28 December 2015

Commentary: Gibraltar 2015, Round 2 (Nakamura - Harika)

Following the previous commentary from round 1 with GM Hikaru Nakamura playing a highly imbalanced Dutch Defense, we now see him using the flip side of the strategic coin as White in an English Opening.  It is instructive to see how he utilizes waiting moves in this round 2 game that have a similarly provocative motive - see particularly moves 11, 16 and 19.  He appears to be deliberately waiting for Harika to create weaknesses in her position, which he then can exploit in an immediate and concrete way.  Black's attempt at counterplay, with a knight sacrifice and a kingside attack, falls prey to precise calculation by Nakamura, who ends up with a dominant passed pawn and eventually a mate.

This back-to-back examination of two of Nakamura's games also helps illustrate how "playing style" is largely an illusion with strong players, who can use both sharp and quiet modes of play to great effect, whatever they feel is best suited for  confronting their opponent's weaknesses.

[Event "Gibraltar Masters 2015"] [Site "Caleta ENG"] [Date "2015.01.28"] [Round "2.2"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Harika, Dronavalli"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E14"] [WhiteElo "2776"] [BlackElo "2496"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2015.01.27"] 1. Nf3 {While this is often the first move of a Reti Opening, it's also a good way to be noncommital at the start of the game.} Nf6 {Black obviously thinks the same way.} 2. c4 e6 {this is now technically an English Opening and is classified as such, even though White eventually plays d4.} 3. b3 {an offbeat but perfectly fine and successful (57 percent) opening approach.} d5 {Black decides to adopt a QGD structure, a solid approach.} 4. Bb2 Be7 5. e3 {the double fianchetto with g3-Bg2 is also popular.} O-O 6. d4 {Nakamura plays this with the idea of subsequently developing the light-square bishop to d3, rather than the more conventional e2.} b6 {now Black is going for a QGD-Tartakower formation by fianchettoing his light-square bishop.} 7. Bd3 Bb7 8. O-O c5 9. Nbd2 (9. Qe2 {is an interesting alternative, freeing up d1 for the rook and forming a battery on the f1-a6 diagonal.}) (9. Nc3 {used to be played more often, but at top levels not so much recently.}) 9... Nc6 10. Rc1 Rc8 { interestingly, up until this point Nakamura is following (intentionally or not) a successful game of his opponent's (as White) from 2013. Now, as Black, Harika varies from what her opponent did previously, but she still ends up losing.} (10... cxd4 {is considered equal by the engine.} 11. exd4 Nh5 12. g3 g6 13. Qe2 Nf6 14. Rfd1 a5 15. a3 Re8 16. Nf1 Bf8 17. Ne3 Bh6 18. Ne5 dxc4 19. Bxc4 Qd6 $2 20. Bb5 Rac8 21. Bxc6 Bxc6 22. Rxc6 Rxc6 23. Qf3 Bxe3 24. fxe3 Rc2 25. Qxf6 Re7 26. d5 Rxb2 27. Nc4 Qc5 28. d6 Qh5 29. Nxb2 {1-0 (29) Harika,D (2475)-Khotenashvili,B (2514) Tashkent 2013}) 11. a3 {taking the b4 square away from the Nc6. Nakamura has an equal position and appears not to want to hurry with any major plans, but rather see in what direction his opponent wishes to go.} Re8 {following a similar plan as in the game cited above.} 12. Re1 Bf8 {this is a logical follow-up and presumably aimed at defending the kingside, but the bishop is obviously less active than it could be elsewhere, for example on d6. Unlike the above game cited with Harika as White, here she never plays the freeing ...g6, which is necessary to activate the bishop.} 13. dxc5 bxc5 14. cxd5 exd5 15. Qc2 h6 (15... g6 {is possible here, and probably preferable. It blunts the b1-h7 Q+B battery that White has established, while giving the Bf8 an outlet. Perhaps Black did not like the looks of opening the long diagonal to White's Bb2.}) 16. Qb1 {this prudently removes the queen from the c-file while preserving the battery on the diagonal. It also serves as another waiting move for Nakamura, which works to his advantage.} (16. Bf5 { is a more conventional approach.}) 16... Nd7 {this does not appear strategically consistent with the idea of maintaining a strong kingside defensive presence.} 17. Bh7+ Kh8 18. Bf5 {the advantage of this sequence, beyond simply moving to f5 directly, is that Black's king is slightly more vulnerable and her g-pawn is pinned, creating some tactical ideas for White.} Rb8 {moving away so the Nd7 is freed from the pin on the diagonal.} 19. Qa1 { very hypermodern of Nakamura and an idea associated with the Reti Opening. The queen in the corner exerts pressure on the center and against Black's king.} Qe7 $6 {one gets the impression that Black did not know how to proceed in this type of position. White now immediately takes advantage of this slip.} 20. b4 { threatening to continue with b5, which would be very awkward for the Nc6. Again the idea is to dominate the center through indirect means, in this case chasing away a piece defending e5.} cxb4 21. axb4 a6 {the logical follow-up, preventing b5. However, now White has other useful things he can do.} 22. Nb3 { the exchanges have given White a potential strong outpost on c5. Black's d-pawn is also now isolated and White has the square in front of it (d4) blockaded, making the pawn weak.} Nde5 (22... Nb6 $5 {would more directly address Black's d-pawn weakness.}) 23. Nxe5 Nxe5 24. Nc5 {after the piece exchange White's position is improved, with the strong c5 outpost occupied; note also how Black's Bf8 is doing nothing constructive. Here perhaps Nakamura expected the symmetrical ...Nc4 from Black, occupying her own outpost and cutting off the c-file. However, Harika goes wrong with her next move.} Nf3+ $2 {this sacrifice must be either the result of miscalculation or desperation on Black's part.} 25. gxf3 Qg5+ 26. Bg4 h5 27. Nxb7 Rxb7 28. Qxa6 {the key move from White's perspective. Black must lose a tempo due to the threat and White can simplify into a favorable position after making some counterthreats.} hxg4 (28... Rxb4 29. Bc3 Rc4 30. h4 Qxh4 31. Bd7 Rd8 32. Bb5 $18) 29. f4 {another key move for White, keeping the tension of multiple threats.} (29. Qxb7 $4 gxf3+ 30. Kf1 Qg2#) 29... Qe7 $18 {so White emerges from the sequence with an extra (passed) pawn and a winning game.} 30. b5 {passed pawns must be pushed!} Qd7 31. b6 Bb4 32. Red1 Re6 33. Bd4 {note again how Black's dark-square bishop is not doing anything constructive and how its White counterpart is helping dominate the game.} Rh6 $2 {this attempt to generate some threats on the h-file in fact leads to quick victory for White, as the rook partially blocks an outlet for the cornered Kh8.} (33... Bd6 {would allow resistance for a while longer.}) 34. Qa8+ Kh7 35. Rc8 Kg6 36. Rg8 Rh7 37. Qc8 {almost anything wins at this point. A queen exchange would lead to an easy (for a GM) endgame win, so Nakamura does not mind that possibility.} Qe7 {this leads to a quicker, merciful end.} (37... Qxc8 38. Rxc8 Ba5 39. Ra1 Bxb6 40. Ra6 f6 41. Rxb6 Rxb6 42. Bxb6 $18 {the extra bishop and Black's doomed d-pawn ensure a White victory.}) 38. Qxg4+ {and mate follows.} 1-0

12 December 2015

Commentary: Gibraltar 2015, Round 1 (Vojinovic - Nakamura)

With the next Gibraltar tournament coming up soon in 2016, it seems fitting that I continue my commentary games from 2015 with the following highly entertaining game from round 1 of the last tournament.  GM Hikaru Nakamura, currently the world number 2, often plays provocative, unbalanced openings when he believes it suits him strategically.  Here, against an opponent not in the same class, he deliberately passes up a balanced and objectively better / more equal game in favor of reaching a highly imbalanced position - sort of a strange Poison Pawn variation in the 2. Bg5 sideline of the Dutch Defense.  It's instructive to see how White is unable to find his way through the complex position, then turns over the initiative to Black, who is able to convert that into a concrete advantage and win relatively quickly afterwards.

[Event "Gibraltar Masters 2015"] [Site "Caleta ENG"] [Date "2015.01.27"] [Round "1.2"] [White "Vojinovic, Jovana"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A80"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "66"] [EventDate "2015.01.27"] 1. d4 f5 {Nakamura is one of the few top GMs who uses the Dutch on a regular basis. He's currently the world number 2, so it seems to be working for him.} 2. Bg5 {like with the Trompowsky Opening after Black plays 1...d5, this early Bishop sortie can be unexpected and highly annoying.} c6 {this is only the fourth most popular move (...g6 being the primary choice in the database), but scores the best for Black (45 percent).} 3. e3 Qb6 {this is the idea behind the previous move. Since White has developed his bishop early, Black will seek to take advantage of its absence on the queenside. This is also analagous to other "poison pawn" variations (such as in the Najdorf Sicilian) involving taking the b-pawn with the queen.} 4. Nd2 {this scores much better in the database than the cautious defensive move b3. Here's a sample of how Black could play in that variation:} (4. b3 g6 5. Bd3 Bg7 6. Nd2 h6 7. Bf4 d6 8. c3 Nf6 9. Ne2 O-O 10. Qc2 Nbd7 11. Bc4+ Kh7 12. Be6 c5 13. h4 cxd4 14. exd4 Nh5 15. Nf3 Ndf6 16. Bc4 e5 17. Bd2 d5 18. dxe5 Ng4 19. Bxd5 Qxf2+ 20. Kd1 Qc5 21. c4 Nf2+ 22. Kc1 Nxh1 23. Kb2 Nf2 24. Bc3 Ng4 25. Bd4 Qe7 26. Qc3 Be6 27. Re1 Rfd8 28. Bxe6 Qxe6 29. Nc1 Ng3 30. Nd3 Ne4 31. Qb4 Rxd4 32. Nxd4 Nxe5 33. Nf4 Qd7 34. Rd1 Nc6 35. Qb5 a6 36. Qa4 Bxd4+ 37. Kc2 Nc5 38. Qa3 Qe7 39. b4 Qe4+ { 0-1 (39) Amura,C (2303)-Claverie,R (2517) Mar del Plata 2014}) 4... Qxb2 { following up by taking the offered pawn, otherwise the early queen move doesn't make much sense.} 5. Rb1 (5. Bd3 {is the other popular way to play. !?} ) 5... Qc3 6. g4 {a novelty that is obviously very aggressive. Apparently no one else has tried it in international play since this game.} (6. Ne2) (6. Bd3) 6... Qa5 {unconventional play from Nakamura, for which he is well known. I suspect he was being deliberately provocative with his lower-rated opponent.} ( 6... fxg4 {is the engine recommendation. Of course the computer has no fear of the consequences to Black's kingside and considers the position level.} 7. Qxg4 {does appear premature ?!} (7. Rb3 Qa5 8. Qxg4 {is an improved version of the idea for White.}) 7... Qxc2 8. Ngf3 Nf6 9. Qh4 d6 {now White does not seem to have any way of breaking through to Black's king and therefore does not have enough compensation for the pawns. ⩱}) (6... d6 {is another, somewhat more conventional option. !?} 7. gxf5 Bxf5 8. Rxb7 Qxc2 {and Black should be OK.}) 7. gxf5 Qxf5 8. h4 (8. Ngf3 {!? has the advantage of developing a piece while protecting the Bg5.}) 8... Qa5 {at this point Black's only developed piece is his queen, but he has the extra pawn and is threatening the a-pawn. Meanwhile, White is ahead on development but has a weaker pawn structure overall as well. The position in any case is quite imbalanced, probably what Nakamura was going for.} 9. Nh3 {this leaves f3 open for the queen, but is a bit awkward development of the knight, even if it can go to f4.} g6 {another provocative, apparently weakening move.} (9... Nf6 {seems perfectly fine here.} 10. Nf4 Ne4 11. Bd3 Qxd2+ 12. Qxd2 Nxd2 13. Kxd2 d6 {however, while Black is equal, the dynamic chances in the position are certainly with White, so again this is probably not what Nakamura was looking for.}) 10. Bd3 (10. Qf3 {seems more to the point here. !?}) 10... d6 11. Qf3 Nd7 {finally, another piece developed!} 12. h5 {this is premature and lets Black equalize without difficulty. Having additional forces / pressure would have been good for White before making the pawn advance.} (12. Rg1) (12. Nf4) 12... Ndf6 13. hxg6 hxg6 14. Bxg6+ {while visually the position looks scary for Black, after the king sidesteps to d8, White has no further attacking prospects. Black however had to calculate carefully to understand this.} Kd8 15. Bf4 {this appears to be the turning point where Black takes over the initiative.} (15. Bxf6 Nxf6 16. Nf4 Rxh1+ 17. Qxh1 Bg7) 15... Kc7 {wisely evacuating the king and protecting b7, freeing up the Bc8.} 16. Ng5 Rxh1+ (16... Bg4 17. Rxh8 Bxf3 18. Ngxf3 {looks all right for Black, but White has compensation for the material and would have the more active position, again something Nakamura would not prefer. For example} Qxa2 19. c4 Bg7 20. Rh1 Nd7 21. Rh7) 17. Qxh1 Bh6 {this is a strong and (for White) annoying move. The Ng5 is threatened, but cannot simply retreat to f3 without allowing a bishop exchange on f4 that would shatter White's center.} 18. Qh4 { the only move.} (18. Qg2 {?} Bg4 {interfering with the queen's defense of the Ng5.}) (18. Nh3 {?} Bxh3 19. Qxh3 Bxf4) 18... Bd7 (18... Nd5 {immediately is preferred by the engine. !?}) 19. Bd3 {?!} (19. c4 {would now take away use of the d5 square by the knight.}) 19... Nd5 {now Black has a solid advantage, as White has run out of threats. Black meanwhile is threatening Nxf4, White's king position is significantly worse and Black can also pick up the a-pawn at his convenience. ∓} 20. Ne6+ {White attempts to solve his problems by tactical means, and fails.} (20. Nh3 Nxf4 21. Nxf4 Bxf4 22. Qxf4 Nf6 {∓}) 20... Bxe6 21. Bxh6 Nc3 (21... Ngf6 {is also good, preparing ... Rg8.}) 22. Ra1 Qb4 {moving the queen out of the pin on the a-file and preparing to take the a2 pawn.} 23. Kf1 Nxa2 {Black has realized his advantage on the board and White has no counterplay. The passed a-pawn will now prove decisive for Black.} 24. Rd1 Nc3 25. Re1 Nxh6 {finally the other knight moves! And an effective one at that, removing the two bishops' advantage from White and further simplifying down material.} 26. Qxh6 Bd7 {it's now clear that White can do little to stop Black's queenside plans, but he nevertheless tries. −⁠+} 27. f3 a5 28. Kf2 a4 29. Qg5 Rh8 {the rook is not in fact needed behind the a-pawn and this also helps keep White's rook out of the game by preemptively seizing the h-file.} 30. Qg3 Nd5 {with a discovered attack against the Nd2.} 31. Rd1 c5 (31... a3 {might be simpler.}) 32. Bc4 Nc3 33. Re1 b5 {nothing can save White, so he stops the game.} 0-1

06 December 2015

Age and Chess

IM Silman's latest article at Chess.com is "Old Age, Great Chess!"

In it, he takes as the centerpiece of his discussion IM Anthony Saidy, who is something of a legend in US chess, with his career stretching from the Fischer era to the present.  While it's intended to be an homage to Saidy, there are also some points made about age and its affect on chessplaying ability.  For those such as myself looking to improve while past the teenage years, there are a number of interesting observations in the comments section that go beyond the article's focus.

Basically, there's no need to give up hope.  Even if technically speaking we may have passed our absolute peak potential in terms of mental energy and focus, with sufficient time to devote to effortful study there's still an upswing possible on the learning and performance curve.

29 November 2015

Commentary: GRENKE 2015, Round 4 (Anand - Carlsen)

I selected this game to look at next, from several saved in my analysis queue in 2015, because of the common Stonewall theme with Annotated Game #147.  In this game, Anand as White uses a standard fianchetto approach against the Stonewall, but emphasizes play in the center early on with 8. Ne5.  Carlsen pursues a non-traditional but effective method of play as Black in the Stonewall Dutch, using the a-pawn advance to create chances for him on the queenside; Viktor Moskalenko has long followed and advocated this approach, as most recently seen in the The Diamond Dutch.  Carlsen then selectively and effectively opens the game while combating White's threats on the kingside.  Anand makes an unforced error to lose the game, so it's not a strategic win by force for Black, but Carlsen's play is certainly worthy of study and emulation by those interested in the Black side of the Stonewall.  Carlsen's long history of including it in his repertoire no doubt has given him an excellent feel for the positions, much better than that of his opponents, which gives him additional practical chances when using it in tournament play.

Original ChessBase article and analysis of the game can be found here.

[Event "3rd GRENKE Chess Classic"] [Site "Baden Baden GER"] [Date "2015.02.06"] [Round "4.3"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A90"] [WhiteElo "2797"] [BlackElo "2865"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventDate "2015.02.02"] 1. d4 f5 {The Dutch Defense is an opening that often uses alternative move-orders, especially to reach a Stonewall formation, as seen in Annotated Game #147 (a Slav Stonewall). Here Carlsen plays very straightforwardly with the text move. This may have had a psychological element as well, since the Leningrad Dutch - something Carlsen had played recently and lost with - is a more common choice and essentially requires Black to start with ...f5.} 2. g3 { Anand goes for the standard professional-level approach of a kingside fianchetto against the Dutch.} Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. c4 c6 {a useful illustration of move-order importance, as White could exchange on d5 with a slight advantage if ...d5 were played immediately.} 5. Nf3 d5 6. O-O Bd6 {the defining position of the main line of the Modern Stonewall.} 7. b3 Qe7 8. Ne5 { Bb2 and a4 (preparing Ba3) are much more popular choices. The text move is the third most often played and scores well (60 percent) - even better than the other two moves - but this may reflect the quality of opposition as well. The drawback of White's choice here is that it does not immediately help his development.} O-O {Carlsen drew the one previous game he had played in this line, with the alternate choice of ...b6 (the modern approach to Stonewall development). While the text move is relatively noncommittal, if Black wants to play ...b6 and continue his development by getting the light-square bishop out, the earlier the better.} (8... b6 9. cxd5 cxd5 10. Nc4 Nc6 11. Nxd6+ Qxd6 12. a4 Qd7 13. Ba3 Kf7 14. Nc3 Ba6 15. f3 Rhe8 16. Qd2 Kg8 17. Rfc1 Rac8 18. Ra2 h6 19. Rac2 Na5 20. Rb1 Rc7 21. Na2 Rxc2 22. Qxc2 Nc6 23. Qd2 e5 24. dxe5 Rxe5 25. Re1 Qe6 26. f4 Rxe2 27. Rxe2 Bxe2 28. Nc3 Bh5 29. Bxd5 Nxd5 30. Qxd5 Qxd5 31. Nxd5 Bf7 32. Ne7+ Nxe7 33. Bxe7 Bxb3 34. a5 bxa5 35. Kf2 a4 36. Ke3 Kf7 37. Ba3 g5 38. h4 Kg6 39. hxg5 hxg5 40. Kd2 Kh5 41. fxg5 Kxg5 {1/2-1/2 (41) Van Wely,L (2692)-Carlsen,M (2835) Wijk aan Zee 2012}) 9. Nd2 {this may look a bit unnatural, but if White's bishop goes to b2, it will need an unimpeded diagonal to be of any use, so the "natural" square on c3 is not as good. The knight will also be able to transfer to f3 and support e5 that way.} a5 { the text move is not a new idea, but it is still far from the main line ideas. It appears to have been played to good effect recently by other players, however, so perhaps that also attracted Carlsen to it.} 10. Bb2 (10. a4 Na6 11. Ndf3 Nb4 12. Ba3 Ne4 13. c5 Bc7 14. Bxb4 axb4 15. Nd3 Ba5 16. Nfe5 Nc3 17. Qd2 Bd7 18. f3 Be8 19. h4 Bc7 20. Qe3 b6 21. Rfe1 Rd8 22. Rac1 bxc5 23. Nxc5 Bd6 24. Ncd3 Rc8 25. Nc5 Kh8 26. Qf2 Bxe5 27. dxe5 Ra8 28. Qd4 Bf7 29. Nd3 Rfb8 30. e3 Ra5 31. Rxc3 bxc3 32. Qxc3 Ra6 33. Nc5 Ra7 34. f4 Kg8 35. b4 g6 36. a5 h6 37. Bf1 g5 38. hxg5 hxg5 39. Bd3 Rc8 40. Rc1 Be8 41. Qd4 Rca8 42. Rc2 Bh5 43. Rh2 Bf3 44. Kf2 g4 45. Rh5 Qe8 46. Rh4 Rh7 47. Qa1 Rxh4 48. gxh4 Qe7 49. Kg3 Kf7 50. Qa2 Kg6 51. Qc2 Kh5 52. Qh2 Rxa5 53. bxa5 Qxc5 54. a6 Qxe3 55. Qf2 Qxd3 {0-1 (55) Reshetnikov,R (2106)-Tugarin,A (2230) Voronezh 2015}) 10... Nbd7 { it is more common to have reached this position by first playing the text move, then a5. The database shows several games by Moskalenko is this line, for example.} 11. Qc2 a4 $5 {Moskalenko's idea, to disrupt White's queenside. This goes against traditional ideas of the Stonewall, which feature play exclusively in the center and kingside. However, Black can effectively distract White by using this approach and perhaps (as in this game) later on generate some chances himself on the queenside. Black need not fear White simply taking the a-pawn, as the pawn is not defensible and the capture may cause more problems by weakening the queenside structure.} 12. Ndf3 (12. bxa4 Ne4 13. Ndf3 Qd8 14. Nd3 Qa5 15. Nf4 Bxf4 16. gxf4 Qxa4 17. Qxa4 Rxa4 18. cxd5 exd5 19. e3 Nb6 20. Ne5 Be6 21. Nd3 Nd7 22. Rfd1 Rfa8 23. a3 Nd6 24. Ra2 Nc4 25. Rda1 Kf7 26. Bf3 g6 27. Bd1 R4a7 28. Bc1 Ke7 29. Bb3 b5 30. Kf1 Kd6 31. Ke2 h6 32. a4 g5 33. fxg5 hxg5 34. axb5 Rxa2+ 35. Rxa2 Rxa2+ 36. Bxa2 cxb5 37. Nb4 Ndb6 38. Bd2 Nd7 39. Bc3 Nb8 40. Bb3 Nc6 41. Nd3 Ke7 42. f3 Kd7 43. Be1 Ke7 44. Bg3 N6a5 45. Bc2 Nc6 46. Nc5 f4 47. Bf2 fxe3 48. Bxe3 Nxe3 49. Kxe3 Kf6 { 1/2-1/2 (49) Kiriakov,P (2555)-Moskalenko,V (2540) playchess.com INT 2006}) 12... Ne4 {this is a standard, strong Stonewall move. White will have to either awkwardly attack the knight with f2-f3, or exchange it off, in which case Black gets a freer game from the exchange of minor pieces.} 13. e3 { this seems like a waiting move on Anand's part, as it doesn't accomplish much for White.} a3 {the pawn advance now becomes even more annoying for White.} 14. Bc3 Nxe5 (14... g5 $5 {is an interesting option more in line with standard Stonewall plans for kingside attacks.}) 15. Nxe5 Bd7 16. Nxd7 {I'm not sure why Anand chose to exchange pieces here, since it would seem to favor Black slightly. The centralized Ne5 could then be exchanged by Black, it is true, but White would then have a strong central e5 pawn.} (16. f3 $5) 16... Qxd7 17. c5 Bc7 18. b4 {White with his last two moves has gained queenside space, which can't be bad, but it's hard to see any concrete threats as a result of it.} h5 {the engine agrees this is a strong move, but it's certainly not one a Class player would think of. Its usefulness becomes more apparent later. Among other things, it eventually may threaten ...h4 and it also frees up another escape square for the king.} (18... b5 $5 {is something I might be tempted to go with here. For example} 19. cxb6 Bxb6 20. Rfc1 Rfc8 $11 {White will find it difficult to make any progress and Black can think about redeploying the bishop via d8 to e7 or f6, as well as moving the knight to d6 and then onward.} ) 19. Be1 {the piece is doing absolutely no good where it is, so a better place must be found.} e5 $5 {Carlsen immediately takes advantage of the relaxing of pressure on e5 and opens the diagonal for his bishop. Note how effective the a3 pawn becomes as a result of this.} 20. dxe5 {this is not forced, but otherwise Black can get some useful pawn play on the e file (occupying e4 after the knight vacates it) or support a thematic push of the f-pawn.} Bxe5 21. Rd1 Qe6 {moving the queen off the d-file and the pin, while giving it a better diagonal and potential mobility along the 6th rank.} 22. f3 {White finally kicks Black's central knight from its post.} Nf6 23. Bh3 g6 { in this position, it's now evident that having Black's pawn on h5 helps restrain any ideas of a White break on g4.} 24. e4 {the logical next step for White in terms of increasing his activity, especially in terms of pressuring f5. However, the game now becomes more complicated and Black's open lines are just as good as White's.} dxe4 25. fxe4 Bb2 $1 {this is a great idea, using an interference tactic to attack the a2 pawn. White, somewhat surprisingly, has no other way of defending it. The strength of the Black bishop and the a-pawn is evident. White still has counterchances, however.} 26. exf5 Qxa2 27. Bf2 { shutting down the discovered check threat.} (27. fxg6 $4 {fails to a discovered check tactic, with the Qc2 hanging.} Bd4+) 27... g5 {an excellent example of cold-blooded defense. Exchanging on f5 would just give White more lines into Black's king position. The h and g pawns both look weak, but White cannot exploit them.} 28. Rfe1 Qf7 {time to redeploy the queen back to an effective square, among other things defending the 7th rank.} 29. Re6 Ng4 { an aggressive choice.} (29... Rfe8) (29... Rae8) (29... Nd5 {is also an interesting possibility:} 30. Rg6+ Kh7 {and now} 31. f6 {doesn't quite work, due to} Qxg6 32. Bf5 Rxf6 33. Bxg6+ Rxg6 $17 {looks good for Black, for example. It's interesting to compare the tactics in this line with the main game, since in both cases Black's a-pawn ends up being the deciding factor.}) 30. Bxg4 hxg4 31. Rg6+ Kh7 32. Rd7 $4 {a fancy move which does not work.} (32. Re6 $11) 32... Qxd7 33. f6 {this looks devastating - or that it at least could get White a perpetual check - but Black can now return the material with his own deflection tactic.} Qd1+ $1 {The cleanest.} (33... Bxf6 {may have been what Anand expected, which gives White a drawing line:} 34. Rxf6+ Kh8 35. Rh6+ Kg8 36. Rg6+ Kh8) (33... Rxf6 $1 {however also wins:} 34. Rxf6+ Kg8 35. Rg6+ Kf8 {now there is no longer the Rf8 to block the king and White has no more checks due to the Bb2 controlling f6.}) 34. Qxd1 Kxg6 35. Qd3+ Kh6 {with White out of checks and unable to further penetrate Black's position, the passed a-pawn now decides the game.} 36. h4 gxh3 {now White can postpone the inevitable for a while, but it's only a matter of time before he has to give up material to prevent the a-pawn from queening.} 0-1

22 November 2015

Annotated Game #147: Simul vs. GM Shankland

I had the good fortune to have the opportunity to participate in a simultaneous exhibition given by GM Sam Shankland, one of the USA's top players.  In the following game, I venture into Stonewall Dutch territory, which was an excellent decision.  GM Shankland was unable to make any progress against it through the opening and middlegame phases.  I could have spiced up the game by offering a pawn sacrifice on move 9 and breaking the symmetry in the center, but chose instead to maintain the symmetry and keep things level.  GM Shankland made the excellent practical choice of heading for a level endgame, since Class players like myself often make poor choices and a GM can rely on their endgame knowledge without having to calculate too much.  This was the absolutely correct strategy, since under only mild pressure on the board I incorrectly chose to simplify the queenside pawn structure with an exchange, leading inevitably to losing a pawn and the game.  Well worth the experience, nonetheless.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Shankland, Sam"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A84"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "77"] {A84: Dutch Defence: 2 c4 Miscellaneous} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 {I was expecting a more committal follow-up such as e4.} d5 {there seems no reason to delay this inevitable move} 3. d4 {now I could enter a mainline Slav with ...Nf6, but I choose to go for a Stonewall setup.} e6 4. Qc2 f5 5. e3 Nf6 6. Bd3 Bd6 { we now have the Modern Stonewall on the board, via a Slav move-order. I was happy with the opening and my prospects versus White's chosen setup. Among other things White's B+Q battery on the b1-h7 diagonal is blunted by the f5 pawn and Black's strong grip on e4.} 7. O-O O-O {again, I saw no reason to delay an essentially inevitable move. This is also a way to see what White will do before developing the queenside.} 8. b3 {White needs to develop the dark-squared bishop somehow, either to b2 or a3.} Qe7 {the standard response to b3. By controlling a3 it ensures White will have to spend another tempo with a4 if he wants to try and exchange the Bd6. Also, e7 is in general an excellent square for the queen.} 9. cxd5 {this was a surprise, as I had expected White to follow up with developing the bishop immediately, or playing a4 to prepare Ba3.} cxd5 {there are only a couple of games in the database and Black wins them with either recapture. I decided to keep the pawn structure symmetrical and not offer to sacrifice the f-pawn, which however would give Black good compensation on the kingside.} (9... exd5 10. Bb2 (10. Bxf5 Bxf5 11. Qxf5 Ne4 $11) 10... Ne4 11. Ne5 Nd7 12. f3 Nec5 13. f4 Nxd3 14. Qxd3 Nb8 15. Nd2 b6 16. Rf2 Ba6 17. Qc2 Bb7 18. Ndf3 c5 19. Ba3 a5 20. h3 Na6 21. g4 Rac8 22. Qd2 Nc7 23. Rc1 Nb5 24. Bb2 Bb8 25. dxc5 bxc5 26. Qxa5 Nd6 27. Rxc5 Nc4 28. Rxc4 dxc4 29. Nxc4 Rxc4 30. bxc4 Qxe3 31. Qc3 Qxc3 32. Bxc3 fxg4 33. Ng5 { 0-1 (33) Zamfirescu,B (2108)-Posedaru,B (2318) Olanesti 2012}) 10. Ne5 { now out of the database. This was again somewhat surprising to me, as White seems to neglect development on the queenside.} (10. Nc3 Nc6 11. a3 Bd7 12. b4 Rac8 13. Qb3 Be8 14. Na4 Bh5 15. Be2 Ne4 16. Qd1 Rf6 17. g3 Bg4 18. Kg2 Rh6 19. Ng1 Rxh2+ 20. Kxh2 Qh4+ 21. Kg2 Nxg3 22. f4 Nxe2 23. Qe1 Qh5 24. Ra2 Ncxd4 25. exd4 Rxc1 26. Rxe2 Rxe1 27. Rexe1 Qg6 28. Kh2 Qh6+ 29. Kg3 g5 30. Nc5 Bxf4+ 31. Rxf4 gxf4+ 32. Kg2 Qh4 33. Kf1 f3 {0-1 (33) Lazic,M (2220)-Shumiakina,T (2375) Ulcinj 1997}) 10... Nbd7 {my instinct was to immediately challenge the Ne5, but this might not have been the best way to do it.} (10... Bd7 {Black would be perfectly happy if White exchanged his excellent knight for the "bad" light-square bishop.} 11. Bb2 Rc8 12. Qd1 Nc6 $11) (10... Nc6 {is another pawn sacrifice with good compensation and the knight doesn't block d7.} 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Qxc6 Bb7 13. Qc2 Rac8 14. Qd1 Ne4 $11 {Black has a significant lead in piece development and the open c-file in exchange for the pawn.}) 11. f4 { bringing more symmetry to the pawn structure and reinforcing the Ne5, so it can't be exchanged off.} Ne4 {I saw no reason to delay this knight jump, which is standard in the Stonewall and clears f6, potentially for the other knight. Also, Black can now exchange on e5, since the pawn recapture will no longer fork pieces on f6 and d6.} 12. a4 {this is a slight error which I can use to improve my position in the center.} (12. Nd2 a6 $11) 12... Nxe5 13. fxe5 Bb4 { of course this would not have been possible without White's move a4 having left the b4 square weak.} 14. Ba3 {no doubt the original intent behind a4.} Bxa3 {The piece exchange effectively gives a tempo back to White. Instead, it would have been better to use it for development.} (14... Bd7 $5 15. Bxb4 Qxb4) 15. Nxa3 a6 {I preferred this as a more permanent way of denying White the b5 square, although developing with ...Bd7 might be preferable.} 16. Bxe4 { White's light-square bishop has relatively little prospect and my Ne4 is well-placed, so the exchange makes sense.} fxe4 (16... dxe4 $6 17. Nc4 $16) 17. Rxf8+ Kxf8 {this felt a little dangerous - one always hates to put their king on an open file - but it keeps the position equal. Withdrawing the queen would be the wrong choice, allowing White to penetrate to the 7th rank.} (17... Qxf8 18. Qc7 $14) 18. Qc5 Bd7 {finally developing the bishop. Just as importantly the rook is now freed on the back rank.} 19. Qxe7+ {I thought this was a little premature, so welcomed it. The exchange is a good practical choice by the grandmaster, however, as he knew his endgame technique would be far superior to mine and give him winning chances, even in a balanced position.} Kxe7 20. Rc1 Rc8 {this is fine, although given the problems I later get myself into on the queenside, perhaps simplifying things with a pawn exchange would be best at this point.} (20... b5 $5 21. axb5 axb5 22. Ra1 Rc8 23. b4 $11 { this sequence is essentially forced and leaves White with no threats.}) 21. Rxc8 Bxc8 22. a5 {although the position is still dead even, White's more advanced pawns are a potential threat.} Bd7 23. Kf2 Kf7 24. Ke1 Ke7 25. Kd2 Kd8 26. Kc3 Kc7 27. Kb4 b6 28. Nb1 Bb5 {up to this point I have been successfully nullifying all of White's ideas. While the text move doesn't lose in itself, it does present a rather obvious target for White's knight. I would be better off playing a waiting move, since White cannot force a breakthrough.} (28... g5 ) (28... Be8) 29. Nc3 {with the (limited) pressure now on, I go astray and commit to resolving the queenside pawn tension. This is a typical Class player mistake, prematurely exchanging in order to eliminate tension.} bxa5+ $4 { not seeing the rather obvious way that White will be able to win a pawn in the near future, after transferring his knight to c5.} (29... Be8 $11 {this (or another bishop retreat) is the best way to continue.}) 30. Kxa5 $18 {and just like that, White has a won game.} Bf1 31. g3 g5 (31... Kd7 {does not improve anything} 32. Na4 Ke7 33. Nc5 $18) 32. Na4 Kd8 33. Nc5 Ke7 34. Nxa6 h5 35. Nc5 h4 36. b4 hxg3 37. hxg3 Kf7 38. b5 Bxb5 39. Kxb5 (39. Kxb5 Kg6 40. g4 Kf7 41. Kc6 Ke7 42. Kc7 Ke8 43. Kd6 Kf8 44. Nxe6+ Ke8 45. Nc7+ Kf7 46. e6+ Kf6 47. e7 Kg7 48. e8=Q Kh6 49. Ne6 Kh7 50. Qd7+ Kh6 51. Qg7#) 1-0

28 October 2015

FT: Interview with Magnus Carlsen - October 2015

             Image result for magnus carlsen chess 2015

The original interview can be found here at ft.com - you may have to register (for free) to read it at the Financial Times site.

Since it's a mainstream media site (although the FT is rather highbrow), there's not a lot of chess depth.  However, spending time with Carlsen always brings up some valuable and interesting points for further consideration.  One of the most relevant ones I thought was his view of himself as an athlete, including his training regimen.  This is in tune with some previous posts here and also with the modern understanding of mind/body optimization for athletes.  For example, sports such as tennis become very mental at the top levels; it's often not an athlete's physical training that makes the difference in their performance under pressure, it's their mental toughness.

Another interesting point is Carlsen's personal love of the game and its history.  It is by no means a prerequisite for master strength to have an encyclopedic knowledge of chess world champions and their games, but there is also little doubt that it can help inform and instruct one's play.

22 September 2015

The trouble with eliminating candidate moves

I've posted before on the importance of CCT (checks, captures and threats) in generating candidate moves, especially the importance of not eliminating any of them prematurely.  It's often easy to mentally eliminate or ignore possibilities simply because they don't work at the 2-ply (one move) level of thinking.  Of course it doesn't make sense in your thinking process to endlessly recalculate capturing protected pieces that would simply result in losing material.  But it is worth looking at tactics that might eventually work if the board situation changes, either through what you do or your opponent does.

IM Silman over at Chess.com just published the article "Deadly Mindsets: He Can't/I Can't" that offers a look at this phenomenon, including a very timely example from this year's World Cup (Adams - Laznicka).  In the case of this game, it really is a one-move threat, but it visually doesn't look at first as if it should work.  These types of moves are much harder to visualize as well, since the tactic involved (a pin) may not register as easily on the mental chessboard, which is what I'm sure Black was relying on at the beginning of the sequence.

In other news, I'll be on vacation for a couple of weeks from both work and chess.  Should be good to clear the mind and then return ready to work / play harder once more.

13 September 2015

Commentary: 2015 U.S. Championship, Round 10 (Nemcova - Paikidze)

I'll finish off my commentary on selected games from the 2015 U.S. Championship with the round 10 game featuring Katerina Nemcova (whose round 9 game was previously featured) and Nazi Paikidze (whose games in round 7 and round 8 were also examined). White in this game avoids the line in the Classical Caro-Kann (11...a5!?) that Paikidze used in round 8, instead deviating early with the interesting sideline 6. Nh3.  This has some aggressive potential, as shown by the 9. f4 advance, but White is a bit slow to develop and Black equalizes by the early middlegame. After that it is a strategic war with tactical undertones, as the position's pawn structure and minor pieces are significantly imbalanced.  Eventually White overreaches and Black calculates well to find a defense while waiting to execute her game-ending mate threat.

For Caro-Kann players of either color, this game holds a lot of interest, since a number of typical themes appear.  The results of the f-pawn advance for White and the decision to execute a pawn break on c5 for Black are perhaps the most important strategically, although other common structures and ideas are contained in the game.  The tactical threats (some executed, others not) are also important to pay attention to, especially what White could have done with a bishop on h2.

Original ChessBase news article and game commentary by GM Josh Friedel can be found here.

[Event "U.S. Womens Championship 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2015.04.11"] [Round "10"] [White "Nemcova, Katerina"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B18"] [WhiteElo "2279"] [BlackElo "2333"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 {this move has little independent value, as Black almost always takes on e4 in response. However, an alternative is ...g6 followed by ...Bg7, in which case White will follow with c3, blunting the pressure on the long diagonal.} dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 {the Classical Caro-Kann.} 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nh3 {an unusual choice. The knight normally goes to f3 and the development N1e2 used to be another popular significant option. The text move is obviously offbeat, but it scores well (58 percent) and has been used in some recent high-level games.} Nf6 7. Bc4 (7. Nf4 {would transpose to the N1e2 lines.}) 7... e6 8. O-O Be7 (8... Bd6 {is often used in the N1e2-f4 lines to fight for the f4 square and is the normal choice here as well. The text move indicates that Black in this game may have had a greater concern for the h4-d8 diagonal and the g5 square. Here's a recent game that parallels White's plan in the main game, using the f4 advance:} 9. f4 Qc7 10. Kh1 O-O 11. f5 exf5 12. Nxf5 Nbd7 13. Nxd6 Qxd6 14. Bf4 Qb4 15. Bb3 a5 16. c3 Qb6 17. Bd6 Rfe8 18. Nf4 Be4 19. Nh5 Bg6 20. Nf4 Be4 21. Nh5 Bg6 22. Nf4 Be4 {1/2-1/2 (22) Rozentalis,E (2604)-Prohaszka,P (2599) Austria 2015}) 9. f4 {now out of the database, although more because of Black's unusual bishop move. The text move is also usually played in response to ... Bd6 (as shown in the game quoted above). The f-pawn advance is a logical follow-up to Nh3 as an independent line, as White takes advantage of the f4 square being open (i.e. not occupied by a knight). It also influences g5 and e5 to White's advantage.} (9. Nf4 {is usually where the knight goes.}) 9... Qd7 {this doesn't appear to be a bad move and reinforces f5. However, it blocks the Nb8's development temporarily and the f-pawn's advance is not to be feared.} (9... O-O 10. f5 exf5 11. Nxf5 Bxf5 12. Rxf5 c5 $11) 10. Kh1 {this gets the king off the now-weak g1-a7 diagonal and removes future potential tactics involving exchanges on d4 or c5. However, it's also a bit slow and should allow Black to fully equalize.} (10. Be3 { played immediately should save a tempo and cover the diagonal.}) 10... O-O ( 10... c5 $5 {whenever Black can get this pawn break in effectively without king safety issues, it's normally a good idea. White doesn't appear to have anything useful to do in response. For example, the engine can only come up with} 11. f5 exf5 12. dxc5 Qxd1 13. Rxd1 O-O $11) 11. Be3 {this reinforces d4 and helps restrain ...c5. However, now that the king is off the diagonal, it's not the most effective use of White's time.} (11. Ng5 {would seem more to the point here, again logically following up on the presence of the Nh3. Otherwise the knight is effectively doing nothing. Chasing it away with} h6 $6 {would simply waste a tempo helping the knight to a better square, from where it could then go to e5 (a much better square).}) 11... c5 {White is now better positioned to combat this pawn break.} (11... Na6 {gets the knight into the game and White has nothing better than to exchange it. This shatters the queenside pawn structure, but in Black's favor are the two bishops and a semi-open b-file.} 12. Bxa6 bxa6 $15 {Komodo 8 gives Black a small plus here. Black's pieces are, in addition to the above points, better coordinated.}) 12. f5 {White chooses to try for some action on the kingside rather than trade in the center, which would lead to a more simplified position:} (12. dxc5 Qxd1 13. Raxd1 Bxc2 14. Rc1 $11 {although the engine rates this position as equal, White seems to have the easier position to play, at least for the short term.}) 12... Bxf5 (12... exf5 13. dxc5 Qc8 {would preserve the Bg6, unlike the text move. Although the bishop is more of a "big pawn", it does well as a defensive piece on the kingside and is certainly no worse than the Nh3.} 14. b4 (14. Nf4 Bxc5 $15) 14... Rd8 15. Qe2 Nc6 $11) 13. Nxf5 exf5 14. dxc5 Ng4 {Black at this point has achieved equality and just needs to complete her development. The text move is a nice way for Black to threaten the bishop and occupy a rare advanced outpost on the kingside.} 15. Bg1 g6 {Black should not be afraid to enter into this type of pawn structure when necessary, in this case to protect the advanced f-pawn. The dark square weakness can be covered by the bishop, while White's bishop is in no position to exploit it.} 16. Bd5 $6 {this looks overly aggressive. White needs to be careful about the weak c-pawn, which is easily attacked again, and also needs to bring the Nh3 into the game.} (16. b4 a5 17. c3 $11) 16... Qc7 17. b4 {the difference with the earlier variation is that the Qc7 is now pressuring c5 already. Also note the threat to h2 from the knight and queen, which means the Bg1 cannot currently move without allowing a mate.} Nc6 {Black finally has all her minor pieces developed, and to effective squares. The queen's rook will also go to a nice square on d8.} (17... a5 $5 { would more directly attack the exposed queenside.} 18. c3 axb4 19. cxb4 Bf6 20. Rb1 Nc6 {and Black now has the initiative, for example} 21. Qb3 Bd4 $15) 18. Rb1 Rad8 19. c4 b6 {Black has a number of reasonable choices here.} (19... Bf6 {preparing ...Be5 would redeploy the bishop effectively.}) 20. Nf4 {White wastes no more time in getting her knight back into the game.} bxc5 21. bxc5 { The doubled c-pawns may be a long-term weakness, but they're also passed pawns. White's pieces are also now working together much better.} Rb8 $6 {Black may have done this just on general principles, without looking at the tactics fully. If she could recapture on b8 with the rook, that would certainly help her position. Unfortunately it doesn't work out that way.} (21... Bg5 $5) ( 21... Rc8 $5 {would free the d8 square for the other rook and also line up on the weak pawns.}) 22. Rxb8 Nxb8 {ugly, but better than the alternative.} (22... Rxb8 {the main problem with this is that now when the White bishop goes to h2, it has targets on both c7 and b8.} 23. h3 Nge5 (23... Nf6 24. Bh2 Qd7 25. Bxc6 Qxc6 26. Nxg6 hxg6 27. Bxb8 $16) 24. Bh2 Bf6 25. Nd3 Re8 26. Qa4 $16) 23. h3 $14 Ne5 24. Re1 {White brings her rook to a more effective file and generates additional potential tactical problems for Black, now that the e-file is under pressure. The Qc7 is a bit overloaded, as it cannot protect the Ne5 and support an exchange on c5 at the same time.} Bh4 {Black's best option, getting the bishop off the e-file and gaining a tempo with the attack on the Re1.} 25. Re2 Nbc6 26. Bxc6 {this dissipates some of White's pressure. The knight will now also get off the e-file.} (26. Bh2 $16 {still looks very effective.}) 26... Nxc6 27. Qd6 Qc8 {Black naturally does not exchange on d6, which would create two monster passed pawns for White.} 28. Nd5 {this position is probably what White was looking at when she decided to exchange on c6. She still has an edge, but with fewer pieces on the board there are less attacking chances.} Re8 29. Rxe8+ Qxe8 {with the additional exchange, Black probably was looking to head into an endgame with a small disadvantage, but with good drawing chances. The c-pawns look like they can be blockaded effectively.} 30. Nc7 $6 {the idea behind this move is not clear to me. In the game, it results in Black's queen moving to a much more effective centralized position, without generating any evident threats.} (30. Bf2 {would be a clever tactical way to improve White's position and get the Black bishop off the h4-e1 diagonal. The bishop has to protect f6 due to the fork threat from the Nd5.}) 30... Qe4 $11 31. Qd5 Bg3 { the bishop is now free to move and attacks the Nc7 "backwards" along the diagonal.} 32. Nb5 Qe1 {with the threat of ...Bf2} 33. Nd6 $2 {White chooses to counterattack with a threat to f7, but she runs out of threats first, losing the game.} (33. Nd4 {is the necessary defensive move.} Nxd4 34. Qxd4 $11 ) 33... Ne5 $1 {holds everything together for Black.} 34. Qa8+ {this starts a long sequence where Black's king is chased almost the entire length of the board, but eventually finds refuge.} (34. Nxf5 gxf5 35. Qd8+ Kg7 36. Qg5+ Ng6 $19 {is the best try for White, but still leaves Black winning. For example} 37. Qxf5 Be5 38. Qf2 Qc1 39. c6 Qxc4 {and Black's material advantage is decisive.}) 34... Kg7 35. Ne8+ Kh6 36. Nf6 Bf2 {Black had to calculate everything precisely to proceed with this move, but saw correctly that White would not be able to deliver mate or get a perpetual check.} 37. Qf8+ Kg5 38. Nxh7+ Kf4 39. Qh6+ Ke4 40. Ng5+ Kd3 {White has run out of moves and mate on g1 is coming.} 0-1

05 September 2015

Commentary: 2015 U.S. Championship, Round 9 (Ni - Nemcova)

The following commentary game continues the series from this year's 2015 U.S. Championship.  The round 9 game between Viktorja Ni and Katarina Nemcova features a struggle in the English with a number of typical strategic choices and positional characteristics, even if it went out of the database relatively quickly.
  • White opens up the queenside and gains space, following the standard plan of pushing the b-pawn, but this is a two-edged sword; in this game, Black could have more effectively exploited the queenside opening (on the a- and b-files) for her own purposes.  
  • White made an unusual decision to develop early and exchange her dark-square bishop.  She eliminated an often dangerous kingside piece for Black (the Nf6) but this of course came with drawbacks (such as giving Black the two bishops).  
  • The choice of where to put White's queen (on d2 or c2) is also a typical problem that I've run across.  From my own experience, it seems that it's easy to make the wrong choice, even if (or especially because) it is not an obvious error.
  • Black's decision to delay initiating her kingside counterplay (with ...f5) may have cost her time and the opportunity to more effectively pressure White.
  • The choice by Black to exchange White's fianchettoed bishop is also worth studying for both sides.  The White player in the English, for example, should have a good idea of when it is advantageous to initiate the exchange on h3 in such situations.
For those interested, the original commentary on the game by GM Josh Friedel can be found on the ChessBase site (as well as the news item for what most people paid attention to in Round 9, the infamous arbiter decision to forfeit GM Wesley So).
[Event "U.S. Womens Championship 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2015.04.10"] [Round "9"] [White "Ni, Viktorija"] [Black "Nemcova, Katerina"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A26"] [WhiteElo "2188"] [BlackElo "2279"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] [EventCountry "USA"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. a3 {White has many playable options on move four of the English Four Knights variation. This one is more in the spirit of a reversed Sicilian, but can also transpose to more standard English positions (as happens in the game).} g6 {this is a standard English way to develop the bishop and scores relatively well for Black (around 47 percent).} (4... d5 { would be the way to directly challenge White, in the style of the Open Sicilian (reversed). However Black only scores 42 percent in this line.}) 5. d3 Bg7 6. Bg5 {this isn't found in many high-level games and is an accelerated development of the dark-square bishop.} h6 7. Bxf6 {consistent, otherwise White loses time retreating the bishop. The game is now already out of the database.} Bxf6 8. g3 O-O 9. Bg2 Bg7 {the bishop retreats to protect h6 and get out of the way of the f-pawn.} 10. O-O {White now has a rather standard-looking English position, as does Black.} d6 11. Rb1 {White's typical plan is to use the b-pawn advance to expand on the queenside and push the Nc6 away, leaving the long diagonal open for White's bishop.} a5 {Black chooses to (temporarily) challenge the b-pawn advance, rather than move forward with other development and preparing counterplay on the other wing. The text move will result in opening the a-file for Black's rook, after the pawn exchange.} 12. b4 axb4 13. axb4 Be6 14. Nd5 $6 {while it's a key principle of the English to occupy d5 with a knight when advantageous, it's often difficult to understand when it is best to do so. Here the knight move is premature, as it would allow Black to block the long diagonal more effectively.} (14. b5 Ne7 15. Qc2 {is a standard and good approach.}) 14... Qd7 {with the evident idea of playing ... Bh3 as a follow-up. This is rather slow, however.} (14... Ne7 $5 { and now} 15. Nxe7+ Qxe7 16. Nd2 c6 17. b5 d5 $15 {is good for Black. For example} 18. bxc6 bxc6 {and it's clear White has no threats, while Black has a strong center and better prospects on the queenside as well.}) 15. Nd2 { this now allows the bishop to support the Nd5, which is in a strong position.} (15. b5 Ne7 16. Nd2 {would also be fine. If the Nd5 is exchanged, White would have doubled d-pawns, but the strength of the d5 pawn would be compensation for that.} Bxd5 17. cxd5 $11) 15... Ra2 {not a bad move, but the resulting continuation is a little awkward for Black.} (15... Ra3 {is the rook move preferred by Komodo 8. The difference with the text move is that the rook on a3 controls c3 and cannot be challenged by a White knight.}) (15... Nd4 { is another possibility. The knight otherwise is going to be placed rather awkwardly after White's b-pawn advance. One sample continution:} 16. e3 Bxd5 17. cxd5 Nb5 $11) 16. b5 Nd8 {essentially forced, in order to protect the b7 pawn.} 17. Nb3 {the idea behind this move is apparently to support an eventual c5 advance. This eventually comes to fruition, but the knight is nevertheless not optimally placed.} (17. Nc3 {is the obvious move here, hitting the Ra2 and clearing the long diagonal for the bishop.}) 17... c6 18. Nb4 (18. Nc3 { is also still possible.}) 18... Ra8 19. bxc6 bxc6 20. Qd2 {it's sometimes difficult in the English to figure out the best square for developing the queen. In any case, it's important to get the rooks connected and maximize the queen's utility. Here the choice is between d2 and c2. On d2, the queen has open diagonals (c1-h6 and a5-e1) but it's not clear if they can ever be utilized. On c2, it might better support the queenside and would leave d2 open for the Nb3.} Bh3 $6 {Black follows up with her original idea of exchanging the Bg2.} (20... f5 {is perhaps more to the point, getting Black's counterplay on the kingside going sooner.}) 21. Rfd1 $6 {this effectively loses a tempo for White.} (21. Bxh3 $5 {an English player needs to know when to exchange the Bg2 like this. While Black's queen always looks threatening on h3, without the support of a knight or advanced pawns it will be less effective.} Qxh3 22. c5 { taking advantage of the Nb3's presence} d5 23. Ra1 $11) (21. Ra1 {is another alternative, challenging the Ra8.}) 21... Bxg2 $15 22. Kxg2 f5 (22... Ne6 $5 { would get the knight back in the game, connect the rooks and again control c5.} ) 23. c5 {evidently this was the idea behind the positioning of the Nb3.} d5 24. d4 e4 {Black by this point has a stronger center and more space, so White needs to turn her attention to trying to contain Black's threats.} 25. f4 { this can be a key defensive move for White in these position types.} exf3+ 26. exf3 f4 27. g4 (27. gxf4 $2 Ne6 28. Nd3 Qf7 $17 {and White's shattered kingside pawns will not provide an adequate defense.}) 27... Ne6 28. Re1 Ra3 $6 {making this rook more active isn't a bad idea, but again this is not the best square for it on the a-file.} (28... Ra4 {exerts indirect pressure on d4 and can't be chased off by a knight.}) (28... Rfb8 $5 {gets the other rook into the game effectively and illustrates how White's opening of the queenside can also be a weakness, with Black's rooks looking much better placed.}) 29. Nc2 Raa8 $6 {this makes the maneuver just a waste of time.} (29... Ra4) 30. Qd3 ( 30. Na5 $5 {threatening Rb7 is an interesting idea.}) 30... Qf7 31. Re2 $11 { at this point White has blunted Black's initiative and can start manuevering again.} h5 {a good practical move by Black, as White does not find the best continuation.} 32. h3 $6 {this sort of defensive move is often instinctual, as it appears more solid than exchanging on h5. However, in that event White will be the one controlling the g-file, so it's actually better.} (32. gxh5 gxh5 33. Rg1 $11 {followed by Kh1 and White is fine.}) 32... hxg4 (32... Qf6 $15 { threatening to penetrate on the kingside, looks more effective.}) 33. hxg4 Rae8 {this removes Black's possibility of making threats on the a-file. If Black wants a rook on e8, Rf8-e8 makes more sense, since the f-pawn is already overprotected.} 34. Rbe1 {White again looks fine, now that Black's threats have dissipated.} Bf6 $6 {this is too slow and allows White some initiative.} ( 34... Qf6 $5) 35. Nb4 {now the knight is not tied to the d-pawn and can make threats of its own.} Nd8 {the only way to protect the c-pawn without losing something somewhere else.} 36. Rxe8 $6 {this is not forced and is a good example of how it is often better to maintain tension and even increase it, rather than release it prematurely.} (36. Na5 {would be the most challenging for Black, who would then have to find} Bh4 {to keep things equal.}) 36... Rxe8 37. Rxe8+ Qxe8 38. Qd2 {at this point the position looks equal/drawn, so perhaps White simply wanted to head for a draw earlier.} Ne6 39. Na5 Nxd4 { one of multiple drawing continuations. White will win the d5 pawn with her queen, but this leaves the back ranks open for Black's queen to penetrate and give perpetual check.} 40. Naxc6 Nxc6 41. Qxd5+ Kg7 42. Nxc6 Qe2+ 43. Kg1 Qe1+ 44. Kg2 Qe2+ 45. Kg1 Qe1+ 1/2-1/2

03 September 2015

Why World Champion Max Euwe Played the Slav Defense

I've posted previously here Why I Play the Slav, but it's also worth reading GM Bryan Smith's article on Chess.com on why World Champion Max Euwe played it in his matches against Alexander Alekhine.  It's not a completely one-sided tale, as Euwe did not fully rely on it as Black and also played against it (with success) as White.  This fact helps reinforce the idea that true opening mastery is about deep understanding of positions, not an emotional commitment to your chosen side.  It's also worth noting that Slav players (like myself) doing their own research into the opening with today's databases will undoubtedly run across games from Euwe in still-critical lines.  It's nice to see lessons from the 20th century still applicable to today's games.

16 August 2015

Tournament prep is less about the chess, more about you

I've had a rather busy summer with a lot of travel and limited chess study time, but still managed to do reasonably well at my latest tournament this month - I played interesting games in all rounds, didn't blunder (which always makes for more interesting games), gained some rating points and won some money.  In the past, I've been apprehensive going into tournaments with what I felt was too little prep time - in particular, not enough time to review all of my openings.  This time I tried to put that feeling aside and focus more on having a good mental attitude and taking care of myself physically both before heading into the competition and during it.

Going back to the Tournament Preparation: Chess Skills and Mental Toughness posts, your skills practice over time should boost your strength (and it's good to put extra focus on some things pre-tournament).  However, it's your ability to maximize your chances in each individual game that determines your actual performance.  "Cramming" for a chess tournament like it's an exam is not helpful, since there's simply too much information to deal with; an exam has a finite boundary (even if it seems like a lot), while chess does not.  That's why optimizing your own mental and physical state - being as relaxed, energetic and confident as possible - will do more for you in the short term when going into a tournament.  Because chess is also a creative and engaging activity, I think this is even more important, since purely rote memorization and application of ideas generally leads to failure.

A recent post over at the Chess Improver ("Tournament Prep for Older Players") contains some similar themes.  The author (Hugh Patterson) has some more specific suggestions for pre-tournament activities, which you may or may not follow - IM Josh Waitzkin and others have also focused on Tai Chi practice as a blend of mental and physical training - but the main point is that getting your mind and body in a good place is the best way to set yourself up for success in both the long and short term.

IM Josh Waitzkin

05 August 2015

Commentary: 2015 U.S. Championship, Round 8 (Abrahamyan - Paikidze)

This next game also features Nazi Paikidze, who this time as Black plays an interesting and relatively new idea in the Classical Caro-Kann (11...a5!?).  One of the benefits of doing these commentary game analyses is getting exposure to current master-level ideas, in the process obtaining a deeper understanding of how they vary from the standard plans.  Most important to understand is why the idea is different and what it means for the position.  This also provides further insight into more familiar plans, by contrasting the different evolutions of the position.

Here the main idea is to get a head start on Black's queenside expansion and also to provide a weakening pawn move (13. c3) - although analysis shows that this response is not necessarily automatic or best on White's part.  The trade-off is slightly slower development for Black and a somewhat scary-looking (albeit manageable) kingside attack for White.  Caro-Kann players need to look hard at the White ideas and Black defensive responses in these position types, for example the variations around move 21.  The rest of the game also provides some useful lessons, including from Black's perspective on the importance of centralized queen activity and why it's important not to give up when down material, instead posing as many problems as possible for your opponent.

Contemporary commentary on the game can be seen here on the ChessBase news site, with analysis by GM Josh Freidel.
[Event "ch-USA w 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2015.04.09"] [Round "8.3"] [White "Abrahamyan, Tatev"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "2322"] [BlackElo "2333"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "133"] [EventDate "2015.04.01"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 {entering the "Main Line" Caro-Kann, although these days it's the Advance Variation (3. e5) that is most played at the professional level.} dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 {the Classical Caro-Kann.} 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 e6 11. Bd2 {the standard position in this line. Now Black varies, however.} a5 $5 {this appears to be a new idea. Very little played, but with some recent high-level games where Black scores well.} (11... Ngf6 {is normally played here.}) 12. O-O-O {this seems to be an almost reflexive choice by White and scores 40 percent in the database (the alternative c4 scores 0 percent). The logic is that Black no longer can castle queenside safely, so by default must have the king stay in the center or castle kingside. White therefore castles queenside and keeps the rook on the h-file, for future attacking possibilities. This does in part play into Black's main idea, however, which is to gain space on the queenside and play there.} Bb4 {this provokes White's next move, which however is not forced. The move is universally played in the database, an indication that it is considered the obvious follow-up idea and the reason for playing ...a5 in the first place.} 13. c3 (13. Ne4 $5 {ignoring the bishop sortie and spending the tempo on mobilizing the knight is another option.}) 13... Be7 {having done its job, the bishop returns to its standard square. Now White's king is less secure, since the c3 pawn is a possible target for a future pawn lever.} 14. Qe2 Ngf6 {at this point we have a standard position, but with c3 and a5 thrown in. Structurally this has to favor Black a little, but this may be offset by the tempo invested in the pawn move, unless it is put to further good use.} 15. Ne5 {a standard attacking formation by White, seizing the central square and freeing up the space in front of the f-pawn.} O-O {while it will take good defensive (or counter-offensive) skills to protect the Black king, it's still far better off castled than sitting on the e-file.} 16. f4 Re8 {this is a standard defensive rook move in this line. While at first glance it may seem unnecessary, the e6 pawn can become a serious weak point and tactical focus for White, so the Re8 will help with that, as well as leaving the f8 square potentially open for a bishop retreat.} 17. Kb1 {this proactively gets the king off the c-file and protects the a2 pawn.} (17. f5 {is played in the only other game in the database, but Black is able to neutralize this more aggressive approach.} Bd6 18. fxe6 Rxe6 19. Nf5 Bxe5 20. dxe5 Rxe5 21. Qf3 Qf8 22. g4 Qc5 23. Be3 Qc4 24. Bd4 Qe2 25. Qxe2 Rxe2 26. g5 Ng4 27. Rdg1 c5 28. Rxg4 cxd4 29. Rxd4 Nc5 30. gxh6 gxh6 31. Nxh6+ Kh7 32. Ng4 a4 33. Rf1 Kg8 34. Nf6+ Kh8 35. Rd2 Re6 36. Kc2 b5 37. Rf5 Rc8 38. h6 Rec6 39. h7 Ne6 40. Rxb5 a3 41. Rf5 axb2 42. Kxb2 Rxc3 43. Rg2 Ng7 44. a4 R3c6 45. Rf3 Rb6+ 46. Ka3 Rc1 47. Rb2 Ra1+ 48. Ra2 Rab1 49. Rc2 Ra1+ 50. Ra2 Rab1 {1/2-1/2 (50) Bobras,P (2535) -Socko,B (2611) Germany 2015}) 17... a4 {Black normally would be looking to play the ...c5 break around this time, and this would still be a viable way to play. However, with the advanced a-pawn and White's king on the queenside, the text move is natural.} 18. Nf1 {this seems like it just wastes time. Although it frees up the space in front of the g-pawn, so would the alternative Ne4. Perhaps White was reluctant to let Black exchange a pair of minor pieces on e4, fearing it would harm her attacking possibilities.} (18. Ne4 Nxe4 19. Qxe4 Nxe5 20. fxe5 a3 21. b3 Bg5 $11 {does look OK for Black, for example.}) 18... a3 19. b3 c5 $15 {in contrast with the variation above, White's pieces are uncoordinated and Black's look well placed to follow up on the ...c5 break.} 20. g4 cxd4 21. g5 {the point of White's very aggressive play. Black now chooses the wrong path.} dxc3 $6 (21... hxg5 {this is a difficult move to play at the board, since it seems that White can now crash through on the kingside in a typical attack. However, this is not the case.} 22. h6 {for example is a typical move that normally threatens to break everything open.} (22. Nxd7 Nxd7 23. h6 g6 24. fxg5 Bxg5 $15 {is the best the engine can come up with, but Black is fine.}) 22... Nxe5 23. h7+ {looks most threatening} (23. fxe5 Qd5 $17) 23... Kh8 24. fxe5 d3 $19 {and White has nowhere to go on the h-file, thanks to his own h7 pawn.}) 22. gxf6 c2+ (22... cxd2 {is similar:} 23. fxe7 Qxe7 24. Nxd2 $16) 23. Kxc2 Nxf6 $16 {Black has sacrificed a piece for two pawns and an attack - which is always tempting, but only profitable if the attack lasts. Here, White's king appears open, but after a few moves she is able to consolidate her position.} 24. Kb1 {playing it safe, which allows Black the chance for compensation.} (24. Ng3 Rc8+ (24... Qc7+ 25. Kb1 Rac8 26. Rc1 $16) 25. Kb1 Nd5 26. Qb5 $16) 24... Rc8 $6 {this looks like an obvious follow-up, but is not threatening enough.} (24... Qd4 {threatening mate on b2 appears to be Black's best chance for compensation. It's well worth remembering that Black often needs to have a centrally-placed queen in order to do well (or even sometimes survive) in the Classical Caro-Kann.} 25. Bc1 Ne4 $1 {a hard move to spot, since it leaves the queen hanging. Black will regain the material after forking on c3.} 26. Rxd4 Nc3+ 27. Ka1 Nxe2 28. Rc4 b5 29. Rc6 Rac8 {looks close to equal.}) 25. Ng3 {White has the time to redevelop the knight, heading for e4.} Nd5 26. Rhe1 {this is too slow.} (26. Ne4) 26... Qb6 27. Ne4 f5 28. Nf2 {now Black can equalize, but she instead goes for a tactic on e3 that does not fully work.} Rc3 $6 {here the rook cannot be captured, but the maneuver Nf2-d3 gives White the advantage, unlike in the ...Bh4 variation where Black would get the exchange in compensation.} (28... Bh4 29. Nfd3 Bxe1 30. Rxe1 Rc3 $11) (28... Qd4 {remains a good idea as well.}) 29. Nfd3 Rec8 30. Rc1 Rxc1+ 31. Rxc1 Rxc1+ 32. Kxc1 {the exchanges can only benefit White, due to the material balance.} Qg1+ 33. Kc2 (33. Qe1 $5) 33... Qa1 34. Nc1 $14 { although White's king is more exposed, this is not sufficient compensation for the material, since Black cannot put together sufficient threats against it.} Bf6 $2 {overlooking White's threat on the e-file, although White immediately returns the favor.} (34... Qb2+ 35. Kd1 Qd4 $16 {would keep the queen active and centralized, while making the most of White's king in the center.}) 35. Ned3 $6 (35. Ng6 Qb2+ 36. Kd1 $18 {and either the e6 or b7 pawn will fall to White's queen.}) 35... Nc7 (35... Kf7 {would protect e6 less awkwardly and keep the centralized Nd5.}) 36. Bb4 Bb2 37. Bd6 Bxc1 38. Nxc1 Qb2+ 39. Kd1 $16 {White has covered all her bases and the reduced material makes her advantage more clear.} Qd4+ {exchanging on e2 would of course just give Black an obviously lost endgame.} 40. Qd2 Qg1+ 41. Kc2 Nd5 42. Bxa3 {an obvious move, but threatening the e6 pawn again with the queen (Qe2) might be more advantageous, as the a3 pawn isn't going anywhere.} Qh1 43. Nd3 Qxh5 {Black is still fighting hard and looking for imbalances - in this case kingside pawns to match White's queenside pawn threat - that can give her drawing chances.} 44. Bb2 Qf3 45. a4 h5 46. Bd4 h4 47. Qf2 Qh5 48. Qg1 Qf7 $6 {Black gives up the queen's activity, which has served her so well up to this point.} (48... Qe2+) (48... Qh6 {would alternatively maintain support for the h-pawn while pressuring f4.}) 49. Kb2 Nf6 50. Qg5 {White in contrast now muscles in with her queen.} h3 {it's looking desperate for Black now.} 51. Nf2 $19 (51. Qg3 { is simpler and better, guaranteeing the loss of the h-pawn.}) 51... h2 52. Qh4 {this allows Black to start making threats again.} (52. Qg2 {interestingly is the only move that retains White's significant advantage, again due to forcing the issue with the h-pawn. Black unlike in the game cannot play ...Qf7 in response, as then the response would simply be Bxf6, with the g-pawn pinned.}) 52... Qd7 53. Bxf6 $6 {White (perhaps in time trouble) seems to want to simplify, even at the cost of material.} (53. Bc3 $5) 53... Qd2+ $1 {this intermediate move equalizes, as opposes to simply recapturing on f6 immediately.} 54. Ka3 Qd6+ $2 {unfortunately, the recapture was now necessary for Black to get back in the game.} (54... gxf6 {and now whatever White does, Black will be able to get a perpetual after playing ...Qc1+}) 55. b4 gxf6 56. Qxh2 $18 {in contrast with the above variation, Black's queen is now out of position and has to spend a tempo, giving White time to act.} Qd4 57. Qg3+ Kh8 58. Nd3 (58. a5 $5 {passed pawns must be pushed!}) 58... Qc3+ 59. Ka2 b6 60. Qe3 Kh7 61. Qe2 Kg6 62. Qd1 e5 {to Black's credit, she continues to fight, taking whatever space White will give her.} 63. Qg1+ Kf7 64. Qd1 Kg6 65. Qg1+ Kf7 66. Qd1 Kg6 67. Qg1+ {and White takes the draw, evidently not seeing a way to make progress.} 1/2-1/2

25 July 2015

Expectations for improvement

The "Unrealistic Expectations" blog over at The Chess Improver is a recent helpful reality check on our general expectations for improvement.  Pessimists often say adult chess improvement is impossible, due to our failing brains as we age, while the opposing legion of optimists believe they'll make master level after a couple years.  And as for the rest of us?  Perhaps it's best just to be happy playing the game, although I do think seeing improvement over time is an integral part of my enjoyment of chess as a pastime.  Time, I believe, is the hardest factor for fully-employed adults to control and is the primary constraint on our progress.  In any case, for those who can devote effort each week to serious chess study, I say continue doing it - while being objective about your results and how far you have to go (see the Alekhine quote above).

For a more detailed look at this topic, it's also worth checking out IM Silman's "The Curse of Unrealistic Expectations" at Chess.com.

11 July 2015

Commentary: 2015 U.S. Championship, Round 7 (Paikidze-Melekhina)

IM Nazi Paikidze
The following game is from round 7 of the 2015 U.S. Championship (women's section).  IM Nazi Paikidze as White plays what starts out (via an unusual move-order) as a rather quiet Symmetrical English, but then develops into a war of positional ideas that becomes quite tactical.  Black (FM Alisa Melekhina) missed her best shot to consolidate her position on the queenside with the idea of ...a4 in the early middlegame, leaving her pawn structure shattered afterwards.  White, although a pawn down, never worried about her material deficit, due to Black's long-term inability to cover her weaknesses, and chose a more aggressive plan of play on the kingside.  White's initiative lasts most of the rest of the game, with only a temporary flare-up of activity by Black that only serves to clarify White's advantage.  The ending sequence becomes tactical, through a combination of back-rank threats and the diversion of Black's last defender.  Key themes that occur throughout the game, including the tactics swirling around the e6 pawn, make it worth close study, as well as observing how quiet positional maneuvering can evolve into tactical play.

[Event "ch-USA w 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2015.04.08"] [Round "7"] [White "Paikidze, N."] [Black "Melekhina, A."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A37"] [WhiteElo "2333"] [BlackElo "2235"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "2015.03.31"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. Nf3 g6 2. g3 c5 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. c4 Nc6 5. Nc3 {via a somewhat unusual move-order we have arrived at a Symmetrical English. Black will follow the plan of using ...e5 to challenge for control of the center and break symmetry, while White pursues a queenside strategy.} d6 6. O-O e5 {this advance gives Black a lock on d4 and greater central presence/control via her pawns. On the other hand, it blocks the Bg7 and creates a hole on d5.} 7. d3 {this opens up the c1-g5 diagonal for the bishop and also helps restrain a potential future .. .e4 advance.} Nge7 {the standard place for the knight in this variation. The knight, if placed instead on f6, would get in the way of both the Bg7 and the f-pawn, which Black may play to f5 at some point.} 8. a3 O-O 9. Rb1 a5 10. Bd2 {White's dark-square bishop development in this line is somewhat problematic, in that there is no obviously good square for it that does not also get in the way of other pieces. Keeping it on c1 makes no sense, however, so placing it on d2 is fine and the most common option. There it may also help control b4 when the time comes to make a pawn break there.} Rb8 11. Ne1 {initiating the standard plan of repositioning the knight to c2, from where it is able to help White force through the b4 break. This looks awkward at first glance, but in reality the knight is doing little on f3 and moving it also opens up the Bg2 to good effect on the long diagonal.} Be6 {Black similarly has little scope initially for her non-fianchettoed bishop, but there is a more obvious choice of where to place it. From e6, it can help cover the hole on d5 in tandem with the Ne7. Black's subsequent push of the d-pawn is also consistent with the central strategy originally initiated by playing ...e5.} 12. Nc2 d5 13. cxd5 Nxd5 {this recapture is always done with the knight, otherwise White would gain the advantage of the two bishops after exchanging with the Nc3.} 14. Ne4 { an uncommon move. Exchanging on d5 with the knight is more common, as is the alternative Ne3.} b6 {the obvious way to protect the c5 pawn.} 15. Ng5 Bc8 { naturally Black wants to preserve the bishop and avoid giving White the two bishops.} 16. Ne3 {a move that necessarily reflects an understanding of what is happening on the squares g5 and b4. The game is still in the database, which interestingly shows White scoring over 70 percent in the dozen games available, although the position seems quite equal (including to the engine).} Nxe3 (16... Qxg5 17. Nxd5 Qd8 18. b4 $11) 17. Bxe3 Nd4 {here Black diverges from previous games, which continued ...Bb7. The most recent example:} (17... Bb7 18. Nf3 Kh8 19. Qd2 Re8 20. Rfe1 Qe7 21. Qc2 h6 22. Qc4 f5 23. Qh4 Qxh4 24. Nxh4 Kh7 25. Rec1 Rbc8 26. Kf1 Ba8 27. Rc2 Rf8 28. Nf3 f4 29. Bd2 g5 30. Bc3 b5 31. gxf4 gxf4 32. Rbc1 Rg8 33. Be1 {1/2-1/2 (33) Lehmann,C (2100)-Borulya,E (2293) Germany 2008}) 18. b4 {White finally gets in the break with the b-pawn.} cxb4 19. axb4 Bg4 (19... a4 $5 {is preferred by the engine. The pawn is tactically defended, as Qxa4 would be followed by ...Nxe2.} 20. b5 Bg4 21. Nf3) 20. f3 {this is a committal and seemingly antipositional move by White, who temporarily shuts off the Bg2 and cuts off the f3 square from the Ng5. However, it's more dynamic than an alternative like Re1.} (20. Nf3 $5) 20... Bd7 21. Ne4 axb4 $6 {although Black still has a passed pawn after this trade, having an outside passed pawn on the a-file would be a greater advantage.} (21... a4 { is now an even stronger idea than before, since the passed pawn is protected by the Bd7.}) 22. Bxd4 exd4 23. Qb3 {White correctly is not in a rush to recapture the pawn, choosing to develop her queen first in an effective manner. } Re8 {lining up against the undefended e2 pawn and pinning the knight. This also frees up the f8 square for a bishop retreat.} 24. f4 {interestingly this appears to be White's only good move. It frees up the Bg2, most obviously, and her other pieces are already optimally placed.} (24. Qxb4 $2 {this would lift the pin on the f-pawn, to White's detriment.} f5 25. Nd2 Rxe2 $17) 24... Bf8 ( 24... h6 {would be a prophylactic move, taking away the g5 square from the knight.}) 25. Ng5 {another example of a patient master-level move. While Black has protected the b4 pawn, her pawn structure in the center and queenside is shattered and too vulnerable to protect in the long term. This means that White need not worry about the material deficit. Instead, she now starts a threat of her own against the weak f7 square. This threat trumps the previous pin of the knight against the e2 pawn, which we therefore can say has been tactically broken.} Be6 {an inaccuracy which allows White to gain some traction.} (25... Qf6 {or ...Qe7 defends the f7 pawn without allowing the minor piece exchange as in the game.} 26. Bd5 Rxe2 27. Nxf7 Kg7 $11) (25... Re7 {is also possible.} 26. Bd5 Be8 27. f5 Rxe2 28. Nxf7 Bxf7 29. Bxf7+ Kh8 $11) 26. Nxe6 fxe6 {in contrast with the above variations, Black no longer has the threat of ...Rxe2 because of the pawn on e6.} 27. f5 (27. Bc6 $5 Re7 28. Qxb4 { might be a simpler approach, regaining the pawn with the idea of pursuing play on the queenside. In the game, White instead prefers to increase pressure on the kingside.}) 27... gxf5 28. Rxf5 {taking advantage of the pin on the a2-g8 diagonal.} Rc8 {the best way to improve Black's position. She can't do anything about all of the air in front of her king, but she can activate the rook on the open file.} 29. Bd5 {an excellent, master-level move. White increases the pressure on the diagonal in the most effective way, while the bishop cannot be taken for tactical reasons.} Qd6 {Black appears to be trying to hold onto the extra material, in this case the b4 pawn, rather than placing her pieces on the most effective squares.} (29... exd5 $2 30. Rxd5 {and Black will lose material, due to the discovered double check threat.}) (29... Qd7 $5) 30. Rg5+ Kh8 31. Be4 {the bishop now needs to be moved, with the tactical threat of discovered check no longer there.} Rc5 32. Rg4 {exchanging on c5 would just help Black get her pawn structure in order.} b5 {I'm not sure of the point of this, which may simply be a waiting move. If so, bringing the rook back to c7 would create fewer potential problems, as we'll see shortly.} 33. Rf1 {bringing another major piece into the kingside attack.} Rc3 34. Rf7 { threatening mate on h7.} Rc7 {now we see why this would have been better played earlier, as Black is simply a tempo down.} 35. Rf5 {again using tactical themes involving the e6 pawn. The pawn remains pinned, but this time against the mating square g8 rather than the Black king.} Bh6 $6 {under pressure, Black finally cracks. She was probably focused on getting rid of the mate threat on g8, which is now covered by the Re8. She also probably saw the threats she could make after placing the bishop on e3, but White is able to easily parry them.} (35... Rc5) 36. Rxb5 $16 {now we see another drawback of Black's move 32. She now has no material compensation for her positional difficulties.} Be3+ 37. Kg2 Qf8 38. Bf3 {shutting down any threats on the f-file.} Rc1 39. Qxb4 {ignoring the check on g1. This is also a characteristic of master-level play, as amateurs too often are afraid of checks.} Rg1+ 40. Kh3 {emotionally these kind of moves can feel awkward and scary, as the king has very limited squares. However, calculation shows that Black has run out of threats.} Qf7 $2 {it's not obvious at first glance why this is bad, although White is able to quickly achieve a won position. Black does not realize that she has effectively given up control over the 8th rank.} (40... Qxb4 {is judged best by the engine, although it will likely result in a winning endgame for White.}) 41. Qd6 $18 {and there is nothing Black can do to avoid mate or major material losses. The immediate threat is Qe5+, while the queen can also support exchanging off the Re8.} (41. Rb8 {is probably the easiest winning continuation to spot, although the text move is more elegant and decisive. The problem for Black is that her back rank is under-defended, given the control of the Rg4 over the g-file and Black's king in the corner.} Qh5+ 42. Rh4 Qf5+ 43. g4 Qf7 44. Qb7 Qxb7 45. Rxe8+ Kg7 46. Bxb7 $18) 41... Qf6 (41... Bh6 42. Qxd4+ Bg7 43. Qxg1 $18) 42. Rb8 Qh6+ 43. Rh4 Qg6 44. Rxe8+ Qxe8 {unfortunately for Black, getting rid of the 8th rank threat has now left her vulnerable again on the a1-h8 diagonal.} 45. Qe5+ Kg8 46. Rg4+ 1-0

29 June 2015

Commentary: 2015 U.S. Championship, Round 4 (Wang-Foisor)

By coincidence, this game from the fourth round of the 2015 U.S. Championship (women's section), like the previous commentary game from round 2, features an Exchange Slav.  Also like the previous game, it is anything but boring.  Black follows a symmetry-breaking sideline starting on move 6 and introduces some positional imbalances with the pawn structure and central control.  White fails to challenge Black effectively, missing an interesting tactical idea involving a temporary sacrifice followed by a pawn fork, then Black's space advantage eventually makes itself felt.  It is instructive to see Sabrina Foisor as Black effectively use her advantage to increase her positional edge before winning material, as well as calmly sort her pieces in the final phase before making a decisive penetration of her opponent's territory.

[Event "ch-USA w 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2015.04.04"] [Round "4"] [White "Wang, Annie"] [Black "Foisor, S."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D13"] [WhiteElo "1901"] [BlackElo "2276"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2015.03.31"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Nf3 {White opts for a traditional Slav Exchange variation, unlike in Timur Gareev's round 2 game with Bf4.} Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 Nh5 {a useful offbeat option, that scores the best of any 6th moves for Black in the database.} (6... Bf5 {is the classical response.}) 7. Be5 f6 8. Bg3 Nxg3 (8... Bg4 $5 {is the engine's preference, although there are no games in the database with this move. It looks somewhat counterintuitive, but perhaps is worth further investigation.}) 9. hxg3 e5 {the natural follow-up to the ...f6 push. Black gains some central space.} 10. e3 (10. dxe5 $6 {doesn't work due to} d4 {and now} 11. Nb1 Qa5+ 12. Nbd2 fxe5 $15) 10... e4 11. Nd2 Be6 {developing the bishop and overprotecting d5.} 12. a3 {not the most challenging approach.} (12. Ndxe4 {is now tactically possible, due to the pawn fork on d5.} dxe4 13. d5 Bxd5 14. Qxd5 (14. Nxd5 Qa5+ $11) 14... Qxd5 15. Nxd5 O-O-O 16. Rd1 {here Black's king position is a little airy and White's pieces have slightly better prospects, although after Black tucks his king away with . ..Kb8 the position looks safe enough.}) 12... Be7 $6 {Black here seems to either overlook or discount the possibility of the pawn fork trick Ndxe4, which now after a3 has been played could lead to more of an advantage for White.} (12... f5 $5 {would address the issue.}) 13. Be2 (13. Ndxe4 dxe4 14. d5 Bxd5 {and now} 15. Nxd5 {is much more awkward for Black than in the above variation.} Qa5+ {is no longer good, due to the pawn advance b4, protected an additional time by the a3 pawn.}) 13... O-O 14. b4 {in these types of positions Black appreciates the fact that the b-pawn advance leaves a wake of weakened squares. The more advanced b-pawn can also be undermined.} f5 ({ If Black preferred to play on the queenside, one approach might be} 14... a5 15. b5 Nb8 16. Qb3 Qd6 17. Na4 b6 18. O-O Nd7 $11) 15. Nb3 {White repositions her worst piece, always a good strategic principle.} Bf7 {anticipating a White Nc5.} 16. Rc1 (16. Nc5 {is still a logical follow-up, as the knight cannot easily be forced to retreat. For example} b6 (16... Rb8 $5) 17. Na6 {and even though it is on the rim, the Na6 is rather annoying for Black.}) 16... a5 { this pawn break is now more obvious, especially with the Nb3 as a potential target of the advancing pawn.} 17. b5 Na7 18. a4 {this shuts down further advances by the a-pawn, but gives up the diagonal to Black's bishop.} b6 { Black decides to close off c5 before doing anything else.} (18... Bb4 $5) ( 18... Rc8 $5) 19. Bh5 {White overoptimistically tries to distract Black with play on the kingside. The bishop of course cannot be exchanged without giving White an attack.} g6 $15 {however, with this simple move, which has no real drawbacks for Black, White effectively loses a tempo and Black gains the initiative. The engine has shown a small plus for Black for several moves; at this point it becomes more evident.} 20. Be2 Qd6 {the queen occupies the best logical square for the knight currently stuck on the rim (Na7-c8-d6). However, we will see there are compensations for this.} 21. O-O h5 22. Qe1 Rae8 { this gets the rook into the game, so at least there aren't two unproductive pieces on the a-file. However, it could be of more use on the c-file, and eventually goes there.} 23. Nb1 {Black's space advantage is now obviously seriously cramping White.} Bd8 24. Rc2 Kg7 {getting the king out of the way of the rook, so it can go to the h-file. This could also have been played a move earlier.} 25. Qc1 Rh8 {White now faces a serious problem on the h-file and the kingside in general, with Black threatening to advance ...h4 and crack open his position.} 26. f4 $6 {White probably did not want to be squeezed to death and tries to get some space here. Unfortunately the resulting opening of the position is better exploited by Black.} exf3 27. Rxf3 Qb4 $17 28. N3d2 Bg5 { the bishop finally gets active.} 29. Nf1 {White's structure at this point is simply awful, with doubled g-pawns and a backward e-pawn that desperately needs protection. All White has going for her at this point is the c-file, which however can be easily challenged by Black.} Rc8 (29... Qxa4 {is also possible, but pawn snatching is not necessary for Black to further improve her position.}) 30. Rxc8 (30. Nc3 $5 {would put up stronger resistance.}) 30... Rxc8 31. Qd1 {now Black controls the c-file as well, with additional threats after her next move.} Qb2 $19 32. Qd3 Rc1 (32... Rc2 {would have been my natural preference, establishing the threat on the second rank, and is still winning; the text move is more effective, however.}) 33. Nbd2 Rc3 34. Qb1 Qa3 35. Qe1 Rc1 36. Qf2 Qxa4 {collecting the pawn is perhaps the simplest way forward and an easy decision before the time control.} 37. Bd3 Be6 {wisely stifling any counterplay involving a sacrifice on f5.} 38. Qe2 (38. Bxf5 Bxf5 39. Rxf5 gxf5 40. Qxf5 Be7 41. Qe5+ Bf6 42. Qxd5 Nc8 $19) 38... Qb4 (38... Qd1 {would head for a simplified and won endgame, but Black prefers to keep up the pressure in the middlegame.}) 39. Kh2 a4 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 40. Rf2 a3 41. Nf3 Bf6 42. Nh4 Bxh4 {well worth exchanging at this point, as the bishop was not doing much otherwise and it eliminates a possible attacker.} 43. gxh4 Bd7 {going for the obvious b5 target.} 44. Qf3 Qd6+ 45. Ng3 Nxb5 {at this point it's hard to see how Black could possibly lose, although White perhaps was pinning some hope on a sacrificial kingside breakthrough.} 46. Qe2 Nc7 ( 46... Qe7 {would be an elegant tactical way of meeting the threat, with the idea being ...Qxh4 followed by Qxg3.}) 47. Qd2 Rc6 {Black over the next few moves sorts out her pieces and then finally gets her queenside pawns moving, which decides the game.} 48. Rf4 Ne6 (48... b5 {immediately is more effective, as White cannot stop the next move to b4 and Black puts more pressure on her opponent immediately. It is instructive to note, however, that Black having built up such a positional advantage can take the time to sort her pieces - especially the knight - while keeping her winning advantage in hand.}) 49. Rf3 Rc8 50. Kg1 Nf8 51. Qf2 Rc1+ 52. Kh2 Nh7 53. Qd2 Rc7 54. Kg1 Nf6 55. Ne2 b5 56. Bb1 b4 57. Qd3 Ne4 {the knight, after many moves, reaches a dominant square and then deals the final blow. Black surely planned to play ...Nc3 next, but White now offers a better target.} 58. Qb3 Nd2 0-1