6 17. a5 Nc8 $14 {would leave Black's pieces awkwardly placed and not set up well for castling, but at least he would retain the pawn for some compensation.}) 16. a5 Nc8 17. Qxb7 Rb8 18. Qxc6 { now White is a pawn up and still has a much better position. The b2 pawn is tactically protected from the Rb8, given the lack of other defenders of the Nc8.} O-O 19. Nf3 Rd8 (19... Rxb2 {is still not possible:} 20. Qc3 Rb8 21. Bh6 {and Black either loses material or gets mated on g7.}) (19... Nd6 $16 { is Houdini's suggestion, at least getting the knight back in the fight.}) 20. O-O e5 (20... Rxb2 $2 {although the Black rook is no longer on f8 to be threatened, taking the b2 pawn is *still* not possible, due to yet another tactical comeback involving Bh6:} 21. Qxc8 Rxc8 22. Rxc8+ Nf8 23. Bh6 $18) 21. Rfd1 $18 {White brings his remaining piece into the game and Black is amazingly helpless in this position. As noted in the previous variation, he actually has a back rank problem, despite both his rooks being there, due to the holes around his king and the unopposed White dark square bishop.} f6 22. Bh6 Kf7 {getting off the back rank, but White has other threats as well. Note how Black's pieces, especially the knights and rooks, are uncoordinated and get in each others' way.} 23. Qc4+ {Nakamura no doubt calculated the next sequence through to the endgame.} (23. Qc7 {played immediately, according to Houdini, would give White a greater advantage in the middlegame, for example} Ke8 24. Qc4 Nf8 25. Rxd8+ Qxd8 26. Qg8 Qd6 27. Nd2 {with Nc4 coming}) 23... Qe6 24. Qc7 {White exploits Black's weak rooks and overloaded Nd7.} Ke8 25. Rxd7 Qxd7 26. Qxb8 Nb6 {a clever way to get the knight into the game, but White returns the favor with his own counterattack.} 27. Nxe5 Rxb8 28. Nxd7 Nxd7 { White has engineered a transition to what should be a winning endgame.} 29. h4 {preventing Black from attempting to shut the bishop in with ...g5} Rb5 (29... Rxb2 {still does not work for Black:} 30. Rc8+ Ke7 31. Ra8) 30. Rc8+ Ke7 31. Rh8 Rxb2 32. Rxh7+ {White decides to munch on Black's kingside pawns rather than on the queenside one.} Ke6 33. Be3 a6 34. Rg7 Ne5 35. Bc5 f5 36. Bd4 Rb1+ 37. Kh2 Rb5 38. Bxe5 Kxe5 39. Rxg6 {Black now acknowledges that he is lost.} 1-0

22 December 2013

Commentary: Nakamura-Kramnik, World Team Championship Round 2

The following game, a Nimzo-Indian opening played in late November between Hikaru Nakamura and Vladimir Kramnik during round 2 of the World Team Championship, helped the U.S. team defeat Russia 3-1 that round.  I picked it out at the time for being of particular personal interest and have now gotten around to doing commentary for it.

The game stands out in several respects, including:
  • The way Nakamura is able to use his dancing central knight, creating two different outposts for it and also bolstering it with his rook, while Black's knight languishes in the corner.
  • White's ability to see key tactical ideas and use them strategically, for example how moves 16 and 19 change the course of the game.
  • The simplification into a winning endgame for White and the tactic that justifies it.
  • The psychological dynamic, as Nakamura has developed a personal edge in his games with Kramnik, who seems to either not be coping with Nakamura's style or perhaps is psyching himself out too much.
For improving players, the game I think is both comprehensible in terms of tactics (with some work) and an outstanding example of some key strategic and positional ideas.  It's also useful to study in terms of the decision points and why Nakamura chose to go a particular way - not necessarily the best according to the engine, but that's real chess.

For another take on the game, you can also see this video analysis by Kingscrusher.

[Event "World Teams 2013"] [Site "Antalya TUR"] [Date "2013.11.27"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E36"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "2013.11.26"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 {entering the Classical variation of the Nimzo-Indian. White, at the cost of some time, secures the bishop pair and keeps his pawn structure intact.} O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 d5 {an uncommon variation that the ChessBase database however flags as "hot" and has been favored by Kramnik. White scores 58 percent in the line overall.} 7. Nf3 dxc4 8. Qxc4 b6 {the position now takes on some of the Queen's Indian Defense characteristics. At this point the database shows that White's score is down to 52 percent, with an even position.} 9. Bg5 Ba6 10. Qc3 {a more modest move than the favored and "hot" Qa4.} h6 11. Bxf6 {a novelty, although not surprising; only one other game in this line is in the database. The exchange ensures that White does not lose time by retreating his bishop. With its Black counterpart already exchanged, White also does not have to fear the bishop's absence on the dark squares.} Qxf6 12. g3 Bb7 13. Bg2 Na6 {this is intended to support the ...c5 advance, but in fact is not necessary, as the below variation shows.} (13... c5 14. dxc5 Qxc3+ 15. bxc3 Rc8 16. cxb6 axb6) 14. O-O c5 15. Rac1 {placed in order to pre-empt a Black attempt to gain control of the c-file.} Rac8 (15... Rfd8 {is preferred by Houdini. It is notoriously difficult to decide where to place one's rooks and this often comes up in analysis. In this case, it can be seen that Black is unopposed on the d-file and has better long-term chances of penetrating there. In the short term, the Rd8 covers the d7 square, a weakness which Nakamura now targets.}) 16. Ne5 { this move is one of the key ones for the game, as it provokes a change in a number of different positional characteristics.} cxd4 {Black tactically avoids the threat of Nd7 with counter-threats. After the queen recaptures on d4, the Ne5 is also pinned to it.} 17. Qxd4 Bxg2 18. Kxg2 Nc5 {finally coming out of its hole on a6.} 19. b4 {the obvious idea in the position, kicking the knight off of its outpost, but perhaps premature here according to Houdini.} (19. Qe3 {would prepare the pawn thrust by taking away the b3 square from the Nc5.} Qf5 {Black needs to avoid being forked on d7} 20. b4 $14) 19... Nb3 20. Rxc8 { the tactical justification for the previous move.} Rxc8 {superficially this looks good for Black, but the rook is just going to be chased away on the next move.} (20... Nxd4 $5 {creating a material imbalance, queen for two rooks, and un-trapping the knight.} 21. Rxf8+ Kh7 (21... Kxf8 $2 22. Nd7+) 22. Nxf7 Qf5 { a subtle move that allows the queen to go to e4 and then potentially capture on e2} (22... Nxe2 {does not work, due to threats against Black's king. For example} 23. Re1 Nd4 $2 (23... Qb2) 24. Rh8+ Kg6 25. Ne5+ Kf5 26. Nd7 Qe7 27. Rf8+) 23. f3 Nxe2 {and now Black's king is OK, for example} 24. Rh8+ Kg6 25. Re1 Nf4+ 26. gxf4 Kxf7 $11) 21. Qd7 $14 Rf8 22. f4 {a marvelous example of creating an outpost. White's knight has already been a star of the game and it will keep getting stronger. Meanwhile, Black's equivalent on b3 is trapped.} Qf5 {preparing to come to the rescue of the Nb3} 23. Rf3 Qc2 24. Qd3 {White defends e2 and forces a queen exchange under favorable circumstances.} Qxd3 25. Rxd3 Nc1 26. Rd2 (26. Rd7 $5) 26... Rc8 27. h4 {restraining a potential ...g5 break from Black that would undermine the e5 outpost.} h5 {restrains in turn a g-pawn advance and takes away the g4 square from the knight.} 28. b5 {White seizes the opportunity to create another, more effective outpost for his knight.} Rc7 {protecting the a7 pawn in advance of the knight move.} 29. Nc6 $16 {at this point White has a clear advantage, with Black's pieces tied down on defense (the rook) or out of place (the knight), while their White counterparts are active and dominant.} Kh7 30. Rb2 a5 {Black takes the opportunity to tactically remove the a-pawn from threat; the b-pawn cannot capture en passant, which would abandon the Nc6 to its fate.} 31. Kf2 Rd7 32. Ne5 {with the a-pawn now out of reach, the knight returns to its previous outpost to again threaten a 7th rank target.} Rc7 {the rook is still tied to defending the 7th rank.} 33. Rd2 {White anticipates Black's next move, kicking the knight.} f6 34. Nd7 Nb3 {Black now seems to have some breathing room to regroup and the position is more symmetrical. However, White retains all the winning chances.} 35. Nf8+ (35. Rd6 $5 {would be a more direct approach.} Nc5 36. Nxc5 Rxc5 37. Rxb6 $16) 35... Kg8 36. Rd7 Rxd7 (36... Rc3 {is preferred by Houdini, although it also seems to lead to a losing game for Black.} 37. Nxe6 Nc5 38. Rxg7+ Kh8) 37. Nxd7 Nd4 38. a4 {White has consolidated and with the win of the b-pawn coming, has a won ending. Black appears to realize this and therefore attempts to shake things up with a piece sacrifice, but to no avail.} Nxb5 39. axb5 a4 40. Nc5 {this seems like such an obvious move when you see it played, although for "normal" chessplayers it could be hard to find. There is no other way to get the knight back in time to stop the a-pawn, so it is forced in that respect. It is immune from capture because then White's b-pawn would win the queening race.} a3 41. Nb3 a2 42. Ke3 {the game is essentially over now, as the king can march over to take Black's passed pawn, but Black plays on in hopes of generating something on the kingside in compensation.} Kf7 43. Kd4 Ke7 44. e4 e5+ 45. fxe5 Ke6 46. Na1 {this is superior to capturing on f6, since the Black king will now not be able to penetrate nearly as easily.} fxe5+ 47. Kc3 g5 48. Kb2 gxh4 49. gxh4 Kd6 50. Nb3 {the Black king is barred from the 5th rank and the game is sealed.} 1-0

14 December 2013

Annotated Game #110: Failed opening experiment

The following game from an ongoing Slow Chess League tournament features a failed opening experiment, in this case on move 9 for Black.  I decided to avoid the main line and venture off into an "easier" sideline to remember, involving an offer to exchange queens and simplify, which would work in Black's favor.  My opponent correctly rejected the offer (after some thought) and went on to win the game.

It is worth underlining the fact that the idea itself did not immediately lose, but it put Black in a less desirable position developmentally versus the main line, essentially a tempo down on developing the kingside, which gives White some additional tactical possibilities. What did lose more or less immediately - but not obviously so - was my decision to castle queenside a few moves after White's aggressive response with 11. c4.  From previous analysis of similar games I knew that this was a relatively risky decision, but as far as I could see, White could not directly exploit it with good defense by Black.  Unfortunately, I was wrong and the decision doomed me strategically.

The game is unusual in that respect, as normally a single error is either an immediate blunder (obviously non-recoverable) or can be recovered from later on with better play.  Here Black is put on an inexorable path of doom, which only materializes a number of moves later.  My opponent deserves full credit for taking the time to work out how to do this, although he missed a chance on move 19 to more quickly put me away.

In this case, although the opening experiment was a failure, it's helped give me more insight into the opening and middlegame dynamics for future use in the main line with an immediate ...e6 (and more confidence in that being the best way to proceed).

[Event "DHLC Slow 1-2 Pairing #4"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2013.12.10"] [Round "2"] [White "nate23"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "1707"] [BlackElo "1432"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "49"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {B19: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 main line} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nf6 8. Bd3 {White decides to skip the more usual h4-h5 push.} Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Qa5+ {entering the sideline} 10. Bd2 Qa6 11. c4 $146 {although a novelty in this position, in the analagous line with the h4-h5 push thrown in, it scores 90 percent!} (11. Qxa6 {was what I was hoping for} Nxa6 12. O-O {1/2-1/2 (12) Golubovic,B (2450)-Lalic,B (2545) Pula 1998}) ( 11. Ne5 e6 12. O-O Qxd3 13. Nxd3 Bd6 14. Bf4 Bxf4 15. Nxf4 O-O 16. Rfe1 Rd8 17. c3 Nbd7 18. Ne4 Nxe4 19. Rxe4 c5 20. dxc5 Nxc5 21. Rc4 b6 22. Kf1 Rd2 23. b4 Na4 24. Rc7 Rad8 25. Rxa7 Nxc3 {Kirjuskin,A-Svetlov,D (2104) Sochi 2007 0-1 (39)}) 11... e6 {Prevents intrusion on f5, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface. Other than being the obvious move to release the Bf8 and help control d5, this was in fact a consideration of mine.} 12. O-O Nbd7 {by this point Black is behind in development on his kingside, thanks to the queen moves.} 13. Rfe1 O-O-O $2 (13... Be7 $5 $14 {is still the best move in the position, although now White has some tactical threats along the e-file that Black needs to worry about. Although objectively they are not decisive, they worried me to the extent that I decided to avoid them by castling queenside. Normally Black would already be castled by now, the fact he is behind schedule makes him more vulnerable.} 14. Nf5 {for example was one major tactical idea of concern, taking advantage of the Be7 only being able to be defended by the king, although the knight sacrifice cannot be immediately played; in my original calculations I missed the idea of interposing the knight to defend e7. } (14. a4 O-O 15. Nf5 exf5 16. Rxe7 Rae8 17. Rae1 Rxe7 18. Rxe7 Qxa4 19. Qxf5 Rd8 $11) 14... exf5 15. Qe2 Ne4 $1 {is winning for Black.}) 14. b4 $16 { this is evaluated by Houdini as the best choice, with White immediately taking the initiative against Black's king position and threatening b4-b5, trying to crack open the c-file.} b5 $2 {this seemed to stop the attack, but in fact leads inexorably to a White victory. Houdini considers White the equivalent of two pawns up already.} (14... Qb6 $5 $16) 15. c5 $18 Qb7 (15... Qa4 $18 { is what the engine recommends and what I considered as the only alternative, as Black needs to get his queen back in the game somehow. After some thought, however, I rejected it thinking that the queen would be too far offside and could potentially come under threat of being trapped.}) 16. a4 a6 17. axb5 { at this point I realized simply capturing with the a-pawn, which stops the pawn advance, would in fact give White a win via penetrating on the open a-file.} Qxb5 18. Qxb5 axb5 {this loses as well, but I did not see the immediate rejoinder with Ra8+. I rejected the also losing recapture with the c-pawn because I thought White's path to victory there would be more obvious.} (18... cxb5 19. Rxa6 $18) 19. Ra7 $6 {my opponent also misses the better line, which I had seen only after making my previous move (i.e. too late). Black is still badly off, but not completely knocked out.} (19. Ra8+ {finishes off the opponent, says Houdini.} Nb8 20. Ne5 $18 {wins, for example} Rxd4 21. Rxb8+ Kxb8 22. Nxc6+) 19... Nd5 {the best defense. At this point I thought I could salvage the game.} 20. Rea1 Nb8 $2 {I fail to realize the power of White's next move, which targets the f7 vulnerability, having concentrated instead on my king.} (20... f6 {is the best chance to fight on.}) 21. Ne5 $1 {now it is essentially over for Black, as White's forces run rampant over his position, although I gamely play on for a few more moves.} Rg8 22. Ra8 Nc7 23. Rxb8+ $1 { I missed this sacrifice as well, although it didn't make a difference by this point.} Kxb8 24. Nxc6+ Kb7 25. Nxd8+ 1-0

07 December 2013

Annotated Game #109: How to play against your own opening?

It's always difficult to play against your own opening, psychologically speaking.  You normally will have faith in its superiority (or at least its preferability), the flip side of which is that you naturally will tend to dislike the other side's position type.  Of course strong players can often play both sides of an opening equally well, but that is one of the reasons why they are exceptional.  Overcoming a psychological bias and deeply understanding an opening's characteristics from both sides' perspectives, including the middlegame and endgame play that results, is I think a characteristic of mastery.

In the following game, played in the opening round of a tournament in the Slow Chess league, I face an early opening choice as White when my opponent replies with 1...c6.  Rather than transpose into more standard lines against my own defenses, I stick to an independent English Opening continuation that involves gambiting a pawn.  This is the first game that I have played with this line, so I'm pleased with it for training purposes, as well as content with the result.

One of my long-term flaws as a player has been being too materialistic, so learning to play more dynamically and with "compensation" is good for my chess.  In this game, the compensation for White is positional rather than in the form of a direct attack, although I was able to obtain some tactical play once Black castled queenside.  Houdini's assessment throughout was that White had full compensation for the pawn, which is useful validation of the line and my handling of it in this debut game.

[Event "DHLC Slow 1-2 Pairing #4"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2013.12.07"] [Round "1"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "keshavprasad"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "1443"] [BlackElo "1442"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 {an independent opening choice.} (2. e4 {directly transposes to a Caro-Kann.}) (2. d4 {gives Black a few more options, but the logical follow-up is to play ...d5 and enter a Slav.}) 2... d5 3. g3 dxc4 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. O-O Bf5 {although this is the 3rd most popular choice in the database, it doesn't seem to be the best placement for the bishop. White scores over 62 percent in this line.} (5... Nbd7 {is the most popular choice and has balanced results.}) (5... b5 {is perhaps the most obvious way to try to hold onto the pawn.}) 6. b3 (6. Na3 {is Houdini's recommendation and scores over 60 percent in the database. The idea is to provoke ...b5 first, which will leave a backward c-pawn for Black after the exchange and not allow him to oppose queens on b6.} b5 7. b3 cxb3 8. Qxb3 Be4 9. d3 Bxf3 10. Bxf3 a6 11. Nc2 e6 12. a4 Ra7 13. axb5 cxb5 14. Nb4 Bxb4 15. Qxb4 Qe7 16. Qb3 Qd7 17. Ba3 Nd5 18. Bxd5 Qxd5 19. Qc3 Rg8 20. Qc8+ Qd8 {Romanishin,O (2560)-Sveshnikov, E (2545) Minsk 1979 1/2-1/2 (36)}) 6... cxb3 7. Qxb3 Qb6 $146 {a logical way to protect b7, also looking to trade off queens. If White moves his queen away, it would simply be a loss of time.} 8. Ba3 {the idea is to make it awkward for Black to develop his dark-square bishop.} (8. Na3 $5 {heading for c4} Qxb3 9. axb3 e6 10. Nc4 Nbd7 11. Na5 $11) 8... Nbd7 (8... Qxb3 9. axb3 a6 10. Nc3 $11) 9. d3 {taking control of e4 and clearing the d2 square for the knight. However, White's compensation for the pawn declines after Black exchanges queens.} (9. Qc3 $5 $11 {now that the bishop is in place on a3, moving the queen away would not lose a crucial tempo.}) 9... Qxb3 10. axb3 e5 {this seems a little loose on Black's part, as the e-pawn will be rather weak here and White can prevent its further advance.} (10... e6 11. Bxf8 Rxf8) 11. Nbd2 {I thought for a while here and decided that it was better to continue developing rather than go for the exchange.} (11. Bxf8 Rxf8 (11... Nxf8 $143 12. Nxe5 Ke7 13. Nd2 $14) (11... Kxf8 $143 12. Nbd2 $11) 12. Nbd2 Be6 $11) 11... Bg6 {I was surprised at this move choice, since it didn't seem to gain Black much of anything and brings the bishop to a worse square.} (11... Bxa3 12. Rxa3 Be6 13. Rfa1 a6 14. Ra5 Nd5 15. Nc4 $11) 12. Bxf8 {the Ba3 did not seem to have any better options, so I take the chance to exchange and prevent Black from castling on the kingside.} Rxf8 13. Nh4 {I again thought for a while here. Nc4 is an obvious follow-up, but I wanted to open up the Bg2, control e4 and go ahead and eliminate Black's light-square bishop so it could not oppose my own.} (13. Nc4 {immediately is preferred by Houdini.} e4 14. Nh4 exd3 15. Nxg6 fxg6 16. Nd6+ Kd8 17. Nxb7+ Kc7 18. Na5 dxe2 19. Rfe1 $11) 13... a6 14. Nc4 O-O-O {I thought this allowed White to keep the initiative, as Black's king position is more exposed and White can make some tactical threats as a result. Objectively, however, it is fine.} 15. Rfc1 Nd5 (15... Kc7 16. b4 $11) 16. Nxg6 {deciding to proceed first with the plan of eliminating the light-squared bishop, which does not affect the tactical situation on the queenside.} hxg6 17. Bxd5 {I considered various tries like Na5, but White has no real threats against the Black king, so I decided to recoup the pawn.} cxd5 18. Nxe5+ Kb8 19. Nxd7+ {I evaluated the position as even with no real winning chances for White, so decided to simplify.} Rxd7 {A double rook endgame, which I soon turn into a single rook endgame.} 20. Ra2 Rc8 21. Rac2 Rxc2 22. Rxc2 Rc7 23. Rb2 {an important decision that holds equality. Simplifying down further into a K+P endgame would give Black any winning chances, with his 2-1 queenside majority and more active king, although it would still probably be a draw.} b5 24. Kg2 {White must get his king into the game and centralize it.} Rc3 {I didn't understand the purpose of this, it would seem Black should instead improve his king (... Ka7). However, the game is even and unless one side blunders, a draw should be the outcome.} 25. Kf3 Kc7 26. Ke3 Kd6 (26... b4 27. Kd4 $11) 27. Kd4 Rc6 (27... b4 {is what I was expecting.}) 28. e4 (28. Ra2 $5 $14 {I considered this idea for the rook placement, but focused instead on creating the central passed pawn.}) 28... dxe4 $11 29. Kxe4 Kc7 (29... a5 30. f4 $11) 30. b4 {Black has a new backward pawn: a6, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Re6+ {this indicated to me that my opponent was going to head for a draw by repetition.} 31. Kd4 Rd6+ 32. Ke4 Re6+ (32... f5+ {does not do anything for Black.} 33. Ke3 g5 34. f3 Re6+ 35. Kd4 $11) 33. Kd4 Rd6+ 34. Ke4 Re6+ 35. Kd4 1/2-1/2

23 November 2013

FT: Young Norwegian takes world chess title

Magnus Carlsen's victory in the 2013 World Championship has deservedly received a great deal of press attention, including a front-page article in the Financial Times (FT).  The world's most influential grandmaster had this to say:
Kenneth Rogoff, a professor at Harvard, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and a chess grandmaster in his own right, told the FT: “Magnus was magnificent, showing enormous talent and a will to win, the likes of which can compare with the greatest in any sport.”
He added: “Carlsen has emerged as the most important public personality the chess world has known since the great American champion Bobby Fischer, he will draw many new devotees to the game.”
The "Lunch with the FT" article featuring Carlsen was also well worth the read, for those who have not seen it.

21 November 2013

Training quote of the day #6: Yang Jwing-Ming

...Two monks were walking side by side down a muddy road when they came upon a large puddle which completely blocked the road.  A very beautiful lady in a lovely gown stood at the edge of the puddle, unable to go further without spoiling her clothes.
Without hesitation, one of the monks picked her up and carried her across the puddle, set her down on the other side, and continued on his way.  Many hours later when the two monks were preparing to camp for the night, the second monk turned to the first and said, "I can no longer hold this back, I'm quite angry at you! We are not supposed to look at women, particularly pretty ones, never mind touch them.  Why did you do that?"  The first monk replied, "Brother, I left the woman at the mud puddle; why are you still carrying her?"
From Taijiquan: Classical Yang Style by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming

14 November 2013

Commentary - 2013 Russian Championship (Women's Final Round)

The final round of the 2013 Russian championship featured another Caro-Kann Advance similar to the round 4 game between Kosintseva and Kosteniuk previously analyzed.  White (Alina Kashlinskaya) plays a less challenging variation and Black (Daria Charochkina) eventually decides to liven up the game by creating a pawn structure imbalance on move 20, which features a passed c-pawn.  Black's 22nd move allows White to grab the initiative and make threats on the kingside, which eventually nets White a pawn.  Black from that point defends well, however, and shows how to use an active rook in the endgame, enabling her to hold the draw.

[Event "63rd ch-RUS w 2013"] [Site "Nizhny Novgorod RUS"] [Date "2013.10.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Kashlinskaya, A."] [Black "Charochkina, D."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2435"] [BlackElo "2343"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "121"] [EventDate "2013.10.05"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 {taking the pawn is the most challenging line, although if White is unfamiliar with the opening, the text move may be safer.} Nc6 5. Be2 cxd4 {Black eliminates the possibility of a delayed capture on c5.} 6. cxd4 Qb6 (6... Bf5 {is the other alternative, where Black chooses to delay developing the queen. For example} 7. Nf3 e6 8. O-O Nge7 9. Qa4 Qd7 10. Nc3 Bg4 11. Be3 Nf5 12. h3 Bxf3 13. Bxf3 Ncxd4 14. Bd1 Nc6 15. Bf4 Bc5 16. Rc1 Bb6 17. Qa3 Nfe7 18. Ba4 O-O 19. Rfd1 Ng6 20. Bh2 Qd8 21. Bxc6 bxc6 22. Ne4 Qh4 23. Nc5 {0-1 (23) Walter Travella,G (2055)-Illescas Cordoba,M (2640) Barcelona 1996}) 7. Nf3 (7. Nc3 {is normally played here, the idea being to force Black to close the diagonal for the light-square bishop.} e6 (7... Qxd4 8. Nxd5 Qxd1+ 9. Bxd1 Rb8 10. Nf3 $14) 8. Nf3 Nge7 {and this now looks like a standard French defense, with a positional plus for White.}) 7... Bg4 {Black does not waste the opportunity to get the bishop out.} 8. O-O e6 9. Nbd2 Nh6 {the knight is going to f5, so this is a typical idea in this type of position.} 10. h3 Bxf3 { normally Black exchanges off the bishop in this situation. Time would be lost with a bishop retreat and it is "bad" in any case because of the pawn structure.} 11. Nxf3 Nf5 12. Be3 Nxe3 13. fxe3 {this is not in fact a bad structure for White, who now has a half-open f-file and full protection for the d4 pawn.} Be7 14. Rb1 {White signals a plan involving queenside pawn expansion.} (14. Qd2 {seems more flexible.}) 14... O-O 15. b4 f6 {another thematic move for Black, attacking the head of the White pawn chain.} (15... Nxb4 $2 16. a3) 16. b5 Na5 (16... Nxe5 {is an interesting tactical alternative. } 17. dxe5 Qxe3+ 18. Kh1 fxe5 {and Houdini evalutes the position as equal, although obviously a lot of play can be had with the piece versus 3 pawns situation.}) 17. Qd2 Rfc8 18. exf6 {White chooses to conduct the exchange of the e-pawn on her terms. Otherwise, the Nf3 is essentially bound to protect e5, since a pawn exchange initiated by Black would then create two weak e-pawns.} Bxf6 19. Nh2 Nc4 20. Bxc4 dxc4 {the riskier choice, although Houdini evaluates it the same as ...Rxc4. With the new pawn imbalance, Black hopes to use the passed c-pawn to her advantage while containing White's central pawns.} 21. Ng4 Bg5 22. Qc3 {although the queen is not normally an ideal blockading piece, here it remains well-placed, protecting e3 and occupying the long diagonal, which potentially could be useful after a d5 push.} a6 {this seems unnecessary at this point, as White was not going to make any more progress with the b-pawn.} (22... Qd6 23. Ne5 Rc7 24. a4 Qd5 {is one possible alternative approach that does not allow White nearly as much latitude as in the game.}) 23. d5 h5 {entering a long tactical sequence.} 24. bxa6 Qxa6 25. Qe5 hxg4 26. Qxg5 c3 27. Qe7 c2 28. Rbc1 exd5 (28... Qb6 $5 {and if} 29. Qxe6+ {then} Qxe6 30. dxe6 Rxa2 31. e7 Re8 {is fine for Black.}) 29. Qf7+ Kh7 (29... Kh8 { gives Black an extra defensive resource in the form of the g-pawn.} 30. Rf5 g6) 30. Rf5 {the threat is mate on h5.} Rc6 31. Rxc2 $14 Rh6 32. Rg5 Qf6 33. Qxf6 Rxf6 34. Rxg4 {the dust has settled and Black is disadvantaged in the rook endgame, but not fatally so.} Ra3 35. Rg3 Rc6 36. Rb2 Rg6 37. Rxg6 Kxg6 38. Kf2 Kf5 39. Rxb7 Rxa2+ 40. Kf3 Kf6 41. Rd7 Rd2 42. h4 Rd1 43. g4 Rf1+ 44. Ke2 Rh1 45. h5 Rh2+ 46. Kf3 Rd2 47. Rd6+ Kf7 48. Kf4 Rf2+ 49. Kg5 Rf3 50. Rd7+ Kf8 51. h6 gxh6+ 52. Kxh6 Rh3+ 53. Kg6 Rxe3 54. g5 {now the draw seems assured.} Rd3 55. Rf7+ Kg8 56. Ra7 Kf8 57. Ra8+ Ke7 58. Kg7 Rg3 59. g6 d4 60. Ra1 d3 61. Re1+ 1/2-1/2

13 November 2013

Commentary - 2013 Russian Championship (Women's Round 4)

As I mentioned a while ago, I am continuing to work on commentary for several international games that caught my eye over the past month.  This next game, from round 4 of the women's section of the Russian championship played in October, features the sacrificial 3...c5 line of the Caro-Kann.  Alexandra Kosteniuk employs it well and the game is complex both tactically and positionally; the original ChessBase report mentioned that it was a "very strange game", which is difficult to deny, which of course also makes it very interesting.  Among other things, multiple pawn sacrifices are offered, refused and finally accepted.  Tatiana Kosintseva missed (or deliberately passed up, hard to say) more than one chance to force a draw and seemed to be pressing at the end as well, but overextended herself and allowed Black to win the ending.

[Event "63rd ch-RUS w 2013"] [Site "Nizhny Novgorod RUS"] [Date "2013.10.08"] [Round "4.2"] [White "Kosintseva, Tatiana"] [Black "Kosteniuk, Alexandra"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [WhiteElo "2515"] [BlackElo "2495"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "130"] [EventDate "2013.10.05"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 {less challenging than taking on c5, but of course solid for White. This move is frequently seen at the Class level.} Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 {this is essentially Black's ideal setup out of this variation and the database statistics show it, as Black scores close to 63 percent.} 6. dxc5 {Kosintseva has played this frequently, including a prior game against Kosteniuk from earlier this year in May. Black therefore must have had the expectation that White would enter this line. The capture is usually made on move 4 when first possible; this variation can be reached alternatively by White playing the capture and following up with 6. c3, which however is not the most aggressive continuation.} a6 $146 {a novelty on move 6! However, perhaps not so unusual when it's one of Houdini's top choices. The move also appears in their previous game, at a later point. Here it helps restrain the idea of White pushing the b-pawn.} (6... e6 {is what Kosteniuk played before and is most common.} 7. b4 Bxf3 8. Qxf3 Qc7 9. Bf4 a6 10. Nd2 g5 11. Bg3 Nge7 12. Bd3 Bg7 13. Qe3 h6 14. f4 gxf4 15. Bxf4 d4 16. cxd4 Nd5 17. Qf2 Nxf4 18. Qxf4 O-O-O 19. Nf3 Nxd4 20. O-O Nxf3+ 21. Qxf3 Bxe5 22. Rad1 Bxh2+ 23. Kh1 Rd4 24. Be4 Rhd8 25. Bxb7+ Qxb7 26. Qxb7+ Kxb7 27. Rxd4 Rxd4 28. Kxh2 Rxb4 29. Rxf7+ Kc6 30. Rf6 Re4 31. Rxh6 Kxc5 32. Rh3 Re2 33. Ra3 Kb5 34. Kg3 a5 35. Kf3 Rc2 36. g4 a4 37. g5 Kb4 38. Re3 Rxa2 39. g6 Rd2 40. Rxe6 Rd7 41. Kf4 a3 42. Ra6 Kb3 43. Rb6+ Kc2 44. Rc6+ Kb3 45. Rb6+ Kc2 46. Rc6+ {1/2-1/2 (46) Kosintseva,T (2517)-Kosteniuk,A (2491) Geneva SUI 2013}) 7. Be3 Bxf3 {this "little tactic" was of course foreseen by White. In other lines with an earlier dxc5, White may try to hang on to the extra pawn. Here white cedes the e5 pawn, but in exchange gets the two bishops.} 8. Qxf3 Nxe5 9. Qd1 {White evidently wants to keep her options open regarding future placement of the queen.} e6 10. Be2 Ne7 {in this French-type structure, the knight development with Ne7-f5 is both common and effective.} 11. b4 {reinforcing c5 and untying the Be3 from the pawn's defense.} Nf5 12. Bf4 Nc6 {by this point Black has comfortable equality, with a dynamic balance between the minor pieces and pawn structures. Black's position looks more natural to play, although there is no real advantage.} 13. O-O g6 (13... Be7 {is also possible, with the idea of exchanging off the Bf4.}) 14. Bd3 {the bishop was accomplishing nothing on its previous diagonal and has limited scope, given Black's pawn structure, so now it is going to exchange itself off.} Bg7 15. Bxf5 gxf5 {this looks like a strange line for Black to enter, but a similar structure can occur, for example, in the Caro-Kann Exchange Variation. Black argues that the possibility of using the open g-file and stronger central pawn structure outweigh the weakening of the kingside.} 16. Bd6 a5 (16... Bf8 {is Houdini's preference, seeking to exchange the Bd6 or drive it away.}) (16... Nxb4 17. Re1 Qd7 {is an interesting possibility; the c3 pawn cannot capture, as it is pinned to the Ra1. Black cannot hold onto the pawn (the d5 pawn can be captured once the knight moves, due to the pin on the e6 pawn), but it would be another way to disrupt White's queenside pawns. Play could continue} 18. a4 Rg8 19. g3 a5 20. Ra3 Na6 21. Qxd5 O-O-O $5) 17. bxa5 {this seems to be exactly what Black wanted.} (17. b5 {it is unclear to me why White would not prefer this to the text move, as it mobilizes the queenside pawn majority to good effect.}) 17... Rxa5 18. Nd2 {evidently heading for b3 to help protect c5. White offers the c3 pawn in the process.} Qd7 (18... Bxc3 {leads to complicated play.} 19. Rb1 b5 20. a3 (20. cxb6 Qxd6 21. Nc4 Qc5 22. Nxa5 Qxa5 23. a4 $15) 20... Qa8 {and Houdini evaluates this as equal, but there is a lot going on for both sides here.}) 19. Nb3 Ra4 {a master-level move, keeping the rook advanced and mobile along the open fourth rank.} 20. Nd2 Ra3 21. Rb1 Be5 { Black finally decides to exchange off the bishop.} 22. Bxe5 Nxe5 23. Re1 Ng6 ( 23... Nd3 24. Re3 Nxc5 25. Nb3 Nxb3 26. axb3 O-O {is evaluated as equal by the engine.}) 24. Qc1 {perhaps with the idea of exploiting the c1-h6 diagonal, although this does not happen in the game.} (24. Nf3 $5) 24... Rxa2 {Black now decides to take one of the pawns offered to her.} 25. Nf3 O-O 26. h4 f6 $6 { this covers g5 and e5, but weakens e6 at the same time.} (26... Qc7 {instead seizes a key diagonal and allows Black to make some threats.}) 27. Rb6 { White fails here to put Black under maximum pressure, allowing her to strengthen the center.} (27. h5 {would be the most testing move.} Ne7 28. Rb6 Nc6 29. Nd4 Re8 30. Qb1 Ra7 31. h6) 27... e5 {although the earlier ...f6 may not have been fully accurate, the text move is now possible.} 28. Qb1 Ra7 29. Rd6 Qc8 30. Rxd5 Ne7 31. Rd6 Qxc5 {the position has simplified now and is equal, with Black's small material plus offset by the weaker pawn structure (3 pawn islands versus 2) and White's piece activity.} 32. Qb3+ Kh8 (32... Kg7 $2 33. Rd7) 33. Rd7 Ng6 34. Qe6 b5 {going for further simplification, at the cost of one of Black's doubled pawns.} 35. Rxa7 Qxa7 36. Qxf5 Qg7 (36... Qf7 { would neutralize a possible h5 push.} 37. h5 Nf4 38. Re4 Nxh5 39. Rh4 Nf4 40. Nxe5 fxe5 41. Rxh7+ Qxh7 42. Qxf8+ Qg8 {and White takes a perpetual check.}) 37. Rd1 (37. h5 {again would challenge Black most effectively.}) 37... Nf4 38. g3 Ne2+ 39. Kg2 Qg6 40. Qxg6 hxg6 {Houdini considers this an equal endgame, although Black has a small advantage based on her knight's activity.} 41. Rd7 Nxc3 42. Rb7 (42. Rc7 Ne4 43. Rb7) 42... Kg8 (42... Rd8 $5) 43. g4 {White seems to be overpressing on the kingside and creating potential weaknesses.} Rd8 44. h5 g5 45. Nh2 $6 {this appears to needlessly let Black's rook onto the fourth rank.} (45. Rb6) 45... Rd4 $17 46. f3 Rd2+ $11 (46... e4 {is what Houdini prefers.} 47. fxe4 Rxe4 48. Kf3 Rf4+ 49. Ke3 b4 $17) 47. Kh1 {forced.} (47. Kg1 $2 Ne2+ {and now the knight and rook combine to penetrate the kingside, for example} 48. Kg2 Nf4+ 49. Kg1 Rg2+ 50. Kh1 Rg3 51. Rb8+ Kg7 52. Rb7+ Kh6 53. Rxb5 Nh3 54. Nf1 Nf2+ 55. Kh2 Rxf3) 47... Rb2 48. Nf1 e4 49. fxe4 Nxe4 50. Ne3 (50. Kg1 $5) 50... Rb3 51. Nd5 Nf2+ 52. Kg1 Nxg4 {White's weakening pawn advance is finally exploited by Black.} 53. Ne7+ Kf8 54. Nf5 ( 54. Kg2) 54... Rh3 (54... Rb2) 55. h6 $6 {not sure what White's intent was here.} (55. Rxb5 Rxh5 56. Rb8+ Kf7 57. Rb7+ Kg6 58. Ne7+ Kf7 59. Nf5+ {and Black cannot escape the checks, due to the knight fork on g7.}) 55... Nxh6 56. Kg2 g4 57. Nd4 {Houdini shows a win for Black now.} (57. Rxb5) 57... Re3 58. Kf2 Re4 59. Nxb5 Rb4 60. Rh7 Rxb5 61. Rxh6 Kg7 {unlike in the move 57 variation, White's rook now cannot attack Black's pawns and king from the side, making the defense impossible.} 62. Rh4 f5 63. Kg3 Kg6 64. Rh8 Rb3+ 65. Kg2 Kg5 0-1

12 November 2013

Annotated Game #108: Opening preparation?

This is the final game from the last Swiss tournament in the Slow Chess League.  One of the interesting features about playing in a Chess.com league is that all of your opponents' games on the site are accessible and downloadable.  This naturally can work both for you and against you.

It seemed to me at the time that my opponent must have looked at the previous round's game (Annotated Game #107) as part of his preparation.  The idea of playing the ...e4 advance as in the previous game could perhaps be improved by preventing the response Ng5 (which wins a pawn by force).  This appeared to be the idea behind Black's 4...h6 in this game, which otherwise has little point.  The opening takes a very different path from the previous game, but unfortunately I make some similar kinds of errors, including following a dubious and uncertain plan, which allows Black to take over the initiative and create too many threats for me to find my way through.

In general, I felt that my last two opponents were better focused during the games and wanted to win more than I did, so by that measure they certainly deserve their results.  I hope to do better on that score in my next games.

[Event "Slow Swiss #9"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2013.11.03"] [Round "5"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "Gunners2004"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [WhiteElo "1443"] [BlackElo "1718"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "52"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 {the English Four Knights} 4. e3 h6 {this is not as effective as Black's normal continuations that assist development, such as with ...Bb4 or ...Be7. The only benefit of the text move is to prevent a possible Ng5.} 5. d4 {the response of choice among master players in the database. White seizes the chance to strike in the center, where Black has less support than he should, after the previous move.} exd4 6. Nxd4 {this is the only move played in the database, but the pawn capture can be considered as well.} Bb4 7. Nxc6 {played with the idea of exchanging both the Nc6 and Bb4. } (7. Be2 {was played in the only victory (for White) in the small game sample. Houdini also likes it. White ignores the threat of doubled c-pawns, knowing that he will receive the two bishops in return, and gets on with development.} Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 O-O 9. O-O $11) 7... bxc6 8. Bd2 O-O 9. a3 Bxc3 10. Bxc3 $11 { White now has a pleasant game with the two bishops, although possesses no real advantage.} Ne4 {Black looks to force an exchange of White's excellent bishop on the long diagonal. Houdini spots a tactical, sacrificial alternative to simply allowing the exchange on c3, based on the fact that the Ne4 is hanging.} 11. Qd4 (11. Bxg7 $5 Nxf2 (11... Kxg7 12. Qg4+ Ng5 13. h4 d6 14. Qd4+ Kg8 15. hxg5 Qxg5 16. O-O-O $14) 12. Qf3 Kxg7 13. Qxf2) 11... Nxc3 12. Qxc3 f5 13. g3 { played to control f4, otherwise the Black f-pawn can be used as a battering ram. Part of the plan for White is castling queenside.} Rb8 14. Bd3 (14. c5 { is something I had considered, as it fixes Black's c-pawn and opens up the a2-g8 diagonal for the bishop, which is less effective in the game continuation. I also was stubborn about sticking to the idea of queenside castling, to the detriment of other positional factors.}) 14... c5 15. O-O-O $6 $15 (15. O-O {and White is safe enough, despite the light-square weakness, since it is difficult to exploit. White could then have pursued a queenside expansion strategy, for example} Bb7 16. b4 Qe7 17. Rab1 $11) 15... Bb7 { Black now effectively takes over the initiative.} 16. Rhg1 Bf3 17. Rd2 Rf6 18. Be2 Bxe2 19. Rxe2 Qe7 20. Rge1 {I had a long think here, as White does not have an obvious plan and multiple weaknesses to cover.} (20. Rd1 {was another alternative considered and probably simpler and better. At the time, the hanging Re2 bothered me and I did not see a good follow-up for White. Play could continue} d6 21. Qd3 {with a number of possibilites, but White should be OK.}) 20... Rfb6 (20... Qe4 $5) 21. e4 $11 {this felt risky at the time, but I calculated that it would work. I was correct, but unfortunately went astray afterwards.} Rb3 {I had in fact missed this move, focusing on the variations with the exchange on e4, and failed to find the correct continuation.} 22. Qa5 $6 (22. Qd2 {I wrongly rejected, fearing a possible breakthrough against White's king.} fxe4 23. Rxe4 Qf7 24. Qf4 Qxf4+ 25. Rxf4 Rxb2 26. Re7 Rb1+ 27. Kc2 {and Black has nothing more than a perpetual check with the two rooks.}) 22... fxe4 23. Qxc7 (23. Rxe4 {might have provided better practical chances.} Qf6 24. Re8+ Kh7 25. Qd2 Rxb2 26. Qd3+ Qg6 27. Qxg6+ Kxg6 28. Rxb8 Rxb8 $15 { and White has a pawn-down rook ending to defend.}) 23... Qf6 24. Qxd7 $2 { this leads to an immediate collapse, but I didn't see anything better at the time.} (24. Qf4 {would make things much more difficult for Black.} Rc3+ (24... Rxb2 {no longer works due to} 25. Qxf6) 25. Kb1 Qxf4 26. gxf4 Rxa3 27. Rxe4 $15 ) 24... Rxa3 25. Qd5+ Kh8 26. Rc2 {White is lost at this point.} (26. bxa3 Qc3+ 27. Rc2 {and I had previously missed in my calculations that the Qc3 could now capture on e1.}) 26... Ra1+ 0-1

11 November 2013

Commentary - World Championship 2013, round 2

Although some have criticized the recently-started World Championship for its drawishness, we are still in the feeling-out period between the two contenders.  I found the second round game to be well worth studying, as it shows off the Classical Caro-Kann, and the unusual sideline selected by Carlsen, to good effect.  Anand's aggressive setup, including 11. f4, is handled well by the challenger, who never lets White get moving on the kingside and instead initiates some key exchanges in the center.  Black's opening is designed to neutralize White's initiative and then counterattack if White becomes too lazy or loose.  The opening selection worked well for Carlsen, who threatened a minority attack on the queenside and pressured Anand into repeating moves on the kingside to secure the draw.

[Event "FWCM 2013"] [Site "Chennai"] [Date "2013.11.10"] [Round "2"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "2775"] [BlackElo "2870"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [EventCountry "IND"] [TimeControl "40/7200:20/3600:900+30"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 {these days the Advance Variation with e5 is the most played (and also the most theoretical).} dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 { Spassky introduced this move into top-level play and made it the standard. It is an aggressive pawn thrust, but it makes perfect sense in the context of the bishop's location and White's natural orientation to kingside play in this variation.} h6 7. Nf3 e6 {a rare move, although Anand himself has played this, along with the main line ...Nd7 and the alternative ...Nf6. The main line prevents Ne5 by allowing Black to immediately exchange off the knight, so the game continuation is the natural reaction.} 8. Ne5 Bh7 {no other square is safe for the bishop.} 9. Bd3 {exchanging off the bishop is the most popular, also logical from the standpoint of gaining time, as Black's bishop has made more moves than White's equivalent and White will be left with more pieces developed afterwards. Other commentators have also pointed out that Black's attempt to snatch a pawn with ...Qxd4 fails to 10. Nxf7!} Bxd3 10. Qxd3 Nd7 { this knight needs to be developed sooner or later and challenging Black's Ne5 sooner is certainly a good idea.} 11. f4 {this is by far the most popular move, although by no means forced. If White is going to play aggressively with 8. Ne5, then this continuation makes sense to keep the space advantage on the kingside. With this move, however, White is essentially committing himself to castle queenside, as the kingside pawn shield is now almost nonexistent. (See move 14 notes, however, for a game featuring Anand castling kingside)} Bb4+ { a typical idea in the Caro-Kann, provoking the c-pawn advance and weakening the future home of the White king.} 12. c3 Be7 13. Bd2 Ngf6 14. O-O-O {this is an interesting choice. In the database Anand had previously played Qe2 and won (as shown below). Every other database game saw the text move played, however. Anand's previous play was somewhat risky and he probably expected that Carlsen had prepared an improvement.} (14. Qe2 c5 15. dxc5 Qc7 16. b4 O-O 17. O-O a5 18. a3 Nxe5 19. fxe5 Nd7 20. Ne4 axb4 21. cxb4 Qxe5 22. Bc3 Qc7 23. Rad1 Rad8 24. Qg4 g6 25. Nd6 e5 26. Qc4 Nb6 27. Qe4 Nd7 28. h5 gxh5 29. Qf5 Bf6 30. Qxh5 Qc6 31. Rxf6 Nxf6 32. Qxe5 {1-0 (32) Anand,V (2783)-Ding Liren (2707) Paris/St Petersburg FRA/RUS 2013}) 14... O-O 15. Ne4 Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Nxe5 {Carlsen plays a new move, according to the database, trading off the well-placed knight and then centralizing his queen.} (16... Nf6 {is another logical continuation and a standard idea in these types of positions.} 17. Qe2 Qd5 18. g4 h5 19. gxh5 Qe4 20. Qf2 Qf5 21. Rdg1 Nxh5 22. Qf3 Rfd8 23. Rg5 Bxg5 24. hxg5 g6 25. Ng4 Qd5 26. Qh3 Kg7 27. b3 b5 28. Re1 Rh8 29. Nh6 Rad8 30. Re5 Qd6 31. Qe3 Rxh6 32. gxh6+ Kh7 33. Rc5 Qc7 34. Qd3 Rd5 35. Qxb5 Nxf4 36. Rxc6 {1/2-1/2 (36) Fercec, N (2477)-Zelcic,R (2531) Zadar 2004}) 17. fxe5 (17. dxe5 Qd5 {forces the queen trade, as otherwise the g2 and a2 pawns are forked.}) 17... Qd5 18. Qxd5 (18. Qg4 {is what bloodthirsty fans wanted to see. Black again cannot snatch a pawn, this time with ...Qxa2, because of 19. Bxh6!} f5 {is Houdini's continuation, which it evaluates as completely equal, although it certainly makes for some interesting play.} (18... Kh7 {is also a good defense and simpler.}) 19. Qg6 Qxa2 20. Bxh6 Rf7 21. g4 f4) 18... cxd5 19. h5 {this frees up the Rh1 from its protective duties.} b5 {putting a minority attack in motion.} 20. Rh3 a5 21. Rf1 Rac8 (21... b4 $5) 22. Rg3 Kh7 (22... b4 {now no longer works.} 23. Bxh6 bxc3 24. Bxg7 cxb2+ 25. Kxb2 Rb8+ 26. Ka1 {and Black no longer has threats against the White king, leaving White with a winning advantage. One possible continuation is} Rfc8 {which avoids major material loss but leaves Black in a hopeless position.} 27. Bf6+ Kf8 28. h6) 23. Rgf3 Kg8 24. Rg3 Kh7 25. Rgf3 Kg8 1/2-1/2

09 November 2013

Annotated Game #107: Don't be afraid of the center

This game is from round four of the last Swiss tournament run by the Slow Chess League.  Some all-too-familiar lessons can be seen from analyzing this loss:
  • Don't be afraid of the center!  White could have established a fine center with d4-e3 early on, consolidating his pawn advantage and giving Black little scope for counterplay in the center.  White also shied away from "posting up" in the center with e4 later on.
  • Following general principles without concrete analysis can lead to trouble; in this case, I did not properly evaluate some of the exchanges that I initiated, although Black also made some similar missteps with exchanges.
  • Planlessness and negative trends.  I drifted planless starting around move 17, when a simple plan would have done fine.  This contributed to the establishment of a negative psychological trend for me and letting my opponent take over the initiative.  He was able to make a series of threats without having to worry about my counterplay, which in the end gave him the game.

[Event "Slow Swiss #9"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2013.10.26"] [Round "4"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "Lavner"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "1454"] [BlackElo "1478"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 {a common transposition into the lines with ...e5, although it is still more common to play the pawn move first.} 3. Nf3 e4 { this loses a pawn by force, although it has been played as a gambit in some master games.} 4. Ng5 {White scores over 60 percent with this.} d5 (4... b5 { is the master-level continuation, deflecting the c-pawn before playing ...d5. The sacrificed pawn is therefore the b-pawn rather than a central pawn.}) 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Ngxe4 Nc6 7. d3 {here was my first long think. I wanted to get the bishop out without giving Black a target, was the idea, but a relatively passive approach.} (7. d4 {followed by e3, building a strong center, is significantly better. Black will have some good piece activity and easy development, but no other significant compensation for the pawn.}) 7... Bf5 8. Nxd5 {an exchange that gives Black an active queen, so not the best decision. I was following the principle of exchanging down when ahead material; however, in this case the material advantage is limited to a lone pawn and I had lesser development, so exchanging off one of my two developed pieces and giving Black another developed piece resulted in a gain in time for Black.} (8. g3 { immediately would be fine, as White has no need to exchange in the center.}) 8... Qxd5 9. Nc3 Qd7 10. g3 Bb4 (10... Bh3 {seems like it would be annoying, but in fact Black would be reducing his time advantage with the exchange and White's king would not be in any danger.} 11. Bxh3 Qxh3 12. Qb3 {and now Black cannot penetrate on the kingside effectively, for example} Qg2 13. Rf1 Bb4 ( 13... Qxh2 $2 14. Qxb7 $18) 14. Be3 Qxh2 $6 15. O-O-O {and now White has the advantage in activity and threats after having returned the pawn.}) 11. Bg2 O-O (11... Bh3 {here would be more effective, since the Bb4 blocks the b-file threat after Qb3.}) 12. O-O Rad8 13. Bf4 {I debated here between this and Bg5. Houdini prefers the latter.} (13. Bg5 Rde8 14. Nd5 Bd6 15. e4 {is one possibility. I had in fact considered the idea of "posting up" in the center with e4, but thought that the d-pawn would be too weak. However, Black has no way of effectively getting to it, while the Nd5 looks quite strong. In this line, Black also has no time to play ...h6 and kick the bishop.} Bg4 16. Qd2) 13... Bd6 {this is a good exchange for White, reducing the minor piece count further and leaving Black with less effective pieces.} (13... Nd4 {would be more troublesome for White.}) 14. Bxd6 Qxd6 15. Rc1 $16 {despite White's uninspired play, at this point in the game there are no weaknesses for Black to target and White is a solid central pawn up.} Rfe8 16. Re1 a6 {preventing any any ideas involving Nb5, but White now has some other good moves available. However, I failed to come up with any real plan and started "drifting".} 17. a3 {the idea was to prevent ...Nb4 and allow Qc2, but this is rather slow.} (17. Ne4 {I considered in the game and it would be simple and good, centralizing the knight while giving the Rc1 some useful pressure down the c-file. Nc5 would now be a threat as well, so Black should probably exchange on e4.}) (17. Na4 {is another idea targeting the c5 square and looking to break up and weaken Black's queenside pawns. For example} a5 18. Bxc6 bxc6 19. Qc2) 17... Qh6 {hoping to generate some kingside pressure.} 18. Nd5 {I missed Black's next move, which takes away the knight's support on d5 and makes the idea of snatching the c pawn less strong, since the knight would not have a retreat square afterwards. Despite still having a significant advantage, mentally the disruption of my original idea helped move the game towards a negative trend for me.} Bh3 19. Nf4 $6 (19. Nxc7 {is in fact still possible, although not best.} Bxg2 20. Nxe8 Bh3 21. Nxg7 Qxg7) (19. Bh1 {this is a standard way to avoid the trade of the fianchettoed bishop, but unfortunately it did not occur to me during the game. I thought the e-pawn would be too weak or it would require too much awkwardness to defend, but Houdini finds a concrete, tactical continuation leading to an advantage.} Bg4 20. Rc4 {interesting to see how this rook lift idea works well here, but less so in the game continuation.} Ne5 21. Rxc7 Rxd5 22. Bxd5 Qd6 23. Bxf7+ Nxf7 24. Qc2) 19... Bxg2 20. Nxg2 { obviously awkward for the knight, but I was worried about threats to the knight after the king capture.} (20. Kxg2 g5 21. Nh3 {should be OK, however.}) 20... Re5 {an aggressive move which should have been countered easily by White. } 21. Rc4 {with the idea of playing Rh4 to disrupt Black's plans on the h-file. } (21. e3 {would shore up White's center while leaving Black no real threats.} Rh5 22. h4) 21... Qd6 22. Qc1 $6 {a subtle queen move which in fact hurts White. I thought the queen would do better on the c1-h6 diagonal and also could get out of the way of any tactical threats on the d-file.} (22. Nh4 $5 { would reactivate the piece, heading for f3 and the central fight.}) 22... Nd4 $11 {Black now takes full advantage of White's passivity in the center. White is too weak to boot the knight with e3, as the f3 square is vulnerable.} 23. Ne3 {a defensive move to cover the e-file threat.} c5 24. b4 b6 25. Qb2 { this looks good, protecting e2 again, pressuring d4 and covering b4. However, the defense of the back rank is weakened and the queen is unprotected, leading to the winning tactic later on.} (25. bxc5 {immediately might be better, if White is going to play this anyway.}) 25... h5 26. Ng2 $2 {simply a waste of time, also removing the defensive function of the knight by covering the e-file (why move 23 was played in the first place).} Qf6 {lining up various tactical threats, which however could have been countered.} (26... Rde8 { would have more effectively gone after White's weaknesses.}) 27. bxc5 $2 (27. f4 Red5 28. Kf1 $11) 27... bxc5 (27... Nf3+ {is something we both noticed after the fact, winning the exchange.} 28. Kf1 Nxh2+ 29. Kg1 Nf3+ 30. Kf1 Nxe1 31. Kxe1 Rxd3) 28. Ne3 {this covers the various threats involving taking on e2, but I miss the rook sacrifice, which after being accepted allows for the win of the queen.} Rxe3 29. fxe3 $2 (29. Rxd4 $1 {is the tactical defensive exchange sac that Houdini finds. I assumed that I would simply be down a piece and lost if I didn't accept the original sac, so did not even look for an alternative.}) 29... Nf3+ {with a discovered attack on the hanging Qb2.} 0-1