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