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.