28 June 2014

Annotated Game #129: Slaying a White Hippopotamus

The Hippopotamus (or Hippo) is a rare defense for Black, although it has some popularity at the club level, and is an even rarer opening formation for White to pursue.  From move 2 of this sixth-round tournament game, however, I knew it was coming.  The Hippo formation - central pawns advanced one rank to clear their squares for the knights and both bishops fianchettoed - can be solid and difficult to crack.

This was in fact the first time I had faced the opening, but I was in a positive mindset coming off my earlier round win (Annotated Game #128) and considered it an interesting challenge.  I decided to unbalance things early with 3...Bg4 and this turned out to be an excellent practical decision, as my opponent responded weakly and allowed me to develop a kingside attack early on.  Subsequent mechanical moves made by White in an attempt to reach the standard Hippo formation only served to aid my own plans.

The decisive point occurred when I correctly calculated a key tactical sequence from moves 13-17, resulting in forced material gain due to control of the e3 square.  From there it was a "matter of technique" to simplify to a won endgame, although I made sure to then focus on safety and on eliminating any possible counterplay.  This reflected the advice of NM Dan Heisman about "going to sleep" in the endgame, not in the sense of turning your brain off, but in playing moves which maintain your advantage and at the same time do not allow your opponent any possibilities to make progress.

I felt very much "in the zone" in this game and did well in seeing the attacking possibilities, which was something of a novelty for me.  I believe it was the first time I have played such an early ...h5-h4 pawn push, for example, and I was not afraid to take the attack to White after I evaluated his weaknesses.  This showed I was overcoming the old limitations imposed by my self-imposed "positional" playing style.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "84"] {A00: Irregular Openings} 1. d3 d5 2. e3 {a strong indication that the Hippopotamus is coming.} Nf6 3. g3 Bg4 (3... e5 {is the more common move, creating a pawn center. I decided to develop first and see if my opponent could be thrown off his standard game a bit.}) 4. Be2 $146 {already out of the database and something of a concession, as g3 no longer makes sense for White's development.} (4. Nf3 $5) 4... Qd7 {defending the bishop with a piece; I am happy to keep g4 as an outpost for a piece or make White further weaken his position to get rid of it.} (4... h5 {played early on is an alternative that I considered and Houdini also validates. Already White's kingside is looking suspect.}) 5. Bxg4 Nxg4 6. Ne2 {sticking with the usual Hippo development plan for the knight, which however gives it significantly less scope.} e5 $15 {although the pawn center is useful, the decision was made to push e5 primarily because Black needs to release the Bf8; e6 would block the c8-h3 diagonal and fianchettoing the bishop on g7 would remove it as a potential offensive piece targeting White's kingside.} 7. O-O {White has a cramped position, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Nc6 {developing toward the center and opening up the possibility of queenside castling. The bishop development is deferred, as I want to see where it will be best placed.} 8. Nd2 {continuing with the standard Hippo development plan for knights, making White's position even more congested.} Be7 {with h5 coming, I decide the bishop can best support things from here.} 9. a3 {Consolidates b4, notes Houdini. Despite the rest of the action being on the kingside, this is not really a waste of time. Black could otherwise benefit from posting a knight on b4, especially if the queen moves away from defending c2.} h5 {White's cramped position, related underdevelopment, and weakend king position justify the launching of the attack. White's knights have some potential after a f4 or c4 pawn break, but the Bc1 and Ra1 are shut out of the game for now.} 10. Nf3 $2 ( 10. h3 {seems necessary.} Nh6 {so the knight can cover f5} 11. Kg2 h4 12. g4 O-O-O $17) 10... h4 $19 {White's last move in fact did nothing to prevent this; Black can now start prying open the king position.} 11. e4 $2 (11. gxh4 Bxh4 12. Ng3 O-O-O $19 {and Black's attack is worth over two pawns, according to Houdini.}) (11. Kg2 {is the best try, although also rather scary for White.} O-O-O (11... Nxh2 12. Nxh2 hxg3 13. Nxg3 Qh3+ 14. Kf3 e4+ 15. Ke2 Bd6 $19) 12. h3 hxg3 13. hxg4 e4 14. Nxg3 Qxg4 15. Nh4 Qxh4 $19) 11... hxg3 (11... Nxh2 { is evaluated as better by the engine, but is rather more complicated to calculate. The text move was the more practical choice.} 12. Nxh2 hxg3 13. Nxg3 Qh3 $19 14. Ng4 Bc5) 12. fxg3 (12. Nxg3 {would at least get another piece into the defense for White.}) 12... O-O-O {an important decision point for Black. I preferred to activate the other rook by castling queenside rather than immediately press the attack. The next sequence is critical and had to be calculated carefully.} 13. exd5 Qxd5 14. Nc3 {an obvious, but losing, threat.} (14. h4 {is a better defensive try, although still losing material.} Bc5+ 15. Kh1 (15. d4 e4 16. Nc3 Qc4) 15... Nf2+ 16. Rxf2 Bxf2 17. Kg2 e4 $19) 14... Bc5+ 15. d4 Qc4 {the queen moving to uncover the pin of the d4 pawn is the crucial point after Bc5, something missed by my opponent.} 16. Qe2 Bxd4+ 17. Nxd4 (17. Kg2 {is still a small chance for White, says Houdini.} Qxe2+ 18. Nxe2 e4 19. Nh4 Be3 $19) 17... Qxd4+ {this holds it all together for Black, protecting the Ng4 and controlling e3. White is now completely lost, with material loss is inevitable.} 18. Be3 (18. Kh1 Rxh2+) 18... Qxe3+ {I decided simplifying by forcing the queen trade was the best road to victory.} 19. Qxe3 Nxe3 20. Rxf7 Rd2 {Black has entered the endgame a piece up and with dominating rooks.} 21. Rf2 Rxf2 22. Kxf2 Ng4+ 23. Kg2 Rxh2+ 24. Kf3 Nf6 {and from here my technique suffices to seal the point. I am careful to play prophylactically, with the aim of allowing White no counterplay whatsoever, rather than try for the quickest possible win.} 25. Rb1 Rxc2 26. Ne2 Rd2 27. Ke3 Rd7 28. Rh1 Kd8 29. Rh4 Ke7 30. g4 g5 {White's last move made things significantly easier for Black, as now the sole defender of the g-pawn is forced away.} 31. Rh8 Nxg4+ 32. Kf3 Nf6 33. Ke3 Rd8 34. Rh1 Nd4 35. Nxd4 exd4+ 36. Kd3 g4 {now the win is simple, as White cannot hope to stop the separated passed pawns.} 37. b4 b6 ( 37... c6 {would make more sense here, as Black is prevented from executing his plan of pushing c5 by the White rook.}) 38. Rc1 Rd7 39. b5 Ke6 40. Rc6+ Kf5 41. Rc1 g3 42. Rf1+ Kg5 {the Nf6 is immune to capture, as the g-pawn would then queen.} 0-1

23 June 2014

Annotated Game #128: Busted out of the opening

In the post-game review of this fifth-round tournament game, my opponent said he thought he had been busted out of the opening, which is mostly true.  His 9th move was simply bad and his position became further cramped and vulnerable afterwards.  However, he missed multiple opportunities to limit the damage or even regain equality, for example on move 15 when he could have made a very advantageous piece exchange.  I finally am able to pull the tactical trigger on move 19 and Black has a losing game afterwards, quickly going downhill.

The course of this game illustrates the psychological power that trends often have on a player; in other words, once you start down a losing path, it's hard to break that feeling and transform your game for the better.  GM Alex Yermolinsky talked about using "trend-breaking tools" to counter that phenomenon and I previously discussed the idea in "Chess performance and chess skills: not the same thing".  If you've perused other annotated games here, you've no doubt noticed a number of examples where I fell into the same psychological trap and failed to take advantage of opportunities to reverse my fortunes.  In this game, it was good to be on the opposite side of the problem, for once.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A50"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "53"] {A50: Queen's Fianchetto Defence (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 b6)} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. e4 d6 (4... Bb7 {is normally played here, in which case White can execute the same idea of the bishop development as follows:} 5. Bd3 Be7 6. O-O d6 7. Bc2 {followed by d4.}) 5. d4 Bb7 6. Bd3 Be7 7. O-O Nbd7 8. Re1 {White has a large number of possibilities here, but this is by far the most popular, done in order to overprotect the e4 pawn and free up the Nc3 or Bd3 if necessary.} e5 9. d5 {deciding to gain space rather than leave the center fluid.} (9. h3 {is an alternative way to play.} a5 10. Be3 O-O 11. Qc2 Re8 12. Rad1 Bf8 13. a3 Qb8 14. Nd2 Ba6 15. Bf1 c6 16. Qa4 Qb7 17. d5 c5 18. g4 g6 19. Be2 Red8 20. Kh2 Bg7 21. Rg1 Nf8 22. Rg3 Qd7 23. Qc2 Ne8 24. h4 Nc7 25. a4 Qe7 26. g5 Bc8 27. Bg4 Na6 28. Rdg1 Nb4 29. Qb1 Bxg4 30. Rxg4 Nd7 31. h5 Rf8 32. R4g3 Rfd8 33. Rh3 Nf8 34. Nf1 Rd7 35. Ng3 Re8 36. Kh1 Qd8 37. Rg2 Rb7 38. b3 Qd7 39. Rh4 f6 40. gxf6 Bxf6 41. Rhh2 Kf7 42. hxg6+ hxg6 43. Qd1 Ke7 44. Qf3 Qd8 45. Nf5+ Kd7 46. Nb5 gxf5 47. Qxf5+ Ne6 48. Rg6 {1-0 (48) Bui Vinh (2475) -Bao,Q (2333) Cao Lanh Dong Thap 2006}) 9... Nf8 $6 $146 {Black blocks his own castling. This move suggests that that my opponent had little experience in this type of position. Up until now he had taken a great deal of time on the clock, but had played reasonable moves, if not the most challenging. If followed up with ...Ng6, it might make some sense, but this doesn't occur in the game.} (9... O-O {seems to make the most sense;}) (9... Nc5 {is the other alternative in the database and occurred in a game with GM Uhlmann.} 10. Bc2 Bc8 11. b4 Nb7 12. Ba4+ Bd7 13. Bc6 Rb8 14. Be3 O-O 15. h3 Qe8 16. Bxb7 Rxb7 17. c5 dxc5 18. bxc5 Bxc5 19. Bxc5 bxc5 20. Rb1 Rb6 21. Qc1 Qe7 22. Qa3 Ra8 23. Nd2 Nh5 24. Ne2 Bb5 25. g3 a6 26. Rbc1 Bxe2 27. Rxe2 Rb4 28. Qe3 Rb5 29. Nb3 Nf6 30. Rxc5 Rb4 31. f3 Ne8 32. Rec2 Rab8 33. Kg2 R8b5 34. R5c3 a5 35. Qa7 a4 36. Na5 Rb2 37. Nc6 Rxc2+ 38. Rxc2 Qa3 39. Nxe5 f6 40. Qa6 Rb6 41. Qc8 Qe7 42. Nc4 Rb1 43. d6 cxd6 44. Nxd6 Kf8 45. Rd2 Qe5 46. Nxe8 Rb8 47. Nxf6+ {1-0 (47) Uhlmann,W (2413)-Appelt,G (2046) Dresden 2006}) 10. Nh4 $14 {heading for f5, which would make a wonderful outpost.} g6 {Black decides not to let the knight occupy f5, but at the cost of inflicting a dark-square weakness on his kingside and blocking the square for the Nf8.} (10... Nxd5 {is a tactical possibility, due to the hanging Nh4, which however still leaves White with an edge. I recall seeing the line only after I moved, though, so should have considered it beforehand.} 11. Nf5 Nxc3 12. Nxg7+ Kd7 13. bxc3 $14) 11. Nf3 { The weakness caused in Black's camp more than compensates for the back-and-forth moves by the knight.} Nh5 (11... N8d7 {Black instead should get the knight re-developed, also allowing the dark-squared bishop to redeploy via f8.}) 12. g3 {this further cramps Black's position by taking away f4 and h4, a mirror image of what just occurred with White's knight; however, White is already castled and his pieces are better placed, so it's less weakening.} Nd7 {Black finally admits to himself that the knight is doing nothing on f8 and returns it to the center.} 13. Bh6 {White traps the enemy king in the center, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Ndf6 $6 {now the Nh5 has no safe squares left.} (13... Bf8 {challenging the Bg6 is probably best.}) (13... Nhf6 {does not help due to} 14. Bg7 Rg8 15. Bh6 {and Black has lost the right to castle, without any compensation.}) 14. h4 {here my idea was to create a potential outpost on g5 for the bishop or knight. This is too vague, however.} (14. b4 {Houdini prefers a plan of switching to queenside expansion, now that Black is all tied up on the kingside.} Bf8 15. Bg5 h6 16. Be3 Bg7 17. c5 $16 { is one possible continuation.}) (14. h3 {threatening g4 would be the way to continue with kingside play.}) 14... Ng4 {the knight happily occupies the square left uncovered by the h-pawn advance.} 15. Bg5 $6 {this demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the piece exchange on g5 would affect the game. Black should immediately take, following the principle that the more cramped side should be happy to exchange pieces. It would also get rid of the strong dark-square bishop possessed by White.} (15. Qa4+ {Houdini assesses that it would be better to trade queens and start exploiting White's advantages in piece coordination and space on the queenside.} Qd7 16. Qxd7+ Kxd7 17. Bd2 $14) 15... f6 $6 {with this move, Black forces White to preserve his good bishop and inflicts additional cramping on his own position.} (15... Bxg5 16. Nxg5 Ngf6 $11) 16. Bd2 Bf8 $6 {this looks reasonable at first glance, with the idea of retreating the knight to h6, but is too slow, interferes with castling again, and loses a pawn to a White tactic.} (16... O-O $5) 17. Bf1 {here I play somewhat defensively.} (17. Be2 {could have been played immediately, lining up on the Black knights.} Bc8 18. Nh2 Nxh2 19. Bxh5 Qd7 20. Kxh2 gxh5 21. Qxh5+ $16) 17... Bc8 18. Nh2 Nh6 $2 {a major misstep.} (18... Bh6 $142 $5 $14 {would have held things together, although still at a disadvantage.}) 19. Be2 {I was now able to see that this is obviously good for White. Black cannot protect both his knights adequately.} Qd7 $2 {this loses a piece and the game rather quickly.} (19... Nf7 {would limit Black's material loss to a pawn, although he still has a poor game afterwards.} 20. Bxh5 gxh5 21. Qxh5 $16) 20. Bxh6 {this works, but the alternative bishop capture} (20. Bxh5 $5 {is cleaner, not allowing Black to get in the desperado tactic Nxg3.}) 20... Nxg3 21. Bg4 { this removes the bishop from further desperado tactics involving the Ng3.} ({ inferior would be} 21. fxg3 Bxh6 22. Ng4 Bg7) 21... f5 22. exf5 {a case where the "obvious" move is not best.} (22. Bxf8 {resolves the situation in White's favor.} Rxf8 23. exf5 gxf5 24. Bh3 $18) 22... gxf5 $2 {the pressure is too much, Black crumbles, comments Houdini.} (22... Bxh6 23. fxg3 gxf5 24. Bh3 Qf7 {and Black would at least have some compensation for the material, with the e5/ f5 pawn center and prospects for pressure on White's kingside.}) 23. Bh5+ { again a good response, but not the best.} (23. Qc1 {protecting the bishop} fxg4 24. fxg3 {is Houdini's preference.}) 23... Nxh5 24. Qxh5+ {I had calculated this far in the line on move 20, seeing that White would be able to keep the extra piece.} Kd8 (24... Qf7 {I thought would allow Black to resist longer and Houdini agrees, although it's still lost.} 25. Qxf7+ Kxf7 26. Bxf8 Rxf8 27. f4 $18 {is the line I had considered and the engine validates. The last move is intended to break up Black's pawn duo.}) 25. Bg5+ Be7 26. f4 {as in the variation above, this challenges and weakens the e5/f5 pawn duo.} h6 27. Bxh6 { I decided to take the simplest route to victory, as the Bh6 cannot be effectively pinned due to the possibility of checking the Kd8. Down a full piece and having no real prospects, Black resigned.} 1-0

21 June 2014

Mastery Concept: Effects of Piece Exchanges

As part of the occasional series of Mastery Concept posts, today we'll look at the effects of piece exchanges.  The idea that like-for-like piece exchanges can change the course of the entire game is one that is not necessarily obvious to the Class player, who when evaluating material exchanges typically focuses on a point-based material balance evaluation, or other obvious effects on the position.  For example, first-order effects of exchanges include swapping bishop for knight in order to double your opponent's pawns, which is an early theme in several openings, including the Exchange Ruy Lopez and the Nimzo-Indian (Samisch Variation).  However, these types of decisions almost always have more far-reaching and subtler effects on the rest of the game.  The greater your understanding of the impact of piece exchanges, the better you will be able to evaluate their desirability and then benefit from them.
(Note that here we are talking about exchanges that are like-for-like, i.e. minor piece for minor piece, queen for queen, etc.  Captures that lead to material imbalances are another, more complicated subject.  If you are interested in that, I recommend this article by GM Larry Kaufman on NM Dan Heisman's site.)

For a general overview of the topic by a strong player, the Chess.com video General Strategy: When to Exchange Pieces by GM Dejan Bojkov is well worth the time, as it goes into various strategic guidelines for exchanging in a clear fashion.  

Below are games which highlight some of the situations where piece exchanges can make a significant difference in the course of the game.  There are a considerable number of different lessons to be had, but as a fundamental concept, I believe that if the improving player asks the questions "how will this exchange affect the current position?" and "what are the strategic implications of the exchange for the rest of the game?" before exchanging, that in itself can help provide a measurable boost to chess understanding and playing strength.  

The examples are from both master-level games and my own analysis:

1) Samisch - Nimzovitch (Berlin, 1928)

This classic game was included by Nimzovitch as game 13 in his book Chess Praxis; a more modern commentary by GM Raymond Keene can be found at the link above.  Here Nimzovitch deliberately exchanges off both of his bishops in advantageous ways that are central to his strategy.

2) Hou - Kosintseva (Khanty-Mansiysk, 2014) - original full commentary

3) Ramirez - Shankland (St. Louis, 2013) - original full commentary

4) ChessAdmin - Expert (Annotated Game #84, "Piece exchanges and draw offers will lose you the game")

5. GM Yermolinsky - ChessAdmin (Annotated Game #4, "GM Alex Yermolinsky simul")

14 June 2014

Annotated Game #127: Turning Point

This fourth-round tournament game turned out to be the turning point for me.  Normally this would mean that I triumphed in a hard-fought game, but in this case I lost in a long, hard-fought game.  For most of it, however, I had done an excellent job of following my thinking process, evaluating positions, and combining strategy and tactics.  It is always gratifying when reviewing a game with an engine to see it agree with a large number of your moves, which was indicative of the overall quality of the game.  My opponent also played well and made a good psychological decision in the final phase of the game to not accept a draw and instead try to unbalance things, although he was slightly worse as a result.  If he had not done that, he could not have won in the end.  Perhaps he perceived my relative tiredness, lack of patience and desire for a draw, something which precluded me from finding some potentially advantageous continuations.

Other lessons taken away from the game analysis include:
  • The benefits of the opening maneuver with h7-h6 to clear a safety square for the Bf5, something recently highlighted in the cross-training openings post; this would have been a good option early on for Black, after White chose not to immediately pressure the bishop.
  • How "caveman" style strategies, as White adopted in the early middlegame by pushing the f and g-pawns, can be met.
  • How one should look to undermine advanced pawns, for example the variations on moves 33 and 35.
Despite the loss in this game, I ended up winning my remaining tournament games and finishing in the money for the first time in a number of years.  In contrast, my opponent did not do so well and ended up below me in the final rankings.  Although naturally I would have preferred not to lose, the overall high quality of play carried through into the next rounds and I was able to regain my mental toughness, as we shall see in the next series of annotations.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "127"] {D12: Slav Defence: 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 e3 Bf5} 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. c4 c6 {we have now transposed into a standard "Slow Slav" game.} 5. Nc3 e6 6. Be2 (6. Nh4 {is the usual move and the only one normally treated by opening books. Here White delays the idea of challenging the placement of the Bf5.}) 6... Nbd7 {the most common move. Black continues with standard development.} (6... h6 { can also be played now, to open the h7 square for a bishop retreat. This line of play would take advantage of White's previous move.}) 7. O-O Be7 {while the second most popular move in the position, it is far behind} (7... Bd6 {; in the main line with Nh4, the dark-square bishop can go to b4 following some exchanges. Here it certainly seems better posted on d6 than e7 and Black scores over 50% with this line.}) (7... h6 {remains an interesting idea, also scoring over 50 percent.}) 8. b3 O-O 9. Nh4 Ne4 {I was pleased to see that Houdini also considers this move strong in the position. Black deliberately invites White to exchange on f5, judging that the pawn would be well placed there.} (9... Bb4 {is the other equally good choice according to the engine and netted Black a draw in the following game:} 10. Na4 Bg6 11. Nxg6 hxg6 12. Bb2 Rc8 13. Nc3 Bd6 14. Rc1 dxc4 15. Bxc4 Nb6 16. Bd3 Nbd5 17. Qe2 Nxc3 18. Bxc3 Nd5 19. Bb2 Nb4 20. Bb1 Qc7 21. g3 e5 22. Qg4 Nd5 23. Rfd1 Nf6 24. Qh4 { Galamba,S (2124)-Kobzar,A Evpatoria 2002 1/2-1/2 (37)}) 10. Nxe4 (10. Nxf5 exf5 11. Bb2 Ndf6 $11 {is how I would have played. Here the formation and ideas resemble a Dutch Stonewall.}) 10... Bxe4 11. Nf3 Qc7 {connecting the rooks and moving the queen to a nice diagonal. Black by this point is comfortably equal.} 12. Bb2 b6 {in the Stonewall, this is often done in order to develop the light-square bishop. Here, that's unnecessary. At the time, I was thinking about the potential for a future ...c5 push.} (12... a5 {is Houdini's first choice, controlling b4 and applying prophylaxis to a future White queenside advance.}) 13. Nd2 Bg6 14. f4 {apparently the idea behind White's previous move. It doesn't seem like it has much to recommend it, with Black being more than capable of stopping a future kingside attack.} Nf6 {getting the knight into play and immediately eyeing the weak e4 square.} 15. Rc1 Qd8 {while the queen does well in getting off the c-file, this is not the ideal square.} ( 15... Qb7 {is preferable, not interfering with the rooks on the 8th rank and also positioned to take advantage of a potential opening of the long diagonal.} ) 16. a3 {Consolidates b4, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.} Ne4 (16... Rc8 {seems more patient and develops the rook to a more useful square. I recall thinking that the rook might benefit from an open a-file at some point, but the prospect of that seems rather remote, while on c8 it can contest the c-file.}) 17. Nxe4 {White immediately trades off the knight, which otherwise could pose a lot of problems for him.} Bxe4 18. Bf3 Bg6 {exchanging the bishop on f3 would not make sense, as it would be replaced with the queen, giving White better prospects for a kingside attack supported by his heavy pieces.} 19. g4 {White decides to go "caveman", which however is a logical continuation of the original f4 idea.} (19. Qe2 Qd7 $11) 19... h6 20. f5 $6 exf5 21. gxf5 Bxf5 $15 22. Bxd5 {this is the tactical idea which my opponent saw and was behind the pawn advance. I confess to being surprised at this move, a discovered attack on the Bf5. This is an example of my not considering all CCT (checks, captures and threats) by the opponent.} Bh3 $11 {I understood that counterattacking offered the best chances here, but this was not the best execution of the idea.} (22... Bg5 {with this move, the other bishop instead immediately targets the weak e3 pawn, with a forking threat on the king and rook.} 23. Rc3 cxd5 24. Rxf5 dxc4 25. bxc4 Qd7 $15) (22... cxd5 23. Rxf5 Bg5 { also looks good.}) 23. Bg2 (23. Bxc6 Bxf1 24. Qxf1 Rc8 $11) 23... Bxg2 24. Kxg2 Bg5 {I now execute the idea of targeting e3.} 25. Qf3 {protecting e3 and targeting the hanging c6 pawn.} Qd7 {I thought for a while here, since it was unclear where the queen would be best placed.} (25... Qd6 {is preferred by Houdini as being more active, with Black able to move his queen along the sixth rank.}) 26. Rce1 f5 {while this looks rather weakening at first glance, Houdini agrees that it's best. The move is needed to stop the e4 push, which would allow White to start a central pawn roller moving.} 27. Rd1 (27. d5 Rac8 $11) 27... Rae8 $15 {Black takes advantage of White's rook moving off the e-file to pressure e3 again. Overall, Black's pieces are well coordinated and placed to pressure White, who will have trouble making any progress. However, I was still concerned at this point about White's central pawn mass.} 28. Rd3 Re4 {an excellent rook outpost. Without a light-square bishop or a knight, White cannot break it.} 29. d5 {nothing better, White gains space and a passed pawn as a result, although Houdini still gives the advantage to Black.} c5 { I decide that keeping the center closed and blockading the d-pawn is the best strategy.} 30. Bc3 Qd6 {this exposes the queen to the maneuver Be1-g3 and is unnecessary, although it does not change the evaluation of the position.} ( 30... g6 {immediately is better.}) 31. h3 (31. Be1 g6 32. Bg3 Qe7 $15) 31... g6 (31... Qg6 {would be a more aggressive choice and the primary variation would leave Black better off, with the bishop blockading on d6.} 32. Kh1 f4 33. Bd2 Qe8 34. exf4 Bxf4 35. Bc3 Bd6 {and now if} 36. Qg2 Rxf1+ 37. Qxf1 Be5 38. Bd2 Bd4) 32. Re1 Rfe8 33. Bd2 Bd8 {I continue to focus on keeping the blockade set. A more sophisticated approach would be to threaten to undermine the d-pawn.} ( 33... a6 34. Rc1 b5) 34. Rg1 Bg5 {again, choosing to play more defensively with the bishop staying on the d8-h4 diagonal. By this point in the game I was mentally tired and essentially out of ideas for how to make progress myself, so decided to simply try and block any progress by White and force a draw.} ( 34... Bc7 {is something I had considered, but thought that} 35. Be1 {would neutralize the idea, with Bg3 to follow. However, Houdini demonstrates that is not the case.} Kh7 36. Bg3 Qxg3+ 37. Qxg3 Bxg3 38. Kxg3 Rxe3+ 39. Rxe3 Rxe3+ 40. Kf2 Rd3 $15) 35. Kh1 Kh7 (35... b5 {switching play to the queenside via the deflection idea appears again as Houdini's preferred choice. For example} 36. Rc3 bxc4 37. bxc4 Rb8 {with a beautiful open file.}) 36. Qg3 {White would be happy to exchange queens here and remove the blockading Qd6. Unfortunately I oblige him.} Be7 {with this move I focus too much on maintaining a physical blockade of d6, when there are alternatives.} (36... Qe7 37. d6 Qe6 {and White will have great difficulty in supporting the d7 pawn.}) 37. Qxd6 Bxd6 38. Kg2 R8e7 {here Houdini thinks that bringing the king towards the center immediately with ...Kg7 is a better plan. The advance g5 is also possible.} 39. Kf3 $11 Rh4 40. Rh1 Rhe4 {Black is content to prevent any progress by White, relying on the fourth rank outpost.} 41. h4 Rg4 {An ideal square for the black rook, comments Houdini.} 42. Be1 Kg7 43. Bf2 Kf6 44. Rd2 Rd7 45. Re2 Re7 { the situation remains very stable and my plan of shutting White down is working so far.} 46. Rhe1 Ree4 {doubled rooks on the 4th rank is an unusual sight.} 47. Rd2 Re7 48. Rg1 {White decides to take a risk and break the rhythm first. Psychologically this was a good choice, as by this point I felt that a draw was inevitable, although I deliberately did not ask for one.} Rxg1 49. Bxg1 Rd7 $6 {Black misses his chance to activate his kingside pawn majority, passing that up to instead maintain equality. This is obviously not the most effective way to play, but I was not thinking about winning.} (49... g5 50. hxg5+ hxg5 $15) 50. e4 $11 fxe4+ 51. Kxe4 Bg3 {...Re7+ should be played first, as it is necessary anyway.} 52. Bf2 Re7+ 53. Kf3 Bd6 {The black bishop is safe in front of d5} (53... Bxf2 54. Rxf2 Re1 {is how Houdini would have played it, rating it equal. My knowledge of rook and pawn endgames was not sufficient to evaluate my chances here, however, so I avoided it.}) 54. Be3 h5 $4 {after a long, grinding, tiring fight, I hallucinate and miss White's skewer, not doing a proper think first. After this, it's just a matter of time before White breaks through, although I refuse to roll over and die immediately.} (54... Kg7 $11 {would have kept things level.}) 55. Bg5+ $18 Kf7 56. Bxe7 Kxe7 57. Re2+ Kf7 58. Re6 Bb8 59. Ke4 Bg3 60. Rc6 Bb8 61. a4 Bg3 62. a5 Bxh4 63. axb6 axb6 64. Rxb6 1-0

08 June 2014

Cross-training openings: Dutch Defense

Here are two further examples of cross-training openings, both relevant to the Dutch Defense.  I've been working my way through Nimzovitch's Chess Praxis, similar to the way I eventually completed Bronstein's Zurich 1953 tournament book.  The games are instructive in general - why Nimzovitch chose them to begin with - and you can also see a copy of his notes to the first game in the link below.

Bogoljubov - Nimzovitch (London, 1927)

Nimzovitch - von Scheve (Ostende, 1907)

Annotated Game #126: How to attack?

This third-round tournament game shows again the attacking possibilities of the English Opening on the kingside, even though I did not take the best advantage of them.  After a Grunfeld-type defense from my opponent, I had a small opening advantage which soon turned into equality.  Black, however, did not have any initiative of his own, so it was my ideas (for good or ill) that ended up driving the entire game.

A relatively harmless plan involving the advance of my h-pawn turned into an attacking possibility after Black recaptured with the wrong pawn (18...fxg6?!) and then left his knight in a vulnerable position pinned to his queen.  I was able to whip up some initiative and could have had a serious attack with 21. f4! but focused erroneously on play along the h-file.  After a simple board sight failure led to me passing up the chance to win a pawn, I entered a drawn double-rook endgame.

The analysis illustrates some useful concepts regarding how to attack.  In addition to the above examples, there were more subtle improvements such as 17. Rh1 or earlier opportunities to place the queen on a better square.  The game is also a useful example of how attacking play, even when not particularly threatening, can lead to opportunities being created on the board.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "55"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nf3 d5 {a Grunfeld-type idea, although delayed to the point where a transposition is not likely.} 6. cxd5 {played in the overwhelming majority of games; best to immediately challenge Black's center and exchange the flank pawn for a central one.} Nxd5 7. O-O {the normal idea of e4 in the Grunfeld would make little sense here, as White has fianchettoed his bishop already.} Nb6 {Black has several options here. The text move removes the knight from potential danger involving ideas from White that would unmask the Bg2 with a double attack.} 8. d3 {this is the most popular choice, ahead of d4, and avoids giving Black a central target.} c6 {White scores well (62 percent) after this move, which appears to be aimed at neutralizing the Bg2. However, at the same time it takes away the best square for the Nb8.} 9. Bg5 {White would not mind Black kicking the bishop with h6, as he could then retreat it to e3 or d2 and have the h6 pawn as a target.} Na6 $146 {not the ideal knight development.} (9... h6 10. Bd2 Bg4 11. Rb1 Qd7 12. Ne4 Na6 13. b4 Nd5 14. Qc1 Kh7 15. Qc2 Rfc8 16. Rfc1 Be6 17. Qa4 Nb6 18. Qa5 Nd5 19. Qa4 Nb6 20. Qa3 Nd5 21. Rc2 Ndc7 22. Qc1 Bd5 23. Bc3 f6 24. Nc5 {Csom,I (2454)-Bernasek,J (2428) Steinbrunn 2005 1/2-1/2 (50)}) 10. Qc1 {following a standard plan of eliminating the Bg7. The trade is favorable to White, as the Bg7 has more scope than its counterpart and the trade also weakens Black's fianchettoed king position.} (10. Qd2 {is slightly better choice of square, as the queen keeps an eye on the b2 and e2 pawns and allows the queen's rook more mobility. I had been concerned with blocking a possible future Nf3-d2, but here there seems to be no real reason for the knight to want to go to d2.}) 10... Re8 { anticipating and avoiding White's desire to exchange the Bg7.} (10... Bg4 { would make things more awkward for White and allow Black to trade off his light-square bishop, which has few prospects in this pawn structure, for a good White knight.} 11. Bh6 Bxf3 12. Bxf3 Bxh6 13. Qxh6 Qd4 $11) 11. Bh6 (11. Rd1 {activating the rook looks more useful.}) 11... Bh8 12. Rb1 {White has a large number of possibilities here. This may not be the most active choice, as it does nothing for White's play in the center.} Bg4 13. h3 {I wanted to resolve the situation with the bishop as quickly as possible, although the pawn move is not necessary to accomplish this.} (13. Qf4 {is a possibility that would significantly increase the queen's activity.}) 13... Bxf3 14. Bxf3 $11 {White has the pair of bishops, as Houdini notes via the Fritz interface, but not many good targets for them.} Qd7 {an expected threat against h3.} 15. Kg2 {with the idea of clearing the way for a possible Rh1 in the future.} Nc7 { Black slowly activates the knight.} 16. h4 {here I decided to pursue a strategy of prying open Black's king position. Houdini still values play in the center more, with Rd1.} Nbd5 17. h5 (17. Rh1 {as a preparatory move appears better.}) 17... Ne6 18. hxg6 fxg6 $6 {I was surprised at this, since it significantly weakens Black's pawn structure and leaves White a potential target on h7. I also saw it left the Ne6 in trouble.} (18... hxg6 19. Rh1 Nd4 $11) 19. Nxd5 $14 cxd5 20. Bg4 Rac8 $6 {the pin on the knight now causes Black a great deal of difficulty, as the rook move does nothing except force White's queen to a better square.} (20... Qd6 $5 $14 {is worthy of consideration, comments Houdini, immediately breaking the pin.}) 21. Qe3 {simple but effective, continuing to pile on the Ne6.} Kf7 (21... Rc6 22. Rbc1 Ra6 23. Rc7 Qd6 (23... Qxc7 $4 24. Bxe6+ Rxe6 25. Qxe6#) 24. Rxb7 $18) 22. Rh1 $6 { obviously my attacking skills need some work. I erroneously focused on targeting the h7 pawn, rather than continuing to go after the knight and threaten to open the f-file.} (22. f4 $1 {would have been the best way to continue.} Bf6 23. f5 gxf5 24. Bxf5 Rg8 25. Qf3 $18) 22... Bf6 23. Bg5 (23. f4 {is still the correct idea.}) 23... Rh8 (23... h5 {leads to immediate equality, according to Houdini.} 24. Bxf6 exf6 25. Bxe6+ Qxe6 26. Qxa7 Re7 $11 (26... Qxe2 $2 27. Rhe1 Qxd3 28. Qxb7+ Kg8 29. Rbd1 $18)) 24. Bxf6 $16 exf6 (24... Kxf6 $4 25. f4 Qd6 26. f5 $18) 25. Bxe6+ Qxe6 {here my board sight and calculating abilities failed. I had seen earlier that the a7 pawn would be hanging, but then only looked at ...Qxe2 without considering the follow-up of Qxb7 in response. I therefore played the next move "automatically" without thinking about it.} 26. Qxe6+ $2 (26. Qxa7 Rc7 27. Rbc1 $16) 26... Kxe6 $11 { Now we have a double rook endgame that looks very drawn.} 27. Rbc1 h5 28. f3 ( 28. e3 $5) 1/2-1/2

01 June 2014

Annotated Game #125: One tactic is all it takes

This second-round tournament game followed Annotated Game #123 and features a fatal tactical shot on the kingside after an initially rather innocuous English/Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) opening.  The English can in fact often lead to kingside attacks, despite its image as a queenside-focused flank opening.  I could have initiated the action earlier, for example with 10. Ne5 or 12. Ne2, but played in a more quiet and perhaps stereotyped fashion.  Later, I spotted the key 19. Nxf7! possibility of undermining the defenses around Black's king, which my opponent failed to see, leading him to miss the earlier saving ...Ne4 idea to block the White queen's diagonal.

Missing one tactic is often all it takes to lose a game, regardless of your level.  I credit the tactical study I've undertaken since starting this blog for allowing me to be alert to this sacrificial idea while sitting at the board.  Other useful observations about the game came out of the analysis, particularly the idea of accelerating White's central and kingside play.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "47"] {A13: English Opening: 1...e6} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 Nf6 4. Bb2 Nbd7 5. e3 Be7 6. Nc3 (6. cxd5 {is an interesting alternative, White can use it to go into a Hedgehog-type setup as in the following game featuring GM Jonathan Rowson:} exd5 7. Be2 O-O 8. d3 Re8 9. Nbd2 c6 10. a3 Nf8 11. O-O Ng6 12. b4 Bd6 13. Re1 Ng4 14. h3 N4e5 15. Bf1 Nxf3+ 16. Nxf3 Nh4 17. e4 Nxf3+ 18. Qxf3 dxe4 19. dxe4 Be5 20. Bxe5 Rxe5 {Rowson,J (2445)-Grinsell,L (2205) Walsall 1997 1-0 (32)}) (6. Be2 {is most consistently played at high levels, deferring placement of the queen's knight.}) 6... c6 {my opponent liked the reinforcement of d5, but didn't know how to subsequently develop the light-square bishop.} (6... O-O {seems indicated, but White also does quite well in the ensuing positions. Example:} 7. Qc2 c5 8. d4 b6 9. cxd5 exd5 10. Bd3 Bb7 11. O-O Rc8 12. Rad1 Qc7 13. Qb1 a6 14. Ne5 Bd6 15. f4 h6 16. Rf3 b5 17. Nxd7 Nxd7 18. dxc5 Bxc5 19. Rg3 f6 20. Bf5 Rce8 21. Qd3 Nb6 22. Ne2 Qe7 23. Nd4 Bxd4 24. Bxd4 Nd7 25. Qe2 {1-0 (25) Froewis,G (2329)-Kessler,L (2188) Linz 2011}) 7. Qc2 {d4 here scores best, but the text move also does quite well (75 percent) and keeps the game out of traditional queen pawn opening territory.} O-O 8. Be2 Re8 9. O-O (9. Rg1 {the "caveman" approach on the kingside does surprisingly well here, although the handful of database games features large ratings gaps between the opponents, for example:} Bd6 10. g4 Ne5 11. Nd4 dxc4 12. bxc4 c5 13. Ndb5 Be7 14. g5 Nfd7 15. Ne4 a6 16. Nbd6 Rf8 17. Qc3 f6 18. f4 Nc6 19. O-O-O e5 20. gxf6 Nxf6 21. fxe5 Nxe4 22. Nxe4 Bf5 23. e6 Nd4 24. exd4 Bxe4 25. d5 {1-0 (25) Ivanisevic,I (2563)-Blanco Acevedo,M (2150) Andorra 2003} ) 9... Nf8 {with this, Black vacates d7 for the bishop. However, this doesn't seem to improve things much, removes the guard of the e5 square, and takes valuable time.} (9... b6 {in order to develop the bishop on b7 is Houdini's preferred plan. There doesn't seem to be anywhere else potentially useful for the bishop.}) 10. Rac1 (10. Ne5 {would proceed immediately with a kingside attacking plan.} Ng6 11. f4 $14) 10... Ng6 11. Bd3 {the idea was to exchange off the less useful bishop for Black's knight covering e5.} (11. d4 {followed by Bd3 is an improved version of the idea.}) 11... Bd7 (11... Bd6 {instead would help control the key e5 square; the bishop is currently doing little on e7.}) 12. Bxg6 (12. Ne2 $5 {with the idea of activating the Bb2 and swinging the knight around to the kingside.}) 12... hxg6 $11 {Black has the pair of bishops, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface. That makes the engine evaluate the position as equal, albeit with a slight numeric plus to White.} 13. Ne5 {this is still a good idea, although with less impact than it could have had on move 10.} Bd6 14. Ne2 {also still useful, if late.} (14. d4 $5 { would support the e5 outpost and open up the 2nd rank for the queen.}) 14... b6 {Black begins to try and start some counterplay on the queenside with pawn advances. As he has no prospects on the kingside, this would seem to be his only available plan.} 15. f4 {with the idea of reinforcing the e5 outpost and allowing the rook lift.} Rc8 16. Rf3 c5 17. Rcf1 {bringing the other rook into the attack and also lining up against the weak f7 pawn, which tactically prevents an exchange on e5 due to the subsequent opening of the f-file.} b5 { during the game, Black's pawn advances had seemed to me to be awfully slow when compared to my developing kingside attack, but Houdini validates Black's play up until this point.} 18. Rg3 {I didn't see the ...Ne4 defense, which blocks the b1-g6 diagonal, until just after I played the move.} bxc4 $4 { my opponent misses the key threat from the Ne5.} (18... Ne4 19. Rh3 (19. Rff3 { an exchange sacrifice which I had considered as a possibility, does not in fact work:} Nxg3 20. Rxg3 Bxe5 21. Bxe5 {and White cannot break through.}) 19... Bxe5 20. Bxe5 $11) (18... Bxe5 19. fxe5 Ne4 20. Rgf3 $14) 19. Nxf7 $1 $18 {my opponent had seen that I had a possible sac on g6, but not on f7.} Qe7 ( 19... Kxf7 20. Qxg6+ {with mate in one.}) 20. Nxd6 Qxd6 21. Bxf6 Qf8 22. Rxg6 { I had for some reason thought that Qxg6 would not allow me to make further progress easily, but Houdini shows that it does. However, the tactical illusion didn't hurt, since the rook capture wins equally well.} Qxf6 {at this point Black is lost, although White has a completely won game regardless.} ( 22... cxb3 {what else?} 23. axb3 Re7 24. Bxe7 Qxe7 $18 25. f5 exf5 26. Ng3) 23. Rxf6 gxf6 24. Qg6+ {and the naked king plus a coming rook lift spell doom for Black.} (24. Qg6+ Kf8 25. Qxf6+ Kg8 26. Rf3 e5 27. Rg3+ Bg4 28. Rxg4+ Kh7 29. Qh4#) 1-0