30 April 2014

Video on beating the English

FM Alisa Melekhina - who was previously mentioned in Chess vs Life - recently started recording videos for Chess.com and I was pleasantly surprised to see that video #2 features an effective annotation of an attacking game in the English.  Sadly for English players, Black (Alisa) wins handily with a kingside breakthrough, but it is instructional nonetheless to see how White should not play against a King's Indian Defense (KID) type setup.  The broader lesson, always helpful to see illustrated, is not to follow a stereotyped plan in your opening and to pay the necessary attention to what your opponent is doing.

29 April 2014

Commentary: Women's Grand Prix Khanty-Mansiysk 2014 - Round 1

Round 1 of the recent FIDE Women's Grand Prix tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk had two instructive games in the English Opening that caught my eye:

1)  Zhao Xue - Kateryna Lagno shows that all is not as it seems when evaluating positions visually.  The board picture at the end of move 9 looks favorable to White at first glance, but although she has more pieces developed and centralized, they are in fact not cooperating and vulnerable to disruption.  By the end of move 12 Black clearly has momentum and with 13...Bg4 it looks like she could have kept up the initiative.  Instead, after a non-threatening knight development, White is able to break the trend with 14. Ng5 and then capitalize on Black's inaccurate response.  This game is an excellent illustration of how quickly chances can shift in a game after seemingly innocuous move choices.

[Event "4th WGP 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"] [Date "2014.04.09"] [Round "1.3"] [White "Zhao, Xue"] [Black "Lagno, Kateryna"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D94"] [WhiteElo "2552"] [BlackElo "2543"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "59"] [EventDate "2014.04.09"] 1. Nf3 g6 2. c4 Bg7 3. Nc3 c5 {surprisingly, Black scores over 56 percent from this very unassuming position.} 4. e3 {opting for central play, rather than fianchettoing the bishop.} Nf6 5. d4 O-O 6. Be2 cxd4 7. Nxd4 d5 {Black's score is now over 61 percent in the database, with this Grunfeld-type setup.} 8. O-O dxc4 9. Bxc4 a6 {White's score from here is now abysmal, with close to 75 percent for Black. A case of the visual impression of the board not conforming to its reality. White's pieces look more developed, but Black will remedy that shortly and has much more harmonious development. Meanwhile, White in reality is not very coordinated and the dark-square bishop is a problem.} 10. a4 Qc7 11. Ba2 $146 (11. Qb3 {scores best here, although still at a poor 36 percent.}) (11. Qe2 $5) 11... Rd8 12. Bd2 {White is looking quite awkward.} e5 13. Nf3 Nc6 (13... Bg4 $15 {looks like the logical follow-up. Among other things it threatens Bxf3, after which White would have to capture with the g-pawn, due to the otherwise hanging Bd2. Black in this variation develops a piece strongly and has the initiative.}) 14. Ng5 $11 {while the threat is easily parried, it does cause Black to reverse her development and disrupts her initiative.} Rf8 15. Rc1 {White looks OK now, with the position being equal. Her pieces are now more active and doing useful things, other than getting in each others' way.} e4 $6 (15... h6 {chasing the knight and freeing up the Rf8 looks like a good plan here.}) 16. Ngxe4 Nxe4 17. Nxe4 Bxb2 {Lagno must have mis-evaluated this position when playing her 15th move, not seeing White's follow-up threats.} 18. Qc2 {a subtle but strong move.} Bg7 19. Bb4 $1 { White's active bishops now dominate and slice Black's position up, thanks to the pin on the Nc6.} Rd8 {now the pendulum has swung back in White's favor, with Black's pieces under pressure and uncoordinated.} 20. Ng5 {now Black really could use that pawn on h6.} Bf5 {Black appears desperate for counterplay.} 21. e4 Qf4 22. Nxf7 Rd4 23. Bd6 {White has multiple ways to win.} (23. exf5 Nxb4 24. Ng5+ Kh8 25. Qc8+ Rxc8 26. Rxc8+ Bf8 27. Rxf8+ Kg7 28. Ne6+ Kh6 29. Nxf4 Rxf4 $18) 23... Bxe4 (23... Qxe4 24. Ng5+) (23... Rxd6 24. Nxd6+ Kh8 25. Nf7+ Kg8 26. exf5) 24. Qb3 Qf6 (24... Bd5 25. Qxd5 Rxd5 26. Bxf4 Rd4 27. Rc4 Rf8 28. Ng5 Kh8 29. Be3 $18) 25. Qxb7 Re8 26. Ng5+ Kh8 27. Nxe4 Rdxe4 28. Qxc6 {White converts her advantage into material gain. Black has no counterplay and White's bishops continue to dominate, landing the final blow on move 30.} h5 29. a5 Qg5 30. Bf7 1-0

2)  Hou Yifan - Tatiana Kosintseva starts off with a Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) setup, which I think is a good choice against the English.  However, similar to the first game, there is a certain amount of drift in the opening - this time on Black's part - and White seizes the opportunity on move 12 to take the initiative with a knight maneuver.  Hou's decision to exchange the fianchettoed bishop on the long diagonal is instructive and perhaps was not expected by Black.  However, in return for giving up the valuable bishop, the knight becomes even stronger and Black's d5 pawn becomes a target.  Other instructive points include the "indirect exchanges" of pieces that occur twice and Hou's rook endgame play, which repeatedly sees her exchange off material for positional advantage and more material.  This sort of play is very characteristic of master games and the ideas involved might not even occur to Class players, so the example is well worth reviewing.

[Event "4th WGP 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"] [Date "2014.04.09"] [Round "1.6"] [White "Hou, Yifan"] [Black "Kosintseva, Tatiana"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2618"] [BlackElo "2496"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2014.04.09"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 d5 {the QGD setup against the English can result in a number of different kinds of games. Here White is already committed to a kingside fianchetto, rather than central play.} 4. Bg2 dxc4 {this scores the best of Black's possibilities here, with around 52 percent for White. Completing the QGD setup with ...Be7 is the most popular choice, however.} 5. Qa4+ {safely recovering the pawn} Nbd7 6. Qxc4 a6 7. Qb3 {an anticipatory retreat. White from here scores close to 60 percent. This is a little more aggressive than the other major option, Qc2.} c5 {a more classical-type move.} (7... Rb8 {is the better-scoring, more modern alternative. Black gets the rook off the long diagonal and overprotects b7.}) 8. d3 (8. a4 {immediately would be aimed at restraining ...b5. White plays this a few moves later, however, as Black prefers to focus on development rather than taking the opportunity to push the b-pawn in the interim.}) 8... Be7 {the bishop often is developed instead to d6 in this line.} 9. Nc3 O-O 10. a4 Nb6 $146 {White has won the handful of previous games with this position in the database, so perhaps Black trying something new is warranted.} (10... Qc7 $5 {would pursue more standard development and makes sense to support the c-pawn, as well as putting another piece in place to influence the e5 square.}) 11. O-O Nbd5 12. Ne5 $14 {White sensibly occupies the now-undefended central square, heading for a more active location for the knight on c4. This is the point of inflection for the game, as White takes over the initiative and starts creating threats.} Qc7 13. Nc4 Bd7 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. Bxd5 {an instructive decision to give up the nice-looking bishop on the long diagonal in order to take advantage of the knight's ability to occupy b6 and target the weak d5 pawn.} exd5 16. Nb6 Rae8 ( 16... d4 {this positional exchange sacrifice is recommended by Houdini (!) - not exactly a traditional materialistic engine choice.} 17. Nxa8 Rxa8 18. Bf4 Qc6 {the point is that White has now given up her bishop on the long diagonal for nothing - the Nb6 having disappeared - and Black can try to exploit that weakness. Black also now has a slight initiative.} 19. Rfe1 Bh3 20. f3 Be6 21. Qc2 Rc8 $14) 17. Bf4 Qc6 18. Qxd5 {an indirect exchange of the Nb6 for the Bd7 - a wise choice. The knight has done its job, enabling the capture on d5, and the light-square bishop would become dangerous in this open position without a White counterpart.} Qxb6 (18... Qxd5 19. Nxd5 {would leave White with a strong knight on d5 that could easily be swapped for one of Black's two bishops, negating that potential advantage.}) 19. Qxd7 Bf6 (19... Qxb2 $2 20. Rab1 Qa2 21. Qxb7 Qxa4 22. Ra1 Qb4 23. Qxa6 $16) 20. Bd6 {another excellent choice, keeping the pressure on Black and looking to make another indirect exchange, this time of the queens.} Rd8 {forced, or Black loses the exchange.} 21. Bc7 { also forced.} Rxd7 22. Bxb6 Re8 23. Rfe1 Bxb2 {Black regains the pawn at the end of the sequence, but White still has an edge, as Black's queenside pawns are more vulnerable than White's kingside grouping.} 24. Rab1 (24. Ra2 { an alternative choice that places a rook on the second rank, with the benefit of guarding e2 and remaining fully mobile.} Bd4 25. Rb1 c4 (25... Rc8 26. Rc2 Rc6 27. e3 Bf6 28. Rxc5 Rxd3 29. Rxc6 bxc6 30. Bd4 Kf8 31. Bxf6 gxf6 32. Rb8+ Kg7 33. Ra8 $16) 26. dxc4 Bxb6 27. Rxb6 $14) 24... Ba3 25. Rb3 (25. Kf1 { would free up the Re1 from guard duty.}) 25... Bb4 26. Rc1 h6 (26... a5 { immediately would secure equality, as Black could win back her c5 pawn immediately if White took it.} 27. Bxc5 Rc7 28. Be3 Rxc1+ 29. Bxc1 Rxe2 $11) 27. e4 a5 {now, however, the e-pawn is protected and the c5 pawn can be taken.} 28. Bxc5 Rc8 29. Be3 Rdc7 30. Rxc7 Rxc7 31. d4 $14 {the engine assesses that Black has some compensation for the pawn - White still needs to activate her rook properly and Black's is definitely better - but not enough to offset the material advantage.} Rc2 32. d5 {while there is a good deal of play left, the central pawn steamroller already looks like it spells doom for Black.} Kf8 33. Rb1 {while Rd3 was also possible to activate the rook, this move will allow White to challenge on the c-file.} Ra2 34. Rc1 Rxa4 {Black has again temporarily regained her material equality, but now White has all the rook activity and can combine that well with her central steamroller.} (34... Bd6 { would put up stronger resistance.}) 35. e5 $18 Ra3 (35... b5 {moving to preserve the b-pawn does not help, as White can use the extra tempo to advance the pawn and activate her king decisively.} 36. d6 Ke8 37. Kg2 Ra3 38. Rc7 Rd3 39. Kf3 $18) 36. Rc8+ Ke7 37. Rc7+ {the rook now dominates both the only open file and the 7th rank. Nimzovich would be proud.} Ke8 38. Rxb7 Rd3 39. Rb8+ { perhaps played to make the time control, with d6 being too complicated to calculate immediately.} (39. d6) 39... Kd7 40. Rb7+ Ke8 (40... Kc8 { challenging the rook appears to give Black more chances.}) 41. d6 f6 {the only way to break up White's central duo.} 42. Rxg7 fxe5 43. Re7+ Kf8 44. Bxh6+ Kg8 45. Rg7+ Kh8 46. Ra7 Rxd6 47. Bg7+ {nicely recovering the second pawn. Black at this point is just playing on hope.} Kg8 48. Bxe5 Rd5 49. Bc7 Bc3 50. Kg2 Be1 51. h4 Rd2 52. Bb6 Ra2 53. h5 Bd2 54. g4 a4 55. Bd4 a3 56. g5 {the position is now completely hopeless. The three connected passed pawns on the kingside could beat Black's rook if necessary. (...Bxg5 does not work because of Rg7+)} 1-0

25 April 2014

Commentary: Candidates 2014 - Round 10

In round 6 of the 2014 Candidates Tournament, Peter Svidler surprised everyone by playing the Dutch.  Although he achieved an advantage out of the opening, a Leningrad Dutch with 7...Qe8, he eventually lost the game.  It's not clear whether surprise was a factor in round 10, when Svidler essayed the Dutch again against Kramnik, but the latter must have expected some level of preparation in the opening and had a very unusual early (move 4!) novelty in mind.

Despite the strange-looking and original early play, by move 14 Black transitions into a Stonewall structure, which serves to equalize.  Some interesting jousting with the minor pieces ensues, which is useful to examine to understand the logic behind piece exchanges.  The action really gets going after the 25. c4 break, which White justifies tactically, and Black's small error on move 26 which hands the initiative and some pressure to White.

Kramnik follows up well, but this game becomes another lesson in the importance of CCT, as evidently he focuses too much on the action in the center and as a result misses a forced deflection tactic on the kingside.  This leaves Black an exchange up with no compensation to White, so Kramnik decides to try for a swindle rather than suffer through a long, losing endgame.  Svidler then brings home the point in true Dutch Defense style, with the closing move ...f4.

[Event "FIDE Candidates Tournament 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk"] [Date "2014.03.25"] [Round "10"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Svidler, Peter"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A80"] [WhiteElo "2787"] [BlackElo "2758"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "RUS"] [TimeControl "40/7200:20/3600:900+30"] 1. d4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 {an unusual approach, usually this means White is looking for a solid, unambitious game rather than to challenge Black early on.} b6 {Black can often fianchetto the light-squared bishop to good effect when given the opportunity. This also recalls the Bird-Larsen opening as White.} ( 3... e6 {would be a standard response for Stonewall players and prevents White's next move.}) 4. d5 $5 $146 {provocative, to say the least, and a novelty already. However, the pawn proves to be difficult to deal with effectively.} Bb7 5. Bc4 {White supports the d-pawn and makes it impossible for Black to try and exchange it for the e-pawn with ...e6.} c6 {Black therefore looks to exchange it off with the c-pawn.} 6. Nc3 cxd5 7. Nxd5 e6 8. Nxf6+ Qxf6 9. O-O {both sides look OK coming out of the initial opening clash. Black's d-pawn on the half-open file is an excellent target for the opposition, implying that he will need to push ...d5 at some point.} Bc5 10. Bd2 Nc6 (10... Qxb2 {was something Kramnik was obviously not worried about, since he would obtain good compensation for the pawn.} 11. Nd4 Qa3 (11... Bxd4 $2 12. Rb1 Qa3 13. Bb4 Qa4 14. Qxd4) 12. Qh5+ g6 {and Black's position is full of holes, with his queen offside as well.}) 11. Bc3 Qe7 12. a3 a5 {Black's typical reaction, in order to prevent b4. Although White's immediate idea is foiled, a3 is still useful because it takes away b4 from a Black piece and ...a5 is relatively more weakening, abandoning the b5 square.} 13. Qe2 O-O 14. Rad1 d5 {while not exactly forced, this is the obvious antidote for Black to White's play on the d-file. We now have a Stonewall pawn structure.} 15. Bb5 Na7 {lacking any good alternative squares, the knight challenges the bishop.} 16. a4 {a logical follow-up, also indicating White is not satisfied with a draw, as otherwise a repetition with Bd3 is possible.} (16. Ba6 Bxa6 17. Qxa6 {would be another way to avoid the repetition, without the possibility of Black changing White's pawn structure with an exchange on b5.}) 16... Bd6 {Svidler with this move indicates he prefers to keep his knight on the board rather than exchange it. This looks a little weird at first, with it posted at a7, but the knight will eventually have greater freedom than the light-squared bishop.} (16... Nxb5 17. axb5 Bd6 {is an alternative and rather different way to play, with the two bishops for Black and a White pawn on b5. Black may be solid, but he has some problems to solve here, especially the Bb7.}) 17. Ba6 {White looks to exchange; his light-square bishop is not very useful either in a Stonewall structure.} Nc6 {there are a number of options here. Svidler decides to use the tempo to improve his knight's position.} 18. Bxb7 Qxb7 19. b3 {supports the otherwise lonely a4 pawn and opens up a retreat on the long diagonal for the bishop.} Qa6 20. Qd2 {White has not changed his mind about his desire to win vs. draw, so avoids the queen trade.} Rac8 21. Ng5 Rce8 {Svidler chooses to move the queen's rook twice in order to protect the e6 pawn, rather than take the other rook off the f-file. Counterplay there is evidently more important to him than on the c-file.} 22. Bb2 h6 {there is no reason for Black to allow the knight to remain at g5. This is also a useful preparation for a possible future ...g5, a typical kingside attacking plan in the Stonewall.} 23. Nf3 Bb4 {Black sees that c4 is a threat. He could have simply played the bishop to e7 for the same result, but this maneuver helps get him closer to the time control.} 24. c3 Be7 25. c4 {although the bishop is no longer hanging on d6, White finds another tactical justification for attacking Black's central strongpoint.} dxc4 { taking on c4 is best, either now or after an intermediate move such as ...Bb4, otherwise Black's pawn structure is compromised.} 26. Rc1 {White takes advantage of another hanging piece, this time the Nc6.} b5 {this decision to unbalance the queenside structure looks dangerous.} (26... Rc8 {is the solid way to play, suggested by Houdini.} 27. Rxc4 Qb7 28. Rfc1 Rfd8) 27. axb5 Qxb5 28. Rxc4 {White in contrast to the above variation has significantly greater scope for his pieces and can target Black's weaker kingside as well as look for play on the c/d files.} Nb4 {this allows Black to significantly improve the knight and closes the e1-a5 diagonal, but also cedes control of e5.} 29. Ne5 Nd5 30. Qc2 Bd6 (30... Nb4 $5 {harassing the queen looks like a good intermediate move here.}) 31. Nc6 Nb6 32. Rd4 $2 {Kramnik misses the deflection tactic for Black. Easy to do, if one focuses on the center of the board and assumes that the kingside is safe, without checking CCT.} (32. Nd4 Qe5 33. Nf3 Qb5 34. Rc3 $14) 32... Bxh2+ $1 {White has no choice but to take on h2, leaving the Rf1 unprotected.} 33. Kxh2 Qxf1 $17 34. Qc3 $2 {although this objectively leads quickly to a lost game, Kramnik must have decided that a swindle was his only chance to save the game.} (34. Nxa5 {was objectively best, recovering a pawn, but it's hard to picture a super-GM not being able to convert the material advantage as Black in this position.}) 34... Rf6 { blocking any funny business on the long diagonal.} 35. Ne5 Qxf2 {Svidler is not distracted by White's desperate attempts to generate a threat and calmly increases his advantage.} 36. Rf4 Qe2 37. Qd4 Nd5 38. Rf3 Rc8 {Black now goes over to the offensive. The end is near.} 39. Rg3 f4 {Black finally gets to attack down the f-file. Breakthrough is inevitable and White resigns.} 0-1

20 April 2014

Jennifer Shahade on the English

For those looking to play (or play against) the English Opening, Jennifer Shahade recently posted a lecture from the Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube, as flagged on the Improving Chess Player blog.  The first several minutes are of general interest in terms of discussing the opening, with the remainder of the time spent analyzing a specific game.  She also covers some very useful general ideas as part of that, including pertinent middlegame concepts.  Some highlights:
  • Insightful discussion about the general value of playing 1. c4 as White and the difficulties of selecting a Black system against it
  • Transposition and move-order issues
  • Comments on when to calculate and when simply to play chess
  • Relative value of pieces in the opening, middlegame and endgame - especially fianchettoed bishops
  • The value of looking at tactical ideas, even when they currently do not work
  • The advantage of expanding in the center and kingside when the opportunity exists, even when "normal" play in the English features a queenside strategy.  It was comforting to see that other English players at the Class level also have this blind spot, which is something I've addressed previously on the blog.
The production value of the video is high quality, with a large board complemented by a view of the commentator, although some of the questions from the audience are not quite audible.

19 April 2014

Annotated Game #122: Best Game Ever

This final-round tournament game was the best result ever in my chess career, as it featured the defeat of a 2100+ player.  It also pulled together in one game many of the core elements of my training and improvement program:
  • My play was blunder-free, which was the result of consistently following the simplified thought process.
  • Despite the over 400-point ratings gap, I rejected ratings fear and loathing and simply played to the best of my ability.  My opponent, on the other hand, appeared to be playing my rating and not the board, as he passed up multiple drawing lines from inferior positions.
  • Similarly, I was able to have the mental toughness necessary not to offer a draw in a better position simply because of the ratings differential, which was a strong temptation at various points.
  • I was able to spot key tactics on different occasions by keeping in mind the importance of CCT (checks, captures, threats) regardless of whether they appeared possible at first glance.
The game was an interesting one right from the start, as my opponent went into the aggressive Bellon Gambit against the English.  I had seen a mention of it previously, but the extent of my knowledge was limited to the fact that declining it with 5. d3 was the best option.  (This is one of those rare cases where declining a gambit is the only path to an advantage, rather than accepting it.)  For those interested in the theory - which I did not follow during the game - there are a series of excellent articles on ChessCafe.com that I found afterwards.

It struck me as obvious from the start that my opponent was rather contemptuous of my rating, although he was polite enough personally.  The choice of such an aggressive and not fully sound gambit line is consistent with that assessment, as he was clearly seeking to create an imbalanced game and exploit anything I did to stumble along the way.  He did not seem to expect me to decline the gambit, as he had to do some thinking after that occurred.  Nevertheless, he got most of what he wanted out of the opening, which is designed to give Black an advantage in the center by allowing him to occupy d5 with a pawn.

Despite some uncomfortable moments, I managed to equalize and by move 18 had a clear strategic target in my opponent's hanging pawns structure.  Some relatively weak play by my opponent, apparently again motivated by a desire to avoid drawing lines, allowed me to establish a bind in the center and eventually find a tactical shot that won the key c-pawn.  Subsequent play gave me the initiative and a positional advantage, but nothing decisive until I found another, more devastating tactical follow-up.  After that it still was not easy, as my opponent fought hard and sacrificed additional material to threaten a mate in one - which he never was able to execute, as my calculated attack came first.

While my play was hardly perfect, having missed some opportunities along the way, it was sufficient to the task.  I was especially heartened by my ability to find the necessary tactical opportunities and correctly calculate them, along with my ability to cope with the pressure of an intense 50+ move game.  I would not have been able to play this game without the benefits of the training program and the insights offered by my studies, since beginning this blog.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Expert"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A22"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "115"] {A22: English Opening: 1...e5 2 Nc3 Nf6} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 e4 4. Ng5 b5 {the Bellon Gambit. Other moves do not sufficiently justify Black's audacious previous move.} 5. d3 {declining the gambit nets White a 68 percent score in the database.} (5. cxb5 {is the gambit accepted, in which Black gets a strong center as compensation for the pawn.} d5 6. d3 h6 7. Nh3 $11) 5... exd3 (5... bxc4 6. dxe4 {and White is doing well, with the Nxf7 sacrifice a main theme if Black tries to kick the knight with ...h6.}) 6. Qxd3 {Since my theoretical knowledge had run out on move 5, I decided to proceed with the safe-looking queen recapture.} (6. cxb5 {is the professionals' answer. It looks a bit strange to take the pawn now rather than earlier, but in this variation Black cannot establish a strong central presence. For example} h6 7. Nf3 dxe2 8. Bxe2 Bc5 9. O-O $14) 6... bxc4 7. Qxc4 d5 {Black is now able to establish himself in the center.} 8. Qb3 {I thought for a while before playing this. There did not seem to be an obviously optimal square for the queen, so I decided to stay on the a2-g8 diagonal.} (8. Qa4+ Bd7 9. Qb3 {is an improved version of the idea. The Bd7 is actually a drawback for Black, since it blocks the queen on the d-file and no longer protects b7.} h6 10. Nf3 Be6 11. Nd4 Bc5 12. e3 $11) 8... h6 9. Nf3 Be7 $146 {my opponent likely did not even consider the more active posting for the bishop on d6, which is possible tactically and occurred in the following game:} (9... Bd6 10. g3 (10. Nxd5 $2 Nxd5 11. Qxd5 Bb4+) 10... O-O 11. Bg2 Na6 12. O-O Rb8 13. Qa4 Rb4 14. Qd1 c6 15. a3 Rb7 16. b4 Re8 17. Qd3 Nb8 18. b5 Ne4 19. bxc6 Rb3 20. Bd2 Nxc3 21. Bxc3 Nxc6 22. Nd2 Ne5 23. Qd4 Rb5 24. a4 {Svarc,R (2166)-Pribyl,J (2035) Czechia 2006 1-0 (51)}) 10. Bf4 O-O 11. e3 {White is still a little uncomfortable with the king in the center, but is close to solving his opening problems.} Na6 {heading for the c5 outpost.} 12. Be2 (12. Qa4 {would be a creative way of combating Black's plan.} Nc5 $6 (12... Ne4) 13. Qc6) 12... Nc5 13. Qc2 Ne6 {my opponent thought that this was a poor move, driving the bishop to a good square. Houdini considers it the best square for the knight, however and it gains a tempo by hitting the Bf4.} 14. Be5 c6 {he also considered c5 best here.} (14... c5 {however is evaluated as weakening Black's position by the engine.} 15. O-O Bb7 16. Rad1 { and White has good prospects of targeting the hanging c/d pawns.}) 15. O-O Bd6 {he believed (as did I) that the subsequent bishop trade was bad for Black, as it highlights his dark-square weakness. On the other hand, it removes a strong central piece for White, thereby increasing Black's own control there.} 16. Rac1 Ng4 {this seems unnecessary.} (16... Bxe5 {would seem to be the logical follow-up for Black.} 17. Nxe5 Qd6 18. Nf3 $11) 17. Bg3 {my opponent seemed surprised by the retreat. This is not a bad move, as after the exchange it gives White's king access to h2 and further controls f4 and h4.} (17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. h3 {would be very similar, with a slightly less compromised pawn structure in front of the king.}) 17... Bxg3 18. hxg3 {by this point White has emerged from the opening in good shape and with some clear strategic objectives, namely targeting the hanging c/d pawns. Black by contrast has no obvious weaknesses to attack and his pieces are not well coordinated.} Qd6 $6 {this does nothing to help solve Black's problems. He is slightly underdeveloped and needs to get his bishop and rooks into the game. The queen visually looks well-posted on d6, but in fact it is not doing much there and it would have been better to reserve judgment on its development.} (18... Bd7 {looks best, reinforcing the weak c-pawn and connecting Black's pieces on the back rank.}) ( 18... Rb8) 19. Na4 {necessary to freeze the c-pawn in place.} Bd7 20. Nc5 $14 { physically blockading the hanging pawn on the c-file, which Black cannot break with exchanges. The knight likes it on c5, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Rfc8 21. Rfd1 Rab8 22. b3 {Black has no threats and White has maneuvered his forces to neutralize the hanging pawns.} Be8 $6 {Black prevents an exchange on d7, but this loses a valuable tempo and severely reduces the piece's scope.} (22... Nf6) 23. Nd4 Nf6 {this misses a tactical opportunity for White, although I overlook it as well.} (23... Nxd4 24. Rxd4 Nf6) 24. Nf5 { a good move, and what I had focused on with the Nd4 idea, but there was a better one that allowed the win of the c-pawn.} (24. Ncxe6 fxe6 25. Ba6 Rd8 ( 25... Rc7 26. Nb5) 26. Nxc6 Bxc6 27. Qxc6 Rb6 28. Qxd6 Rdxd6 29. Rc8+ Kf7 30. Bd3 $16) 24... Qf8 25. Ba6 Rc7 26. Be2 Rb6 {here I would have taken a draw by repetition, not seeing a concrete way of converting my positional bind. Given Black's problems, he should have allowed it to occur and acknowledged as much afterwards. White doesn't seem like he can make any more progress, but Black has nothing and is in a worse position.} (26... Rcc8 27. Ba6 {etc.}) 27. Nd4 { having chased the queen from her central post, the knight returns to its, pressuring e6 and c6.} Ng5 (27... Bd7 28. Ndxe6 Bxe6 {would free the bishop from its e8 prison.}) 28. a3 Nge4 29. b4 {gaining space and solidifying control of c5.} g6 {this prevents the knight from returning to f5, but also weakens the kingside pawn structure. This eventually becomes a fatal flaw.} 30. Na4 {here I was again unsure how to make meaningful progress, so looked at a possible repetition of moves.} (30. Nxe4 Nxe4 31. Bf3 Re7 (31... Nf6 32. Nb3) 32. Bxe4 Rxe4 33. Rd3 $16 {would have been a rather simple and effective line of play, simply looking to line up against the c-pawn after Rc3.}) 30... Rb8 $14 31. Nc5 Re7 $2 {another chance at repetition spurned; Black apparently missed the next tactic, being too focused on trying to create his own threats.} (31... Nxc5 $5 {would prompt a series of exchanges.}) 32. Nxc6 $1 $16 {with the rook on e7, White now has the fork and Black must capture the knight with the bishop, which however will be undefended.} Bxc6 33. Nxe4 Nxe4 (33... dxe4 34. Qxc6 Kg7 35. Qc5 $16) 34. Qxc6 a5 {an interesting way to make threats and attempt to win back the pawn, but White has an extra tempo with his own threats.} (34... Qg7 35. Rd4 Qe5 36. Qxd5 Nxg3 37. Bf3 $18) 35. Rxd5 {a good move, but not the best.} (35. bxa5 {would have given White a clear advantage} Rb2 36. Re1 $18 {and White can easily hold the kingside while Black must contend with the advanced passed a-pawn.}) 35... axb4 $14 36. axb4 Rxb4 37. Rcd1 (37. Bc4 {may have been a more useful move, activating the bishop and creating some latent tactical possibilities along the a2-g8 diagonal and against the Ne4.}) 37... Rb8 {Black correctly withdraws the hanging rook to a safer square. At this point, White is a pawn up, has the initiative and will have a favorable BvN situation in the endgame, but it's unclear if this will be enough to win; likely not.} 38. R5d4 Re6 $6 {this simply drives the queen to a better square. Less obviously, it also creates tactical targets for White. } (38... Rc8 39. Qxc8 Qxc8 40. Rd8+ Re8 41. Rxc8 Rxc8 42. Bf3 {and the endgame is on.}) 39. Qc2 $16 Nf6 $2 {dealing with the obvious threat to the knight, but missing the deeper tactical threats.} (39... Rc8 {Black has to make counter-threats rather than withdrawing the knight.} 40. Rc4 Rce8 $16) 40. Bc4 $1 $18 {the bishop dominates the diagonal, slicing through both the rook and the pawn.} Rc8 41. Qd3 Rxc4 {there is no better alternative, as otherwise Black has the Re6 taken or is faced with Qxg6 due to the pin on f7.} 42. Qxc4 Kg7 43. Rd8 {White is now the exchange and a pawn up, with a dominant position, but Black is not going to go quietly and I still have a lot of work to do, there not being an obvious path to victory. This phase of the game was just as intense, if not more so, than the previous ones.} Qe7 44. Qc3 {I felt pinning the knight was a good start.} Re5 45. Qc8 {not the optimal place for the queen, as White will not be able to make anything out of the domination of the 8th rank.} (45. Qb2 Rc5 46. R8d5 {taking advantage of the pinned Nf6} Rc6 47. Rd7 $18) 45... h5 46. R1d6 (46. Qc3 {seems even better}) 46... Rxe3 {this quickly loses, although it temporarily looks scary for White. Once I had correctly calculated the variations, I knew I had won.} (46... Rb5 {was afterwards suggested by my opponent and is also Houdini's preference.} 47. Qa6 Rb1+ 48. Rd1 $18 (48. Kh2 $4 Ng4+ 49. Kh3 Rh1#)) 47. fxe3 Qxe3+ 48. Kf1 $18 {the winning move, otherwise Black gets a perpetual.} (48. Kh2 Ng4+ 49. Kh3 Nf2+ 50. Kh2 Ng4+) 48... Ne4 {a scary position, but now White's attack comes and cannot be stopped.} 49. Rg8+ Kh6 50. Rh8+ (50. Qf8+ {I also looked at, but could not see the mate the engine finds, which is rather wild.} Kg5 51. Rd5+ Kg4 52. Qc8+ f5 53. Qxf5+ Kxg3 54. Qh3+ Kf4 55. Qh4#) 50... Kg5 51. Rd5+ f5 (51... Kf6 52. Qd8+ Kg7 53. Qf8+ Kf6 54. Rd6+ Nxd6 55. Qxd6+ {and White is a rook up with Black no longer having any possible counterplay.}) 52. Rxf5+ $1 {I was now able to calculate that I had a mate, even if not the quickest one possible.} gxf5 53. Rg8+ Kf6 54. Qd8+ Ke6 55. Re8+ Kf7 56. Qe7+ Kg6 57. Qe6+ (57. Rg8+ Kh6 58. Qg7#) 57... Kh7 (57... Nf6 {is not the saving move} 58. Rg8+ Kh7 59. Qf7+ Kh6 60. Qg6#) 58. Qg8+ (58. Qg8+ Kh6 59. Re6+ Nf6 60. Rxf6#) 1-0

13 April 2014

Annotated Game #121: Quiet Symmetry

This penultimate round tournament game was a quiet Symmetrical English, which I thought my lower-rated opponent played well, although he was obviously unfamiliar with it.  It is one of those openings which Class players rarely use, perhaps because it lacks excitement or seemingly violates standard opening principles.  It also requires a good deal of patience to play properly and involves a lot of positional maneuvering.

Although the game appeared equal almost all the way through, in subsequent analysis, there were some improvements lurking for White, especially with 14. Bh3! - not a decisive move in tactical terms, but it would have resulted in a long-term positional advantage.  During the game I never considered moving the fianchettoed bishop off of g2, its "natural home".  Finding (and remembering) these types of moves is a key benefit of the game analysis process.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A39"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "59"] {A39: Symmetrical English vs ...g6:4 Bg2 Bg 5 Nf3 Nf6 6 0-0 0-0 7 d4} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 {the Symmetrical Four Knights variation.} 6. O-O O-O 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Nxd4 9. Qxd4 d6 10. Qd3 {the standard retreat, getting out of the way of a discovered attack from the Bg7.} Qc7 {this is less active than Black's standard plan of pursuing queenside expansion with a6, Rb8 and b5.} 11. Bd2 Be6 12. Nd5 {White decides to force at least one piece exchange.} (12. b3 {is instead the obvoius reinforcing move. An example from master play:} Rac8 13. Rac1 Qb8 14. h3 Bd7 15. Bg5 Rfe8 16. e4 Bc6 17. Rfe1 a6 18. a4 Nd7 19. Nd5 Bxd5 20. exd5 Bf6 21. Bxf6 exf6 22. a5 Re5 23. Rxe5 fxe5 24. Qe3 b6 25. axb6 a5 26. Ra1 Rc5 27. h4 Qxb6 28. h5 Qd8 29. Qd2 Kg7 30. Bh3 f5 31. h6+ Kf7 32. Bf1 Qb6 33. g4 fxg4 34. Qe3 Qd8 35. Be2 Qh4 36. Kg2 Qh3+ 37. Qxh3 gxh3+ 38. Kxh3 Kf6 39. Bg4 Nf8 40. Kh4 g5+ 41. Kh5 Ng6 42. Be6 Nf4+ 43. Kg4 Nxe6 44. dxe6 e4 45. f4 exf3 46. Kxf3 Kxe6 47. Kg4 Re5 48. Rd1 Re3 49. Rd5 Rxb3 50. Rxa5 Rb4 51. Kxg5 Rxc4 52. Ra7 Rc5+ 53. Kg4 Kf6 54. Rxh7 Kg6 {1/2-1/2 (54) San Segundo Carrillo,P (2508)-Ilic,L (2282) Ohrid 2001}) 12... Bxd5 $146 (12... Nxd5 13. cxd5 Bd7 14. Rac1 Qb6 15. Bc3 {is Houdini's preferred line, although the engine would at this point play a rook to c8 instead of exchanging down towards a draw, as in this example game.} Bxc3 16. Qxc3 Rac8 17. Qd2 Rxc1 18. Rxc1 Rc8 19. Rxc8+ Bxc8 20. Qc3 {1/2-1/2 (20) Stejskal,D-Elias,M Loucovice 1979}) 13. cxd5 {White now has the pair of bishops, so possesses a concrete if slight advantage.} Rfc8 $6 (13... Qb6 14. b3 $11) 14. Rac1 {White goes for the obvious threat, missing the bishop's possible "sniper shot" move.} (14. Bh3 $1 Rcb8 15. Rac1 Qd8 16. Rc2 $14 { and White can build up on the c-file with Black having no real counterplay.}) 14... Qd7 {White should now ensure his b-pawn will not drop off to the Bg7; however, instead of the next move, b3 should work fine.} 15. Bc3 {this eventually leads to an (unforced) exchange of the dark-square bishops, which then eliminates the advantage of the two bishops. Black should have no trouble dealing with the remaining bishop alone.} Rc7 16. Rc2 Rac8 17. Rfc1 Nh5 18. Bxg7 {the exchanges now result in an equal position with no real prospects for White (or Black).} (18. Ba5 {would have allowed White to avoid the exchange.}) 18... Rxc2 19. Rxc2 Rxc2 20. Qxc2 Nxg7 21. e4 {here the game is very equal, as White's bishop has limited scope and Black has plenty of time to re-deploy his knight.} Ne8 22. h4 Qc7 23. Qxc7 Nxc7 {down to a drawn minor piece endgame now. } 24. Kf1 Kg7 25. Bh3 (25. Ke2 {is better, centralizing the king immediately in order to combat any ideas of the Black knight penetrating White's position.} ) 25... Kf6 26. f4 e6 27. dxe6 (27. e5+ {is something that I looked at over the board, but decided (correctly) that it didn't lead to anything for White. I was pleased to have at least spotted and calculated this tactical possibility, however, rather than just ignoring it.} Ke7 $11 (27... dxe5 $4 28. d6 Nd5 29. fxe5+ Kxe5 30. d7)) 27... fxe6 28. Ke2 Na6 29. Ke3 b6 30. a3 { and I offered a draw, which was accepted after a couple minutes' thought.} (30. Bf1 {would have been the way to try and play on in search of an advantage.}) 1/2-1/2

07 April 2014

Annotated Game #120: Breaking the pattern

In the tournament I've been analyzing (Annotated Games 116-119), by the fifth round I had a 2-2 score and White had won every game.  I resolved as Black in this game to break that pattern and successfully did so.  My opponent opened with a transposition to Sokolsky's Opening (featuring an early b4, in this case on the second move) - not an opening to be sneered at, but it shouldn't be feared either.

This was the first time I had faced the opening in a serious game and to meet it I relied on a piece of advice I had read at some point earlier in my career, which was to play a Queen's Indian Defense setup against it.  This is not an attempt to "punish" the opening by challenging it directly; rather, the idea is to give Black a solid setup and achieve an easy equality without creating any obvious weaknesses.  (I took a similar overall approach when playing against 1. b3 more recently - see Annotated Game #106 - although with a different defense.)  The strategy worked, as White left his kingside bare and allowed me to play a (first) classic bishop sacrifice.  In the late middlegame I even was able to use some ideas from the Dutch Stonewall to seal the victory.  (This is an example of how effective it can be to "cross-train" openings, a topic I hope to treat at greater length.)

In terms of my opening preparation, I was pleased that this game justified my decision to briefly examine the opening, determine a strategy against it, then move on and concentrate on more popular setups.  I believe that facing offbeat openings with healthy respect is definitely the way to go, rather than believing you can beat somebody in the opening phase in their pet line, simply by applying some general principles and playing aggressively.  Flank openings without obvious targets to go after, such as in this game, can become passive and ultimately succumb to a more traditional approach of central play, in this case combined with a kingside attack.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "58"] {A00: Irregular Openings} 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. b4 e6 3. a3 Be7 4. Bb2 O-O 5. e3 b6 { going into a Queen's Indian-type setup, which scores 50 percent in the database (from a small number of games).} 6. Bc4 $146 {now out of the database. Lining the bishop up against Black's strong pawn formation does not seem productive. Other moves played here include d4 and c4.} d5 {the obvious retort. } 7. Bb3 {getting out of the way of the c-pawn, which would allow for the c4 break.} Ba6 {with the idea of making White work in order to be able to castle and controlling the c4 square again. It is too easily blocked or chased from its post, however.} (7... Bb7 {probably makes more sense, though; see next note.}) 8. Nc3 (8. d3 {would essentially neutralize the Ba6, preparing both for castling kingside and to push c4 in the future.}) 8... Nbd7 {a solid approach.} (8... c5 $5 {would immediately gain space.} 9. b5 Bb7) 9. b5 { an aggressive, committal move. Although this makes the Ba6 retreat, White is beginning to look a little overextended on the queenside.} Bb7 $15 {while the long diagonal is currently blocked, the bishop will have excellent prospects once the d5 pawn is advanced or exchanged.} 10. d4 {blocking the Bb2's path is counterproductive for White.} Rc8 (10... c5 {is also a good option here.} 11. bxc6 Bxc6 12. O-O b5 {gaining space on the queenside and keeping the rook on the a-file for possible action there.}) 11. O-O c5 12. bxc6 Bxc6 {this is a somewhat awkward placement for the bishop, but I had thought it would be even worse for the rook. Houdini considers the rook option to be better, interestingly.} (12... Rxc6 {I had originally thought fruitless, due to} 13. Ba4 {but Houdini likes simply retreating the rook here.} Rc8 {with the plan of pushing a6 and b5. For example} 14. Rc1 a6 15. Bxd7 Nxd7 16. Ne5 b5 {and Black is looking very strong on the queenside, with no counterplay from White.}) 13. Ne2 {but then my opponent lets my light-squared bishop achieve freedom anyway.} (13. Qe2 Bb7 14. Rac1 a6) 13... Bb5 14. Re1 Ne4 {another drawback to my opponent's 13th move, allowing Black to occupy e4 unchallenged.} 15. Nd2 Ndf6 { this funneling through of the knights to e4 and f6 happens to be a typical idea of the Dutch Stonewall, and is well applied here.} 16. Ng3 (16. f3 { would be the analagous White move in the Stonewall.}) 16... Nxd2 {necessary to prevent the double exchange on e4.} 17. Qxd2 Bd6 {the bishop moves to a diagonal with attacking potential. Note the comparison with its White counterpart, walled off on b2.} 18. Rac1 $6 {ignoring the storm clouds gathering on the kingside.} (18. f3 {is a computer-like defensive move found by Houdini. However, my opponent seemed to dislike thinking about defense and preferred to focus on his queenside plans.} Bc4 $15) 18... Qe7 $17 {another preparatory move, the idea being to connect the rooks and keep the queen on the d8-h4 diagonal for possible use on the kingside.} (18... Bxg3 {is preferred by Houdini.} 19. hxg3 Ne4 20. Qd1 f5 {Black is clearly superior, although there is no knockout yet. The rook lift idea (...Rf6) in this Stonewall-type formation is a strong one, however.}) 19. Ne2 $4 {leaving the kingside wide open.} Ne4 $19 20. Qd1 Bxh2+ $1 {the first time that I've played this type of bishop sacrifice and following a long calculation.} 21. Kxh2 Qh4+ (21... Nxf2 {I did not consider at this stage, only the on the next move.} 22. Qd2 Qh4+ 23. Kg1 Ng4 24. c4 Qh2+ 25. Kf1 dxc4 {and White starts to lose material or be mated, for example} 26. Ba2 c3 27. Qd1 Qh1#) 22. Kg1 Qxf2+ ({ I also looked hard at} 22... Nxf2 {; Houdini considers them equal.}) 23. Kh2 f5 {this is also the first rook lift that I've planned and executed. A good idea, but not the best one in the position.} (23... Qh4+ {I also examined, but could not see a concrete way to advantage.} 24. Kg1 Nf2 $19 25. g3 Qf6 {I wasn't able to see anything concrete for Black past this point. Houdini however demonstrates that White can't avoid losing major material or being mated.} 26. Qd2 Ne4 27. Rf1 (27. Qd1 Qf2+ 28. Kh1 Bxe2 {with the mate threat of Nxg3 being decisive.}) 27... Qxf1+ 28. Rxf1 Nxd2 $19) 24. Nf4 {the best defensive move. White's queen can now come to f3 or h5.} g5 {the best attacking idea, also borrowed from the Dutch Stonewall, which the game now closely resembles (except for White's bishops doing nothing on the queenside).} (24... Rf6 { I had considered, but thought that White had sufficient resources to counter Black's threats.} 25. Qf3 Rh6+ 26. Nh3 Qxf3 27. gxf3 Ng5 28. Kg2 Nxh3 29. Rh1 Ng5 30. Rxh6 gxh6 {and Black looks to have a won endgame, although it would not be the easiest to convert.}) 25. Nxe6 $4 {Taking the wrong pawn. I had calculated that this wouldn't work, but I nevertheless thought that my aggressive opponent might go for it.} (25. Nxd5 Qh4+ 26. Kg1 g4 {taking away the f3 square from the White queen and renewing the attack, whle the Nd5 still hangs.} (26... exd5 $2 27. Bxd5+ Kg7 28. Bxe4 Qxe4 $11) 27. Ne7+ Kf7 28. Nxf5 ( 28. Nxc8 Qf2+ 29. Kh1 Ng3+ 30. Kh2 Ne2 31. Qxe2 (31. Rxe2 $4 Qh4+ 32. Kg1 g3) 31... Bxe2 32. Rxe2 Qxe2 $19) 28... Qf2+ 29. Kh1 Qxf5 $19) (25. Qf3) 25... Qh4+ 26. Kg1 Rf6 {Black is now unstoppable on the h-file.} 27. Bxd5 {my opponent apparently saw the nice tactics now available for White, but Black's come first.} Qf2+ 28. Kh2 Rh6+ 29. Qh5 Rxh5# {my opponent clearly saw the mate after the 27th move, but was apparently one of those players who doesn't resign, regardless of the position.} 0-1

05 April 2014

Commentary: Candidates 2014 - Round 3

The recent conclusion of the 2014 Candidates was disappointing - but only because I hated to see it end.  Anand showed what it meant to be a world-class competitor, ignoring everyone who declared his winning chances to be nil - which included the majority of the chess world, or at least the pundits - and outplaying everyone over the course of the tournament.

In this game from round 3, Anand plays a solid game in the Slav, but then does not hesitate to unbalance things and seize the initiative once White becomes overly aggressive.  Perhaps Mamedyarov was relying on the continuation from the Ivanchuck-Vallejo Pons game cited in the annotations, but Anand finds a more active pawn break and then shows how central domination can lead to tactical threats which White in the end simply cannot shake.

[Event "FIDE Candidates Tournament 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk"] [Date "2014.03.15"] [Round "3"] [White "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D23"] [WhiteElo "2757"] [BlackElo "2770"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [EventCountry "RUS"] [TimeControl "40/7200:20/3600:900+30"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Qc2 dxc4 5. Qxc4 {we now have a position normally classified as belonging to the Queen's Gambit Accepted opening. However, I believe it is a good way for Slav players to meet White's fourth move, staying consistent with the spirit of the defense.} Bg4 (5... Bf5 { is by far the most played here, although the text move scores slightly better and is the "hot" move according to ChessBase. This is consistent with other lines of the Slav, where ...Bg4 is now more often played or at least considered viable.}) 6. Nbd2 Nbd7 7. g3 (7. e3 {at first glance seems the logical follow-up, but the text move's plan of developing the bishop on the long diagonal is the overwhelming favorite. In this variation, White's dark-squared bishop is more cramped, whereas in the game it can go to e3 later. }) 7... e6 8. Bg2 Be7 {Black has pursued standard development and can be considered equal at this point, with a solid position.} 9. Ne5 {very few games have continued this way, with most continuing O-O. The text move only scores 33 percent for White. With the knight sally, White hits the Bg4 (a difference from the Bf5 lines).} Bh5 {moving the bishop to f5 would not make sense, as White could then play e4 with tempo.} 10. Nxd7 (10. Ndf3 {would be my preference, reinforcing the Ne5.}) 10... Nxd7 {with this move, Black chooses to fight for the c5 and e5 squares, with the idea of allowing a pawn break; Anand in fact will play the ...e5 break.} 11. O-O O-O 12. Nb3 {White reinforces the d4 pawn - which otherwise is awkwardly guarded by the queen - and eyes c5, while freeing up the Bc1. Black can immediately challenge the knight's placement, however.} a5 13. a4 {blocking the Black pawn's further advance.} (13. Nc5 {anticipating the Black pawn advance to a4 results in a rather awkward situation for White, largely because of the d-pawn.} Nb6 14. Qd3 Bxc5 15. dxc5 Qxd3 16. exd3 Na4) 13... Bb4 {with the a-pawn no longer a threat, the bishop moves to a more active outpost.} 14. e4 e5 $146 {Anand's novelty, according to the database. White may have been confident in this line due to the result of the following game:} (14... Qe7 15. Be3 Rfd8 16. f4 Kh8 17. Rf2 f6 18. Bd2 e5 19. Bxb4 axb4 20. fxe5 fxe5 21. d5 Rac8 22. Rc1 Nb6 23. Qc5 Qxc5 24. Nxc5 cxd5 25. Bh3 Ra8 26. a5 Nc4 27. Nxb7 Rf8 28. Rxf8+ Rxf8 29. exd5 Nxb2 30. d6 Bf3 31. Rc8 Rxc8 32. Bxc8 Bc6 33. d7 Bxd7 34. Bxd7 Nc4 35. Be6 b3 36. Bxc4 b2 37. Ba2 {1-0 (37) Ivanchuk,V (2769) -Vallejo Pons,F (2697) Istanbul 2012}) 15. Be3 {the bishop finally gets into the game.} exd4 16. Bxd4 Kh8 { a preventive measure, stepping out of the pin on the a2-g8 diagonal.} 17. e5 $6 {overly optimistic, looking to seize space on the kingside. Anand's previous move allows him to combat it with the ...f6 break.} (17. Rac1 {would be an example of a more solid continuation.}) 17... Re8 18. f4 f6 19. exf6 (19. e6 { would eventually lose the pawn.} Nb6 20. Bxb6 Qxb6+ 21. Kh1 Qe3 22. Nd4 Rad8 23. Nc2 Qxe6 $17) 19... Nxf6 $15 {taking stock of the position, Black's pieces look much more active and coordinated. White now attempts to reduce this advantage through an exchange of minor pieces.} 20. Bf3 Bxf3 21. Rxf3 {without the light-squared bishops on the board, Black dominates fewer squares in White's camp, but the absence of White's bishop is now felt in the center, which Black seizes on.} Re4 {Black now takes over the initiative, with play revolving around the pinned bishop.} (21... c5 22. Bc3 Re4 {is a variation on the same idea.} 23. Bxf6 Rxc4 24. Bxd8 Rxd8) 22. Re3 (22. Qd3 {doesn't offer White much relief either.} Qe8 {with similar play.}) 22... Rxe3 23. Bxe3 Qe8 24. Bb6 {given the game continuation, this appears to simply lose a tempo, although the immediate Bd4 also leaves White with problems.} (24. Bd4 Rd8 25. Rc1 c5 26. Bxf6 (26. Be5 Ng4 27. Qe2 h5) 26... gxf6 27. Rc2 Rd1+ 28. Kg2 Qc6+ 29. Kh3 Rd5 {and Black has a comfortable advantage.}) 24... Qh5 {this clears the e8 square for the rook and pressures the h-file, with the threat of ...Ng4 looming.} 25. Bd4 Re8 {in comparison with the previous variation, Black's queen is on h5 and the rook on e8, a significant improvement. Black again has the potential threat of ...Re4 and White has no good way of untangling the queen and bishop in the center.} 26. Rf1 {this precipitates the loss, as both the game continuation and Houdini show, although White was in difficulties anyway.} (26. Qd3 Rd8 27. Qc2 (27. Qc4 Ng4) 27... Ng4 28. Qe2 (28. h4 $2 c5 29. Bc3 c4 30. Nd4 Bc5 31. Qd1 Qg6 32. Qe2 Bxd4+) 28... c5 29. Bc3 c4 30. Nd4 Re8 $19) (26. Be5 Nd7 $17) 26... Ng4 27. Qc2 c5 {a surprisingly powerful move. Black once again can exploit the pinning theme against the bishop and queen.} 28. Nxc5 (28. Be5 c4 29. Nd4 Bc5) (28. Bc3 Bxc3 29. bxc3 Ne3) 28... Rc8 { now White cannot parry the threat of ...b6} 29. Rd1 Bxc5 30. Bxc5 h6 {negating White's potential back-rank threat.} 31. Kh1 {and White resigned, with Black's most obvious win coming after ...Nf2+} 0-1

03 April 2014

Chess vs Life

An excellent recent article in Chess Life Online by FM Alisa Melekhina highlights some of the contradictions and conflicts that bedevil the life of a serious chessplayer.  Hers is only one example among many, but if you look around the chess community, it reflects some common truths - the most important one for improving players being that mastery requires time-intensive practice, which means dedicating a large part of your life to it.

For example, she relates how she spent four hours a day in high school in training, while now she is lucky to get four hours a week - which is not enough to maintain her edge for tournaments.  If you look at other up-and-coming masters such as Justus Williams and James Black (just to name recent American examples) you can see the same dogged work ethic and massive time commitment during their rise from Class levels to the master-level 2200 rating and beyond.  This is a useful reality check for those who think "talent" is some sort of magic carpet ride to mastery, or that significant progress can come without sustained, focused effort.

This simple but sometimes elusive truth I believe is the core of the problem - or challenge, depending on how you view it - of adult chess improvement.  How many people can possibly devote four hours a day to chess once out of their school years and in the working world?  Two hours a day?  Even just one hour a day on average, consistently?  In reality, very few people who work for a living have the combination of available time, energy and desire.  (Many of those who do not have to work for a living also lack these things, it is true, but at least they are not constrained by life responsibilities.)

The oft-quoted figure of 10,000 hours of practice required for mastery of a complex skill such as chess is simply an approximation, but the structural implications of it still hold for how you organize your life.  If you devote two hours a day to chess, that means you will reach your goal twice as fast as if you devoted one hour.  Four hours a day, four times as fast.  (No hours a day, never!)  The arithmetic in this sense is simple.

The learning process, however, is not strictly arithmetic in nature.  The more you become immersed in a subject, the more you tend to retain and make new breakthroughs in understanding, while you may not retain much at all if you only learn a particular subject in small doses and infrequently.  (This phenomenon is well known by anyone who halfheartedly studied a foreign language and can no longer speak more than a few words of it.)  Every person will have a certain threshold for effective study, then, which is necessary to pass on a frequent basis.  Distribution of time therefore becomes important, not just your total hours.  For example, doing intensive training for a half-hour a day, six days a week is more likely to result in sustained progress than 3 hours a day, once a week.

As an adult with the objective of improving my chess game, it is nice to have mastery as a goal, but one of the realizations that I have had on my journey since starting this blog is that, short of having the (rare) opportunity to take a year or two off from work to devote to training and studying, I am unlikely to achieve the master title.  Does that make progress pointless?  If you define the sum total of chess' worth to you as 2200 Elo or above, then it would be.  For me that is not the case, for a variety of reasons, ranging from simple enjoyment to competitive instincts to proven neurological benefits.

Returning to the idea of "chess versus life", one can view the two as mutually exclusive: life has demands and distractions that take away from your chess, while on the flip side studying a game for hours on end by definition means that you aren't doing anything else with your life.  This can be considered both an inconvenient truth and a negative way of looking at both sides of the chess/life coin.

I will end this meditation on the subject by offering the counter-argument and observation that integrating chess training and study into your life, by balancing both sides as best as you can and not succumbing to negativity about the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, may just make you both a better person and chessplayer.  Perhaps Alisa would agree.