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

25 June 2015

GM Walter Browne, 1949-2015

The full ChessBase news article is here.

I had the privilege of playing in a simul at a National Open tournament with GM Browne; the game has pride of place as Annotated Game #1 on this blog.  He was an exciting part of the U.S. chess scene for a long time, including the Fischer era.  He continued playing at a high level and with great energy through this year's National Open, being both combative and dedicated to the game while remaining a gentleman at the board.  His games, at least, will live on.

23 June 2015

Ratings can go up as you get older

I haven't included Dana Mackenzie's blog until now on my "chess improver" link list, since he's a Life Master rather than a struggling Class player, but I think it's well worth looking at "Dana 1, Father Time 0" for inspiration.  He's also one of the more entertaining bloggers out there, so well worth following.

Edit: his detailed follow-up post "How I Got Here, and What Comes Next" also offers a lot of useful practical observations and performance tips.

22 June 2015

Commentary: 2015 U.S. Championship, Round 2 (Gareev-Holt)

After a bit of a break from chess, I'm back and working on a collection of master games of interest that I've accumulated from this year.  The first one features a strong and flamboyant player, Timur Gareev, who is originally from Tatarstan in Russia but now plays in the USA.  Gareev's playing style recalls to some extent some of the more famous contrarian players of the past, such as Miles or Basman, as he likes to play provocative-looking moves and find risky-looking plans.

In this game Gareev (as White) is certainly aggressive, although on move 19 he makes a major strategic decision to opt for piece play on the kingside, rather than advance the pawns.  His pressure eventually peters out, with Black successfully focusing on defense with a quasi-Stonewall formation.  The next turning point occurs after Black sacrifices a pawn for piece play, including penetrating on the second rank.  White apparently misses a tactical trick that forces him to lose the exchange, which Black then converts with excellent form.

My personal interest in this game resulted from the opening choice (an Exchange Slav, which in this case is by no means boring), some parallel ideas with similar Caro-Kann formations earlier on and the Stonewall later in the game, and observing how Black (Conrad Holt) converted the material and positional advantage.  Well worth the study.

[Event "ch-USA 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2015.04.02"] [Round "2"] [White "Gareev, T."] [Black "Holt, C."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D10"] [WhiteElo "2604"] [BlackElo "2530"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "122"] [EventDate "2015.03.31"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Bf4 {in this early Exchange Slav variation, the bishop move is the "hot" option acording to ChessBase. In the past couple years, both Carlsen and Aronian have played it at the highest level. It also scores the best (57 percent), although that score is not necessarily reflective of the highest level.} Nc6 5. e3 {in keeping with the London System-type bishop development.} Nf6 6. Nc3 Bf5 {Black continues with standard development.} 7. Qb3 {the most challenging option. White takes immediate advantage of the Black bishop's development away from the queenside.} Na5 { there is an analagous position in the Caro-Kann Exchange variation, in which Black faces a similar choice in how to defend the b-pawn. In the Slav, the text move is both most popular and best scoring, instead of defending with the queen.} 8. Qa4+ Bd7 {this loses a tempo for the bishop, having moved twice, but the White queen has the same problem.} 9. Qc2 e6 {the main alternative is the immediate ...Rc8.} 10. Bd3 Nc6 11. a3 {the obvious prophylactic move, guarding against ...Nb4.} Nh5 {now it is Black's turn to make some threats. Harrassing the Bf4 is a common idea, but Black has not had sufficient time earlier in the game for it.} 12. Be5 Rc8 (12... Nxe5 13. dxe5 Qg5 $5 {is the engine's recommendation. The h7 pawn cannot be taken by White and White's kingside is exposed.}) 13. Nf3 Nxe5 {only one other game in the database with this move.} (13... f6 {is more often played (out of a handful of games), although it is certainly sharper, as shown in the following GM-level game:} 14. Bxh7 fxe5 15. Qg6+ Ke7 16. Qxh5 Be8 17. Qg5+ Kd7 18. Qxd8+ Kxd8 19. Ng5 Ke7 20. dxe5 Nxe5 21. Rc1 Bd7 22. f4 Nc4 23. Nd1 Kf6 24. Bd3 Nxb2 25. Rxc8 Nxd3+ 26. Kd2 Bxc8 27. Kxd3 Bxa3 28. Nf2 e5 29. g4 Bd7 30. Ke2 e4 31. h4 Bb5+ 32. Kd2 Bb4+ 33. Kc2 Ba4+ 34. Kb1 a5 35. h5 Bc6 36. Kc2 Bc5 37. Kd2 a4 38. Rb1 a3 39. Nd1 Ra8 40. Nc3 b6 41. Na2 d4 42. exd4 Rd8 43. Re1 Rxd4+ 44. Kc2 Ba4+ 45. Kb1 e3 46. Nc3 Bc6 47. Nh7+ Kf7 48. Ng5+ Kg8 49. Ne6 Rc4 50. Nxc5 Rxc3 51. Ne6 Be4+ 52. Ka1 Bd5 53. Nd4 Rd3 54. Nf5 e2 55. Ne7+ Kf7 56. Nxd5 Rd1+ {0-1 (56) Khenkin,I (2644)-Savic,M (2525) Budva 2009}) 14. Nxe5 Nf6 {Black isn't doing badly here, but White appears to have a slight edge. Note the difference between this position and Black's move 12 variation, i.e. White's strong Ne5.} 15. f4 Bd6 16. O-O g6 {this defensive move stops the f5 push and by blocking the diagonal also frees up the Nf6 from defending h7.} (16... O-O $5 {is certainly possible here and the engine considers the move to equalize. However, White's pieces are all pointing at the kingside and he would no doubt launch an attack using the kingside pawns as well. Black has good defensive resources in these types of positions, but they can be hard to deal with in practical terms.}) 17. Rf3 {White is emphasizing piece play on the kingside, transferring the rooks accordingly.} (17. Qb3 $5 {would make things awkward for Black on the queenside. White however seems more interested in kingside play.} Bc6 18. Nxc6 bxc6 19. Na4 $14) 17... Qe7 {this seems like a rather awkward and unnecessary maneuver to me, although I've done something similar in a past related position, with the idea of fianchettoing the queen for defensive purposes.} (17... O-O {looks fine.}) 18. Raf1 O-O 19. Rh3 {this is a major strategic decision for White, to focus on piece play on the kingside or try for an attack by pushing the g-pawn.} (19. g4 $5 Bxe5 20. fxe5 {and now if} Nxg4 21. Qg2 Nh6 22. Rh3 {White has compensation for the pawn, as the knight can be brought into the kingside attack via e2-f4-h5.}) 19... Be8 {Black preserves the bishop, evidently considering that White has no real ability to take advantage of Black's cramped position.} (19... a6 $5 {would take away the b5 square from White's pieces.}) 20. Qc1 Bc7 {preparing to move the bishop to a better diagonal, for example a5-e1.} 21. Qe1 Nd7 {getting out of the way of the f-pawn and also potentially looking to trade on e5.} 22. Nf3 f5 {the engine considers this position completely even. Given the semi-closed nature of it and Black's ability to easily defend the few weak points, this evaluation seems logical. It is hard to see how White can make any real progress.} 23. Nb5 a6 24. Nxc7 Rxc7 {with the exchange of minor pieces, Black no longer has the two bishops, but is also less cramped.} 25. Ng5 Nf6 {moving back to protect h7 again.} 26. Qa5 Bf7 {the bishop plays a useful defensive role here, although it looks a little strange. Neither bishop is happy in this quasi-Stonewall pawn formation.} 27. Nf3 {in keeping with the Stonewall theme, the knight heads for e5.} Rfc8 28. Ne5 Be8 {Black continues to preserve the bishop.} 29. Rhf3 {beginning the transfer of the rook away from its now unproductive h-file location.} Bb5 {an interesting choice. Black sacrifices a pawn for piece activity and practical chances.} 30. Bxb5 axb5 31. Qxb5 Ne4 { threatening the fork on d2. It is also interesting to compare the two knights; the one on e4 is significantly more effective, since its counterpart on e5 has all of its penetration squares on the 6th and 7th ranks covered.} 32. Rd1 Rc2 33. Rff1 $2 {this is the turning point in the game. Black is now able to combine his pieces effectively together to create threats.} (33. Nd3 {was necessary to defend.}) 33... Qh4 $1 $17 {this gives up the d7 square to White, who however has no time to take advantage of it.} 34. Rde1 (34. Qd7 $2 Rxg2+ $1 35. Kxg2 Rc2+ 36. Rd2 {and mate follows.}) 34... Nd2 {tactially, the Rf1 now has nowhere to go, so White loses the exchange. Gareev may have missed this on move 33.} 35. Re2 (35. Rf2 $2 Nf3+ $1 36. Rxf3 Qxe1+ $19) 35... Nxf1 36. Nf3 Qd8 {thinking defensively before consolidating the advantage.} 37. Kxf1 Rxe2 38. Kxe2 Rc2+ 39. Nd2 Qc8 $19 {Black has clear advantages both materially and positionally, but a number of moves remain before he can convert them.} 40. Kd3 Rc1 41. a4 Kg7 42. Qb4 Qc7 {carefully limitng the scope of White's queen.} 43. Ke2 Kf7 {the king now takes over the duty of protecting the e7 square.} 44. h3 h6 45. Qb5 Qc6 46. Qb4 {exchanging queens is technically best according to the engine, but in practical terms White's best hopes to hold on are with queens on the board.} Ke8 47. Kf2 g5 {Black switches to the kingside to open up some space. His queen and rook and better positioned to take advantage of it.} 48. fxg5 {this seems to play into White's idea, effectively giving Black more space.} hxg5 49. Nf3 Rc4 50. Qb3 Rc2+ 51. Kg1 (51. Kg3 $5 f4+ 52. exf4 gxf4+ 53. Kh2 $17 (53. Kxf4 $2 Rxg2 $19)) 51... g4 {now the kingside pawns make their weight felt.} 52. hxg4 fxg4 53. Ne1 Re2 $19 54. Qd1 Rxe3 55. Nd3 Qc4 { it's clear by this point that White cannot hold.} 56. Nf4 Re4 {a simple path to victory.} (56... g3 $5 {is the engine's choice, which is simply unncessarily flashy, allowing White's queen to penetrate on h5 before he eventually loses to a mate in 11. One of the pitfalls of using computer analysis is to think that this move would actually be better over-the-board, when the text move also wins and is much more easily calculated.}) 57. g3 Qxd4+ 58. Qxd4 Rxd4 59. Nxe6 Rxa4 60. Nc7+ Kd7 61. Nxd5 Ke6 {and it's all over. Black will inevitably pick up the b-pawn and win.} 0-1