17 December 2016

Training quote of the day #10: Peter Zhdanov

From Peter Zhdanov's Yearbook of Chess Wisdom.
In chess, one shouldn't be too dogmatic. I had a weakness of relying too much on theoretical assessments. For example, if I realized that my position should be winning, I used to lose interest in the game and hope that it will end soon by itself. Similarly, I didn't put up the best resistance in the positions which I adjudicated as lost for myself. WGM Natalia Pogonina provided me with useful advice in this regard. According to her, you shouldn't dwell too much on the mathematical assessment of the position. Instead, it makes more sense to try to improve the life of your pieces one-by-one. If you are ahead, it will usually lead to victory. If you are behind, it might give you some counter-chances if the opponent's play is not precise enough.

11 December 2016

Commentary: 2016 Olympiad Round 7 (Shankland - Sethuraman)

This next commentary game is from round 7 of the 2016 Olympiad in Baku, which saw the United States defeat India 3.5-0.5.  GM Sam Shankland contributed to that by winning the White side of a Slav Defense against S.P. Sethuraman; original ChessBase news and analysis can be found here.  As a Slav player, I found the game interesting; I feel it's important to study losses in your openings, not just wins, which can be common to focus on.

The below game highlights a number of useful chess themes, but it's also a lesson in the value of persistent defense when under pressure, as well as how having the advantage can slip away into a loss.  Shankland was thrown on the defensive after grabbing a pawn and then running out of threats.  However, Black - under time pressure, apparently - missed several follow-up moves that would have more directly converted his advantage, for example around moves 29-30.  Although technically lost (according to the engine), Shankland kept playing effective defensive moves that helped take away Black threats, until the tide turned around move 34.  By the time move 40 was reached, it was White who had the initiative and winning threats, although the win was not assured.  The long queen and minor piece endgame is also instructive to see, both for the principles involved and for the interesting tactic 65...Bg5 which looks like it could have held for Black.

As a final introductory comment, when looking at these types of master games, it's always useful to remember the pitfalls of computer analysis and see why the top engine moves aren't made on the board, which helps improving players both better understand the game and demonstrate how practical choices often need to be made at the board, rather than always striving for an "optimal" move selection.

[Event "42nd Olympiad Baku 2016 Open"] [Site "Baku"] [Date "2016.09.09"] [Round "?"] [White "Shankland, Samuel L"] [Black "Sethuraman, S P."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D13"] [WhiteElo "2679"] [BlackElo "2640"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "150"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bg4 (4... Bf5 {is the other main choice here to stay within the Slav Defense. It's largely a matter of taste which to choose, although this variation offers White an easy route to exchange the Nf3 for the Bf5, if desired.}) 5. cxd5 cxd5 {after the exchange of pawns, Black now has to worry about the e8-a4 diagonal. However, the trade-off for White is reducing the central tension and opening the c-file, which Black usually can find useful.} 6. Nc3 e6 {White scores a remarkable 68 percent after this move, according to the database. It's remarkable because it doesn't seem warranted with the solidity of Black's position.} 7. Qa4+ {taking advantage of the open diagonal to harass Black.} Nbd7 (7... Nc6 $6 {lets White pile up the pressure and has not been played in the database.} 8. Ne5 Rc8 9. Bb5 Qb6 {and now 10. f3!? or 10. b3 look good for White, who can play comfortably on either the kingside or queenside.}) 8. Ne5 {the difference here from the previous variation is that while the knight on d7 is still pinned, it is amply defended. } a6 {a prophylactic move to take away the b5 square from White's bishop (or knight).} 9. f3 $5 {only played once before in the database (a White loss), but Komodo has it near the top of its choices.} (9. Nxg4 {is a more standard choice, with a knight for bishop exchange.} Nxg4 $11 {however, this takes the pressure off Black.}) 9... Bf5 10. g4 {the (only) logical follow-up to White's previous move. The kingside space advantage is real, but Black need not panic. However, it requires careful assessment and calculation to select the (only) reply that keeps the balance.} Bg6 $6 {this obvious move allows White to benefit from his space advantage and keep pressing.} (10... b5 {counterattacks immediately, to good effect:} 11. Qd1 {shifting the queen toward the kingside action} Nxe5 {another counterattack} 12. dxe5 Nxg4 {definitely not an obvious move} 13. fxg4 Qh4+ 14. Kd2 Bxg4 15. Qe1 Qg5 {and the engine assesses that Black has full compensation in an equal position. It is certainly more fun to play the Black side here.}) 11. h4 $16 b5 {still the best idea, but one move too late to preserve Black's game. This is a common phenomenon found in analyzing my own games, as well.} 12. Qd1 b4 {Black must keep up his counterplay on the queenside, as White is much better equipped to play on the kingside.} 13. h5 {Shankland correctly presses his own plan and ignores Black's threat.} Bxh5 {with nowhere else to go, the bishop's best move is to kamikaze while the Nc3 remains under threat.} (13... bxc3 14. hxg6 Nxe5 15. dxe5 Nd7 16. gxh7 $16) 14. Nxd7 {this looks like the easier way for White to proceed, eliminating the idea of ...Nxe5. The engine instead suggests moving the Nc3 out of harm's way first, for example:} (14. Ne2 {preparing for a kingside transfer} Bg6 {now Black seems to have gotten away with taking the h-pawn, but...} 15. Nxg6 fxg6 {forced, due to the pin on the Rh8} 16. Nf4 Kf7 { to protect the g6 pawn, again because of the pin} 17. e4 $16 {and White has more than enough compensation for the sacrificed pawn, with Black's king in an awkward position.}) 14... Nxd7 15. Rxh5 {choosing to have the semi-open h-file and an active rook.} (15. Nxd5 {would mirror the bishop's kamikaze efforts; Black could then continue with the same tactical motif:} Bxg4 16. Nf4 g5 17. fxg4 gxf4 18. Qf3 fxe3 19. Bxe3 $14 {and Black keeps the extra pawn, but White has compensation with better development and (probably) king safety.}) 15... bxc3 16. bxc3 Qc7 {targeting the backward c-pawn.} 17. Bd2 {although White has the two bishops, this doesn't seem to be an advantage here, as their scope is currently limited.} Bd6 18. Bd3 Nb6 {eyeing the c4 square.} 19. Ke2 {clearing the first rank for White's heavy pieces and getting off the h4-e1 diagonal.} h6 {this turns out to be rather loosening of Black's kingside and to give White an easy target, although technically speaking it is not a bad move. Other good options:} (19... Rb8) (19... g6) 20. g5 {Black still has the problem of the pin on the Rh8.} Kd7 {connecting the rooks and eliminating the pin problem.} 21. gxh6 gxh6 {Black's h-pawn is now passed, but also a middlegame target.} 22. Rb1 Rag8 {it's always difficult to select from different plausible-looking placements of a rook. Perhaps Black had the intent of provoking White's next move.} (22... Rab8 $5) 23. Bxa6 $2 {Shankland must have not seen a way for Black's resulting attack to bear fruit here.} (23. f4 {is preferred by the engine, which would block the Black dark-square bishop and also better prepare the capture on a6.}) 23... Rg2+ $19 24. Kd3 (24. Kf1 Rhg8 25. Rh1) 24... Ra8 { switching to offense along the a-file.} 25. Bb5+ Kd8 26. Rxh6 Rxa2 {White remains a pawn up but his king is in an awful position and Black's rooks on the second rank are strongly placed.} 27. Rh8+ Ke7 28. Re8+ Kf6 {White is now out of threats.} 29. Be1 Kg7 {stopping ideas like Bh4, but} (29... Bg3 $5 { would get the Black bishop into the attack and remove a key White defender. This looks like the simplest way to proceed.}) 30. f4 {blocking out the Black bishop.} f5 (30... Nc4 $5 {would (again) bring another piece into the attack, with strong threats.}) 31. Qb3 {Black is still winning here, but has yet to make a knockout move. White meanwhile is doing his best to contain Black's threats and generate some of his own, making winning continuations less obvious to find. The text move for example now makes the e6 pawn vulnerable.} ( 31. Rxe6 $4 Qc4+ 32. Bxc4 dxc4#) 31... Qf7 {protecting the e-pawn, but now removing the sacrificial tactic on c4.} (31... Rh2 {is a subtle continuation, seizing the h-file and setting up the threat of ...Ra3 with a deflection tactic, for example:} 32. Rxe6 Ra3 {and now} 33. Qxa3 $4 {runs into the same mating sacrifice on c4 as in the above variation.}) (31... Bxf4 {is a not-so-subtle way to proceed and win, shattering the pawns around White's king: } 32. exf4 Qxf4 33. Re7+ Kf6 $19 {with a mate in eight, according to Komodo.}) 32. Qd1 Nc4 33. Rd8 $1 {according to the ChessBase article, Sethuraman only had about two minutes left on his clock at this point, with many complications to resolve.} Be7 $6 {the obvious move, which however gives White a lot of breathing room.} (33... Nxe3 {is flagged by the engine as best, again with the idea of shattering White's protective pawns, although it is hardly easy to calculate.} 34. Kxe3 Bxf4+ 35. Kxf4 Rg4+ 36. Ke5 (36. Kf3 $2 Qh5 {with a mating net}) 36... Qf6+ 37. Kd6 Qxd8+ {winning}) 34. Rd7 $17 Rab2 {this gives White the ability to get back to equality, with the following move.} (34... Nb2+ {is probably the simplest line, forcing the win of an exchange.} 35. Rxb2 Raxb2 {but Black may have been put off by the following line:} 36. Bh4 Bxh4 37. Rxf7+ Kxf7 $19 {with a large advantage, but not so easy to evaluate. For example after} 38. Qh5+ Kg7 {wins handily, as the Bh4 cannot be captured due to the mate on d2. Calculating all this in time trouble would be difficult if not impossible, though.}) 35. Bxc4 dxc4+ 36. Kxc4 Qe8 (36... e5+ $5) 37. Rxb2 Rxb2 38. Qa1 Rb8 {again, what looks like an obvious harmless move turns out to be bad for Black.} (38... Re2 39. Kd3 Rxe3+ 40. Kxe3 Qxd7 $11) 39. Qa7 $18 { now Black is the one under major pressure.} Kf8 40. Kd3 {now White's king is no longer exposed to Black counter-threats.} Ra8 41. Qb7 Rb8 42. Qh1 {playing it safe by preventing ...Qh5 and trading off material, leading into an endgame. } (42. Qc6 $5 Qh5 43. Bd2 $18) 42... Qxd7 43. Qh8+ Kf7 44. Qxb8 $16 {queen and minor piece endgames are complicated and difficult, but Shankland manages to convert his two-pawn advantage at his leisure. His opponent could not have been in a positive frame of mind for a long, grinding defense. White keeps threatening to exchange queens while removing his king from annoying checks.} Qc6 45. Qb2 Qe4+ 46. Kd2 Qg2+ 47. Kc1 Qf1 48. Kd1 Qd3+ 49. Qd2 Qc4 50. Qe2 Qa4+ 51. Qc2 Qc4 52. Kd2 Qf1 53. Qd3 Qh1 54. Qe2 Qe4 55. Qh2 Qb7 56. Ke2 Qb2+ 57. Bd2 Qb5+ 58. Kf2 Kg6 59. Qg2+ Kf7 60. Qf3 Bh4+ 61. Kg2 Qd3 62. Qh5+ Kf8 63. Qd1 Kg7 64. Qg1 {an interesting tactical trade of material.} Qxd2+ 65. Kh3+ Kf8 $2 (65... Bg5 {is found by the engine. It is very counter-intuitive, but having the bishop choose to sacrifice itself on g5 appears to make it impossible for White to make progress after Black regains one of the pawns. For example} 66. Qxg5+ Kf7 67. Qh5+ Kg7 {White has no checks now and must lose either the e- or c-pawn.}) 66. Kxh4 $18 Qxc3 {in contrast with the above variation, White now can penetrate the kingside and threaten Black's king.} 67. Kh5 Qc6 68. Kh6 Qf3 69. Qg7+ Ke8 70. Qe5 Kd7 71. Kg7 Qg4+ 72. Kf8 Qh4 73. Qg7+ {starting the final sequence.} Kd6 74. Ke8 Qh5+ 75. Qf7 {calculating the won K+P endgame for White. } Kd5 {Black hangs the queen and resigns, although he was lost anyway.} (75... Qxf7+ 76. Kxf7 Kd5 (76... Kd7 77. d5 {an instructive temporary pawn sacrifice in the ending, undermining the f-pawn and allowing the win.} exd5 78. Kf6 { and wins.}) 77. Ke7 {and the e-pawn is doomed.}) 1-0

04 December 2016

Commentary: 2016 Russian Women's Team Championship Round 1 (Lagno - Goryachkina)

The following commentary game (Lagno - Goryachkina, from May's Russian Women's Team Championship) is the first of the last series on this blog of such games in 2016.  It features what can be a very annoying White choice against the Caro-Kann (by transposition).  Original ChessBase report and commentary can be found here.

For me the game has several standout lessons for training purposes:
  • The trickiness of the variation and Black's need to carefully consider how to neutralize White's early pressure.  Goryachkina's innovative choices in the opening (7...g6 and 8...Qd6) required careful calculation up front but paid off in the end.  8...Nb6 also looks like a fine choice for Black, with full compensation for the pawn sacrifice.
  • Black's potential piece activity was evident as of move 11 and by move 20 she was completely dominating her opponent positionally.  All of White's pieces had retreated from Black territory, while Black's knights had established outposts on the other side of the board.  This high level of fluidity in the position was possible due to the lack of central control by White and her underdevelopment, particularly evident regarding the d-pawn and the blocked-in dark-square bishop.
  • Black's ability to accurately and fully calculate for the entire game was impressive, including in the above-mentioned sequence after 8...Qd6, but also at turning points such as move 21.  Seeing moves such as 21...Nf4 and their consequences ahead of time is what master-level chess is about.
  • Finding winning moves rather than necessarily "best" moves.  Black's move 23 is a case in point, where the engine evaluation is much stronger after 23...e4, but Black goes with a more humanly understandable path (23...Nc5), playing ...e4 anyway two moves later.

[Event "TCh-RUS Women 2016"] [Site "Sochi RUS"] [Date "2016.05.01"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Lagno, Kateryna"] [Black "Goryachkina, Aleksandra"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B10"] [WhiteElo "2529"] [BlackElo "2485"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2016.05.01"] [WhiteTeam "SSM Legacy Square Capital Moscow"] [BlackTeam "University Belorechensk, Krasnodar"] 1. c4 c6 2. e4 {now we have a Caro-Kann} d5 {virtually the only response that makes sense after 1...c6, although I suppose one could transpose eventually into a Modern Defense or the like without ...d5.} 3. exd5 cxd5 4. cxd5 { this keeps the opening in its own unique variation.} (4. d4 {is another transpositional alternative, this time to the Panov-Botvinnik Attack.}) 4... Nf6 (4... Qxd5 {is the main alternative, but White scores 68 percent in the database afterwards. The Black queen will inevitably lose time relocating from d5.}) 5. Nc3 Nxd5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Bb5 {all natural developing moves by White so far.} g6 {although not used very often, this variation scores far better than its more classical counterparts, ...Nxc3 and ...e6.} 8. Qa4 Qd6 {an interesting choice that requires careful evaluation of the next sequence.} ( 8... Nb6 $5 {is almost always played here.} 9. Bxc6+ bxc6 10. Qxc6+ Bd7 11. Qe4 Bg7 $11 {almost all of the database games from this point end in a draw, with Black's compensation for the pawn including the two (outstanding) bishops, play against the isolated d-pawn, and good avenues for the rooks.}) (8... Bd7 $4 9. Nxd5 $18) 9. Ne4 {now we are in new opening territory.} Qe6 10. Nfg5 Qd7 11. Nc5 Qc7 $11 {at the end of the forcing sequence, White has kicked around the Black queen, but Black is not really behind in development, as she will have an easy time getting her bishops out, compared to the Bc1. White's minor pieces are all forward deployed, but not working together particularly well. Komodo assesses the position as equal, but White is the one who can misstep more easily here.} 12. O-O (12. Qd4 $5 {is the engine's recommendation.} Nf6 13. Qc4 e6 $11) 12... Bg7 $15 {Black is now starting to look more dangerous, as the Bg7 is now a monster on the long diagonal and White has no real threats. } 13. Bc4 Qd8 {the best way of maintaining the tension in the center, not afraid of the following sequence.} 14. Nxb7 Bxb7 15. Qb5 O-O {a cold-bloodedly correct move.} 16. Qxb7 Ndb4 {eyeing the c2 square and restricting the White queen.} 17. Qb5 Rb8 18. Qa4 Ne5 {for the cost of the sacrificed b-pawn, Black has far more piece activity, while for White the Bc1 and Ra1 are not playing.} 19. Be2 {this is too passive.} (19. d3 $5 {would give back material in order to get the Bc1 and Rf1 into the game.} Nbxd3 20. Rd1 Nxc4 21. Qxc4 Ne5 $15) 19... Ned3 $17 (19... Nbd3 $5 {also looks good.}) 20. Nf3 {it is remarkable to compare this position with the one on move 11, as all of White's pieces have retreated while Black's have advanced, and now White is behind in development.} e5 {Black has an excellent position, but it's not clear exactly what plan is best. Dominating the c-file looks good, while taking the b2 pawn at this point does not. In the game, Goryachkina with this move chose to occupy the enter with the e-pawn. She must have also calculated the next sequence as part of it, perhaps even playing the text move to encourage her opponent to challenge the Nb4.} (20... Rc8 $5) (20... Nxb2 $6 21. Bxb2 Bxb2 22. Rab1 Nd5 23. Qxa7 $11) 21. a3 $6 {White must have been feeling a little desperate by this point.} (21. Bxd3 {would have helped White gain some maneuvering room and eliminated one of the two forward-deployed knights, at the cost of a pawn.} Nxd3 22. Ne1 Nxb2 $15 ) 21... Nf4 {a forced move for Black in response, creating a counter-threat against the Be2 while the Nb4 is hanging.} 22. Bd1 Nbd3 {now the Nb4 has a place to go and Black is even more dominant. White has no good moves available, although the engine suggests Ne1 as the best defense.} 23. g3 Nc5 {a "good enough" type of move that preserves Black's advantage.} (23... e4 {is what the engine prefers. It would take advantage of the e-pawn's position and launch a decisive attack. For example} 24. gxf4 exf3 25. Bxf3 Re8 {and the f-pawn will eventually fall while Black remains dominant positionally. However, this requires a number of moves to fully unfold and in practical terms it does not look easy to clearly evaluate the situation at the board.}) 24. Qc4 Nfd3 25. Bc2 e4 $1 $19 {now the pawn advances to good effect, sacrificing itself to achieve Black's complete piece dominance.} 26. Bxd3 Nxd3 27. Qxe4 Re8 28. Qa4 { this immediately lets Black's queen into d5, but White has severe problems in any case.} (28. Qc4 Rc8 29. Qb3 Re4 {and now the rook can transfer to the c-file and pressure the trapped Bc1.}) 28... Qd5 29. Nh4 (29. Kg2 Re1 $19) (29. Qd1 Bxb2 30. Bxb2 Nxb2 31. Qc2 Rec8 32. Qb1 Qxf3 $19) 29... Nxf2 {and Black can follow up with ...Re1 and/or ...Bd4 to end the game.} 0-1

03 December 2016

An improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit?

As part of my current improvement plan, I'm (slowly) working my way through Mastering Opening Strategy by GM Johan Hellsten.  One of the exercise games (#43) in the chapter "The Nature of Development" intriguingly reminded me of an improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit.  For those not familiar with it, it is an audacious variation of the Budapest Gambit that, unfortunately, is also not quite sound.  Below are a couple of the critical lines stemming from the initial gambit, where Black, instead of 3...Ng4 as in the Budapest, plays 3...Ne4 (evaluations by Komodo 10):
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "?"] [Round "?"] [White "Fajarowicz Gambit"] [Black "?"] [Result "*"] [ECO "A51"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin"] [PlyCount "26"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ne4 4. a3 (4. Nf3 Bb4+ 5. Nbd2 d6 6. exd6 Qxd6 7. a3 Bxd2+ 8. Nxd2 Nc5 9. Nf3 Qxd1+ 10. Kxd1 Nb3 11. Ra2 Be6 12. e4 Nc5 $14) 4... Nc6 5. Nf3 d6 6. Qc2 d5 7. e3 Bg4 8. cxd5 Qxd5 9. Bc4 Qa5+ 10. b4 Bxb4+ 11. axb4 Qxa1 12. Qxe4 Bxf3 13. gxf3 Qxe5 $16 *

While the Fajarowicz is a fun gambit for Black to study - I went through Tim Harding's book The Fighting Fajarowicz with great interest - ultimately it doesn't work out as well as Black would like, unless White cooperates by not playing the main lines with 4. Nf3 or 4. a3.  It's not necessarily a loser for Black, but with some rather simple White play, Black's otherwise fascinating tactical possibilities and initiative can be neutralized, which are really the only reasons to play the gambit.  I have to give Harding a lot of credit for not over-selling Black's prospects and providing valuable, candid analysis in the book.  Harding also took another look at the opening after the book was published, if you are interested in his commentary.  (Of course he's not the only writer on the Fajarowicz, you can look up others. The short version would be the Wikipedia article, the long version the Budapest Fajarowicz (A51) webliography posted at the Kenilworthian blog.)

Having somewhat regretfully put away the Fajarowicz as a possible weapon in my opening repertoire, I was surprised and a little fascinated by the following game from Hellsten's book.  It is classified as ECO E37 - Nimzo-Indian Classical, Noa Variation.
[Event "Novgorod"] [Site "Novgorod"] [Date "1994.??.??"] [Round "4"] [White "Bareev, Evgeny"] [Black "Ivanchuk, Vassily"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E37"] [WhiteElo "2675"] [BlackElo "2695"] [PlyCount "62"] [EventDate "1994.08.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "10"] [EventCountry "RUS"] [EventCategory "19"] [SourceTitle "CBM 043"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1994.12.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1994.12.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 Ne4 7. Qc2 c5 8. dxc5 Nc6 9. Nf3 Qa5+ 10. Nd2 Nd4 11. Qd3 e5 12. b4 Qa4 13. Ra2 Nxd2 14. Rxd2 Bf5 15. Qe3 O-O-O 16. g4 Qc2 17. Rxd4 exd4 18. Qd2 Qxd2+ 19. Bxd2 Be4 20. f3 Bg6 21. cxd5 Rxd5 22. Bg2 f6 23. Kf2 h5 24. Bf4 Bc2 25. h4 Re8 26. Rc1 Ba4 27. gxh5 Rxh5 28. Bg3 Re3 29. Rc4 Rd5 30. Bd6 Rc3 31. f4 Rxd6 0-1

The key gambit characteristics for Black arise from his 6th and 7th move choices. With the first, the "Fajarowicz" knight appears on e4 and with the second, Black looks to undermine the White center for quick development.  If you look at the position on move 8, it seems like a classic Fajarowicz structure, with the benefit of White not having any minor pieces developed (just the Queen on c2, which has already been kicked once from c3).  By move 14, the thematic ...Bf5 tactical motif in the Fajarowicz has appeared, with the idea that Black's minor pieces are playing in the center, targeting key squares in White's camp and White's queen.  Could it be that this Nimzo-Indian variation is actually an improved version of the Fajarowicz?  Something to think about for both Fajarowicz fans and players who want a rock-solid opening that still has gambit possibilities.

It's fascinating to see some of these ideas for Black appear across different openings and at high levels, which reinforces several different training ideas for improving players:
  • Studying and annotating master games
  • Varying your opening study and looking outside your current repertoire for ideas
  • Studying everything - nothing you do is wasted time, if you approach the material with a critical eye and look to better understand chess principles and patterns. I doubt I'll ever actually play the Fajarowicz, but having studied the opening I can now recognize key themes about development advantages resulting from gambits, along with particular tactical ideas for Black in related structures. 

27 November 2016

Analyzing master games for training

Having wrapped up the last set of my own tournament game analysis with Annotated Game #165, I'll soon be switching to another series of master-level games for my weekly analysis training.  Alternating analyzing your own games and examining relevant master games I feel has been a helpful practice that has added depth and balance to my training program.  Annotating contemporary master-level play I've found to add dimension to a training program in several ways:
  • The overall level of play is greater, but there are still key turning points in each game that can be identified for "lessons learned", including tactical oversights and game-changing strategic decisions (good or bad). These turning points are usually more worthy of individual study than those in amateur games, since at the Class level evaluations can often fluctuate throughout the game.
  • Seeing how even top-level masters can overlook tactics (and analyzing why) offers a psychological boost for amateur players. Often we improving players despair of never achieving perfect play; there is no such thing, however, so it's best to aspire to play well, rather than to hope to never make a mistake - either by blundering, or not seeing positive opportunities on the board.
  • Finding recent "model games" in your opening repertoire can provide great insight into both opening schemes and successful middlegame planning. One of my consistent weaknesses has been the middlegame transition; often I know I have a good position out of the opening, but finding a concrete plan to further improve it is difficult, in the absence of any obvious weaknesses in my opponent's camp. I have established a separate "Model Games" database for these types of games and can also review the database of annotated master games ("commentary games") from this blog (download link in the sidebar).
I've been rather selective regarding the master games I choose, partly because there's no point in accumulating a large backlog of games which I'll never actually get around to analyzing. Other important aspects involved in selecting games are the relevance of the game and how understandable it is; often these elements are closely related.
  • Relevance: I don't limit myself to analyzing master games that fall exactly within my opening repertoire, but I do want the games to provide concrete insights related to my knowledge base and play that needs improving. Usually that means having structures and positional themes that I understand reasonably well. Sometimes it may be a particular tactic or strategic theme that catches my interest when looking at the game for the first time.
  • Understandable: basically this means that in a roughly two-hour period, with an engine for assistance in evaluating positions and the tactics available, I should be able to understand the game's overall trajectory, including why the players made particular key moves (most moves, in fact). Naturally I do much better in understanding the opening and middlegame phases that are derived from my own opening repertoire and tournament experience. I'll only consciously avoid selecting very technical or specialized games such as Sicilian Dragons or Berlin Defenses, which require a lot of depth to understand many move choices. (Not that I won't go over such games on news sites etc., but I won't select them for master game analysis purposes.)
In practice, I find that I can get a lot of mileage out of games up to around the 2500-2600 level that fall within my general opening knowledge.  This means, for example, I really enjoy looking at the U.S. Chess Championship each year (both open and women's sections).  On the flip side, it's rare that I would select a current World Championship game or the like at the 2700+ level, since that's too bleeding edge for me.  Looking at the current Carlsen-Karjakin match, though, I'm comforted by the fact that many commentators and sometimes the players themselves are also having a hard time understanding the games.

13 November 2016

Annotated Game #165: Don't play the opening on automatic

This final-round tournament game shows the danger of playing the opening phase on "automatic", in other words following a standard development scheme regardless of what your opponent does.  In this case, it was my opponent that committed this sin, choosing an interesting modern Dutch Defense hybrid setup in response to my English Opening; however, he failed to see a key positional difference (White pawn on d3 instead of d4) and early on made a strategic error with the placement of his dark-square bishop, allowing me to establish a fantastic and ultimately decisive bishop on the long diagonal.  The other thematic error made was 13...e5; it is normally an excellent idea to make this advance of the e-pawn in the Dutch, but only when you can properly support it.  Here a tactical refutation left me a pawn up and with a lasting initiative on the kingside.

This game displays a significantly higher level of play from me than in the previous one; no major mistakes occurred on my part and as noted below, I was careful to check tactics and be patient in assembling my final kingside attack, not allowing my opponent an opening for counterplay.  Of course this is easier to do when you have a solid positional and small material advantage coming out of the opening phase, but my overall mental effort was certainly at a better level this time around.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. c4 b6 2. Nf3 Bb7 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 f5 {transposing to a Dutch Defense structure with an accelerated queenside fianchetto.} 5. d3 {this keeps things in English Opening territory, instead of transposing to a full Dutch by playing d4. The main difference is that White controls e4 with a pawn, but gives up influence over e5 and c5.} Nf6 6. Bg2 Bb4 {continuing to pursue hybrid/modern ideas in the Dutch. Here I don't believe that the bishop sortie to b4 has much bite. The usual idea (with a White pawn on d4) is to increase Black's control of e4 by pinning or exchanging the Nc3.} 7. O-O O-O 8. Bd2 $14 {I thought for a while here about the best placement of the bishop and whether I should immediately play a3. I decided that in the event of a bishop for knight exchange on c3, I would like to have the bishop on the long diagonal. Of course there was no guarantee this would happen, but it turned out to be a big factor in the game. The engine also considers White to have a small plus by this point, I would say largely due to the misplacement of the Bb4, which will either have to retreat or be exchanged favorably for White.} d6 {now there's no going back for the Bb4.} 9. a3 Bxc3 10. Bxc3 {a beautiful long diagonal for the bishop, which will influence the course of the rest of the game.} Qe8 {a standard Dutch move, indicating support along the e-file for an eventual ...e5 push, along with placing the queen on the e8-h5 diagonal with a possible kingside transfer.} 11. b4 {in part this was a waiting move, but I also wanted to seize some extra queenside space and contest c5.} Nbd7 {getting my opponent's last piece developed and supporting either ...c5 or ...e5. Around here I had mentally noted that pushing ...e5 would not work tactically, as can be seen shortly in the game.} 12. Qb3 {I considered this another good point of playing b4, the ability to follow up by developing the queen to the a2-g8 diagonal. However Black can now in fact play ...e5, as shown by the engine, although it looks counterintuitive to open the diagonal in response.} ( 12. Re1 {immediately is better, setting up the tactic to follow if ...e5 is pushed.}) 12... Kh8 {moving the king off the diagonal to take away potential tactical ideas involving a discovered attack following c4-c5. However, this also puts the king in the corner, gives it fewer escape squares, and creates tactics for White involving the pin of the g7-pawn.} (12... e5 {and now the strong e/f pawn duo more than offset the weakness on the a2-g8 diagonal. Unfortunately for White the immediate capture on e5 does not work tactically, due to the presence of the rook on f1:} 13. Nxe5 $6 Bxg2 14. Nxd7 Bxf1 15. Nxf6+ gxf6 16. Rxf1 $11) 13. Rfe1 {played for tactical reasons in anticipation of Black's next move, but also for strategic reasons, in the event of the e-fiile being opened with a pawn exchange.} e5 $2 {Black's key error of the game. My opponent evidently was playing a standard plan by rote, without checking the tactics first. Indeed, normally successfully playing ...e5 in the Dutch is a very good thing.} 14. Nxe5 {this tactic works due to the fact that Black's Bb7 is hanging and that I have a kamikaze target for the Ne5.} Bxg2 15. Nxd7 Nxd7 16. Kxg2 $16 {I'm now a pawn up with no real compensation for my opponent. He does get some initiative on the kingside in return, but neglects to consider in turn my threats against Black's king.} f4 17. Qb2 {pressure on the long diagonal, in various forms, plays a critical role from here to the end of the game.} Qf7 {doubling the f-file pressure, but with an important caveat, that the queen also must protect g7.} 18. f3 {solid, but not best.} ( 18. gxf4 $1 {would be the best way to exploit the queen having to cover g7.} Nf6 19. Kh1 $18) 18... fxg3 19. hxg3 Rae8 20. Rh1 {I spent a while here making sure that this move would not compromise my defense. Black's previous sequence, by forcing the exchange of pawns, has now created some major potential threats for me down the half-open h-file.} Ne5 21. Raf1 {preventing a sacrifice on f3 and also opposing the rook (which is adequately protected) to the Qf7.} (21. f4 $5 {is another alternative that looks a little easier to play for White, perhaps.}) 21... Qe7 22. Rh4 {an important rook lift idea, with a transfer to e4 being the main point of it.} Ng6 23. Re4 $18 Qf7 {the queen remains tethered to protecting g7.} 24. Rxe8 {I also spent a while thinking about this move, finding nothing else that worked from an attacking standpoint. Reducing material (and Black's attacking chances) seemed to be a principled continuation.} Rxe8 25. e4 {this seals the e-file against further threats and allows the transfer of the queen along the second rank. The f-pawn is no longer seriously threatened.} Re6 {this represents a loss of valuable time for Black, because of my next move. I presume he was thinking of transferring it to the h-file after moving the Ng6, but this never happens.} 26. f4 {this seemed to surprise my opponent. Perhaps advancing the pawns in front of the king looks like it loosens the position, but the e4/f4 pawn duo is well supported and controls keys squares. Now f5 is threatened with the fork, but more importantly the Ng6 can no longer go to e5 and block the long diagonal.} Re7 27. Qe2 {placing it on the d1-h5 diagonal for transfer to the kingside. I checked the tactics carefully on this, given that the queen faces the Re7.} c6 {to better support a ...d5 advance.} 28. Qg4 {showing some patience in preparing the h-file attack. This also threatened penetration of Black's position on the c8-h3 diagonal.} Re8 {it's interesting to see how Black has used up tempi with this rook while I am able to do more useful things with my time, in setting up an attack on Black's king.} 29. Rh1 b5 $2 {too slow, underestimating White's threats against the king. Now material loss is inevitable along with ruining Black's position.} (29... Kg8 {would better defend, but after} 30. Qh5 h6 31. a4 $18 {now White can support progress with the e/f or the a/b pawns without Black being able to do much about it, leading to a winning endgame.}) 30. Qh5 {and now ...h6 is not possible due to the position of the Kh8 and pin on the g7 pawn.} Kg8 31. Qxh7+ Kf8 32. Rh5 { another rook lift theme; this took me a while to find.} Ne7 33. Rg5 1-0

06 November 2016

Annotated Game #164: Luck of the draw

In this fourth-round tournament game, we see several transformations of the position and several missed opportunities for both myself and my opponent.  The flank opening my opponent employs eventually turns into a Dutch Stonewall type position, with a classic kingside vs. queenside strategy.  However, neither of us properly pushes forward the correct strategy, failing to find key moves.  For Black, the notable idea of undermining White's central pawns with ...e5 appears a number of times, but I was oblivious to it.  (One of the obvious benefits of analyzing your own games is to spot and remember ideas like this for the future.)  Another key lesson was to reinforce the importance of CCT, as I missed a winning deflection tactic on move 35.  By that point my brain was tired of calculating, but all it took was examining the available checks (not very many).  In the end, I was lucky to get the draw, as my opponent's brain must have similarly been scarred by the battle that had just occurred.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "93"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 {I like to keep my options open when my opponent opens this way, in part because I assume they have a lot more depth of experience on the positions arising from more commital moves such as 1...d5.} 2. c4 c6 { supporting the ...d5 advance and indicating that I intend to enter a Slav-type structure.} 3. b3 {this was a surprise, as normally players who like flank openings get to the queenside fianchetto quicker, advancing the b-pawn on either the first or second moves.} d5 {my opening plan does not change, however.} 4. Bb2 Bf5 {this is the most played in the position, according to the database, and is the classical treatment of the Slav setup, but placing the bishop on g4 is also popular and more of the modern approach.} 5. d3 e6 6. Nbd2 {done to avoid blocking the Bb2 on the long diagonal.} Nbd7 7. g3 { providing the only viable outlet for the bishop.} Be7 {not a bad move, but an unimaginative placement of the bishop.} (7... Bc5 $5) 8. Bg2 O-O 9. O-O Re8 { done with the intention of potentially supporting an e-pawn advance, although this never happens. It's unclear if it's a waste of a tempo.} (9... h6 { is a better "waiting" type move, as it accomplishes more by covering the g5 square and providing a potential retreat on h7 for the Bf5.}) 10. a3 a5 11. d4 {this is antipositional, as it shuts in the Bb2. It also immediately gives Black control of the e4 square, which I move to occupy.} Ne4 {taking the opportunity to centralize the knight.} 12. c5 {with the idea of gaining space for White. Here I miss a good chance to attack and break up White's formation.} Nxd2 13. Qxd2 Nf6 {originally I had thought that the exchange of minor pieces helped me get this knight into play on f6; the position is fully equal. However, there was a better approach.} (13... b6 14. b4 Qc7 {and Black will be able to play ...Reb8 shortly, perhaps after taking on c5, with pressure on the queenside.} 15. cxb6 $6 {for example does not work out well for White.} Nxb6 { and now c4 will be a beautiful outpost for the knight, also shielding the c-pawn from any pressure down the file.}) 14. Qd1 Ne4 15. e3 Bg4 {again taking advantage of a White pawn advance, this time to pin the Nf3.} 16. Qd3 Bxf3 { here I took because I thought not doing so would be a waste of time, plus I had the next move in mind as a follow-up, so did not think White's light-square bishop would be very "good".} (16... Bf5 {preserving the bishop was probably better, since it has good prospects on the a7-b1 diagonal and I could always exchange a knight on e5 with my other bishop.}) 17. Bxf3 f5 { and we have now reached a Stonewall type position for Black. The Be7 would be better placed on the h2-b8 diagonal, however.} 18. Qd1 Rf8 {here Komodo thinks it is much better to play on the queenside, for example with ...b6, followed by ...Rb8. This would help activate the Be7 and the rooks, among other things.} 19. Bg2 Qe8 {the queen actually isn't better on this diagonal.} (19... g5 $5 { if I'm going to play for a kingside Stonewall attack, better to go all in soonest.}) 20. Qe1 g5 21. Bc1 (21. f3 $5) 21... Qg6 {trying to get the queen into the action, but this is rather awkward, as it doesn't really do anything on either the g-file or the a7-b1 diagonal that's very helpful.} (21... g4 { would anticipate the f-pawn advance and neutralize it.} 22. f3 Ng5 {and now Black can either exchange favorably on f3 or return to e4 if the f-pawn is pushed.}) 22. Bd2 h5 {I choose to ignore the threat to the a-pawn in favor of advancing what I thought would be a decisive attack. I was over-optimistic, however.} (22... Bd8 {however is a fine defensive move, giving up nothing in terms of the bishop's action.}) (22... e5 $5 {is also an interesting idea and a thematic one in the Dutch, undermining White's central pawn structure.} 23. dxe5 Nxc5) 23. Bxe4 dxe4 {these types of pawn recapture decisions can be tough, as it's not clear which one is best.} (23... fxe4 {is preferred by the engine.} 24. Bxa5 Rf7 25. a4 Qf5 {and Black has full compensation for the pawn, given the pressure down the f-file, the threat of the queen penetrating on the kingside, and the threat of the h-pawn advance.}) 24. Bxa5 Rf7 25. Bd2 Raf8 26. Qe2 Rh7 $6 {I thought for a long time here and could not come to a definite conclusion as to the best way to continue the attack. This was definitely not the way, however. The rook was better placed on f7 to support the attack.} ( 26... f4 {with Black's pieces in place, no better time to force the issue.} 27. gxf4 (27. exf4 gxf4 28. Kh1 fxg3 29. fxg3 Rxf1+ 30. Rxf1 Rxf1+ 31. Qxf1 e3 $1 $15) 27... gxf4+ 28. Kh1 f3 29. Rg1 fxe2 30. Rxg6+ Kh7 31. Rag1 $11) 27. h3 { my opponent erred here by continuing to play on the kingside. With an extra queenside pawn, the best strategy would be to mobilize it, if I insist on taking longer than necessary to press things on the kingside.} (27. a4 $16 { and now for example} h4 28. a5 g4 29. a6 bxa6 30. Rxa6 {and Black has to defend the c-pawn or let the White pawns roll through unimpeded.}) 27... h4 28. g4 Rhf7 {admitting that the rook move to h7 was a waste of time.} 29. f3 $6 { unnecessarily giving me another target.} exf3 (29... fxg4 30. fxg4 Rf3 $1 $15 { is the idea the engine finds, which I did not. Not a decisive blow, but still quite good for Black.}) 30. Rxf3 fxg4 31. Rxf7 Qxf7 $15 32. hxg4 (32. Rf1 $2 Qxf1+ 33. Qxf1 Rxf1+ 34. Kxf1 gxh3 $19) (32. Qxg4 $15) 32... Qf3 {here I started to despair a bit, my attack having failed to produce a decisive breakthrough. This was completely unnecessary, however. The text move is OK, but there are better - albeit more subtle - alternatives.} (32... e5 $15 { is one good idea, thematically breaking up White's central pawn chain.}) (32... Qh7 {is another maneuver, with the idea of maneuvering with the queen to get a more favorable position. For example} 33. e4 e5 34. Qc4+ Qf7 35. Qxf7+ Rxf7 $17 {and White's position in the center is undermined.}) 33. Qg2 h3 {a good move, but again I was thinking with more desperation - unnecessarily - than objectivity. My brain was also rather tired by this point after a lot of calculating.} 34. Qxf3 Rxf3 35. Rf1 $2 Rg3+ {this is a good move, but there's a much better one...} (35... h2+ $1 {wins with a deflection tactic, as the king is overloaded trying to protect both the Rf1 and the h1 queening square. I was experiencing tunnel vision, however, and didn't even consider the pawn move. Another example of the importance of CCT in the thinking process.}) 36. Kh1 Rxg4 37. Rg1 Rxg1+ 38. Kxg1 Bd8 {this turns out to be a wasted tempo.} ( 38... e5 $1 {is the idea that I continued to fail to find. It would be winning here.}) 39. e4 {now ...Bc7 won't work, due to e4-e5...or so I thought. I'd stopped thinking properly by this point, failing to consider my opponent's responses.} g4 40. Kh2 $2 Bh4 (40... Bc7+ $1 41. e5 Kg7 {and now the king marches to e4 and victory.}) 41. Bf4 Kf7 42. b4 Bf2 43. Be5 Kg6 $11 44. a4 Kg5 $2 (44... Kf7) 45. b5 {my opponent finds the right idea, mobilizing his queenside majority, but in the end fails to follow through, due to his concern about my kingside play.} Kh4 46. Bf6+ Kh5 47. Be5 1/2-1/2

16 October 2016

Annotated Game #163: Time for a draw

I was happy to get a draw in this third-round tournament game, after mishandling a rather tricky queenside situation in the English.  Black here does well to get a supported queenside pawn advance first (12...b5) and then takes advantage of my failure to immediately exchange, gaining an advantage in space and piece coordination.  Again my analysis reveals the importance of focusing on sequencing issues in calcuation (my move 14 should have been played on move 13) and there is also a similar overall theme between this game and Annotated Game #161; somewhat less desperately this time, I again rely on kingside counterplay and threats to gain a positive outcome, in this case a draw in a difficult position.  My opponent's time situation was the largest determining factor, as playing out the complicated double rook and pawns endgame seemed to hold little attraction for either of us.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A38"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c5 3. Nf3 g6 4. g3 Bg7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O {in the Symmetrical English, White can essentially rattle off the previous sequence of moves regardless of Black's setup, as long as there are no direct challenges in the center (such as with ..d5).} Nc6 7. d3 d6 {continuing the symmetry, an easy if unchallenging approach in the center.} 8. Bd2 {this is somewhat committal in terms of developing the bishop, although it was hard for me to see a better square for it at this point.} (8. Rb1) 8... a6 9. Qc1 {the point of the previous move is that it gives White the opportunity to try and exchange the Bg7.} Re8 {Black decides to prevent the exchange.} 10. Bh6 Bh8 11. a3 {taking the b4 square away from the Nc6 and helping prepare an eventual b-pawn advance. } Rb8 12. Rb1 {this preparatory move is usually played earlier, but is fine now. I don't handle Black's next well, however.} b5 13. Nd2 {this gives Black a little too much leeway and leads to ceding the initiative.} (13. cxb5 { is the most logical response.} axb5 14. b4) 13... Bd7 14. cxb5 {unfortunately this is no longer a good capture for me. A good idea a move too late.} axb5 15. Nde4 (15. b4 {as in the above variation is no longer possible.} Ng4 {now gains a tempo by taking advantage of the Bh6 now being "loose". For example} 16. Bf4 cxb4 17. axb4 Rc8 $17 {and now ...Nxb4 with a discovered double attack on the Nc3 is a major threat.}) 15... b4 16. Nxf6+ {the idea is to exchange off a pair of knights and get some more room for my pieces.} Bxf6 17. Nd5 Bg7 { I was happy to exchange off Black's powerful bishop on the long diagonal.} ( 17... Nd4 $5 $15) 18. Bxg7 Kxg7 19. Qd2 {connecting the rooks and further pressuring b4. Black still has a positional advantage on the queenside, as his pieces are working together better than mine (especially after the Nd5 is kicked next move) and he has more space and a better pawn structure.} e6 20. Ne3 Nd4 {eyeing the undefended b3 square as well as the e2 pawn. A concrete demonstration of Black's advantage in space.} 21. axb4 {at the time I thought this was a major error, as Black ends up with a lot of pressure down the b-fiile and wins a pawn. The engine doesn't find anything much better for White, however.} (21. Nc2 Nb3 22. Qe1 bxa3 23. bxa3 Qa5 24. Qxa5 Nxa5 $17 { with superior play for Black against the isolated a-pawn.}) 21... Rxb4 22. Nc2 {I felt that this was essentially forced, otherwise the Nd4 dominates.} (22. Ra1) 22... Nxc2 23. Qxc2 Qb6 {now it becomes obvious that the b-pawn is doomed. } 24. Qc3+ Kg8 25. Qf6 {I figured that this was my best shot to compensate for Black's queenside pressure. The queen threatens to penetrate on the 7th rank if the Re8 departs.} Bc6 $6 (25... e5 $17 {was the move I was most concerned about, which would break the connection to b2 on the long diagonal.}) 26. h4 { still focusing on the kingside counterplay - somewhat out of desperation - rather than looking to shore up the queenside defense, which was possible here. } (26. Bxc6 Qxc6 27. Ra1 Qb7 28. Rfb1 $15) 26... Bxg2 27. Kxg2 {I didn't mind the exchange on g2, since it would potentially allow a rook to go to h1 quicker.} Qb7+ 28. f3 h5 {blocking the threat of h4-h5.} 29. e4 {the point of this was then to threaten the g4 advance; without the pawn on e4, the f3 pawn would be pinned and could not retake in the event of an exchange.} Qe7 30. Qxe7 {here I offered a draw. Without the queens on, Black has no further prospect of a forced breakthrough on the b-file, although he certainly has an endgame advantage with space, pawn structure, and rook activity. My opponent thought for a while and accepted after taking the queen, his lack of time on the clock being the deciding factor.} Rxe7 1/2-1/2

13 October 2016

Training quote of the day #9: Arkadij Naiditsch

From Peter Zhdanov's Yearbook of Chess Wisdom; see also Playing Styles Deconstructed.
When I asked GM Arkadij Naiditsch whether it would be better for me to try to develop my style by studying the games of attacking players or to eliminate my shortcomings by resorting to the masters of strategic play, he replied: "You are too weak to have a style. Study everything!"

06 October 2016

How Carlsen makes us feel better about chess III

From the Financial Times article "Inside the home (and mind) of world chess champion Magnus Carlsen":

Carlsen’s favourite object is the hammock in the centre of the terrace. “I come here and sit when I want to think how to beat opponents.” It also serves as a place for post-match reflection. “Even if I win a game, if I have made an avoidable mistake, or missed something in my calculations, I get very angry and sulk.” When that happens, he stretches out on the hammock and uses the mistake to motivate himself to be flawless next time.

02 October 2016

Annotated Game #162: A cure for over-optimism

The best cure for over-optimism is being punished for it and understanding why.  So I hope this next game, from the second round of the tournament, is a milestone in that regard.  In a main line Classical Caro-Kann, I achieve full equality out of the opening, with a dynamic position featuring elements of kingside vs. center vs. queenside play.  Although the requirements of the position are fairly obvious - including challenging my opponent on the d-file - I focus instead on the queenside action (where my opponent's king is castled) to offset his kingside play.  This isn't necessarily a bad strategy, but the very over-optimistic sacrifice on move 24 sinks my game.  Admittedly my opponent has to find an "only move" on the defense afterwards, but it's not terribly hard to find.  After that, the game is pretty much over.

This game in combination with the analysis of the previous round (Annotated Game #161) should be a good marker in terms of teaching me to better evaluate positions objectively, as well as spend the extra energy necessary for calculating critical sequences.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B19"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. h5 Bh7 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 e6 11. Bd2 Nbd7 12. O-O-O c5 {this early c-pawn push is rare, but scores well in the database. It is a little loose compared with the main line continuation.} (12... Be7) 13. Rde1 Be7 14. Ne4 Nxe4 15. Qxe4 cxd4 16. Nxd4 Nc5 {attacking the Qe4 and covering b7. I had contemplated sacrificing the b-pawn and playing ...Nf6, but I didn't see enough of an advantage in it, even with the extra file available to attack White's king.} ( 16... O-O {would be the way to offer the b-pawn and also looks best, getting the king to safety. For example} 17. Qxb7 $2 Nc5 {and now the Qb7 is attacked and the Nd4 cannot be protected.}) (16... Nf6 {is indeed unsound, according to Komodo, where Black is evaluated as having little or no compensation.} 17. Qxb7 Rb8 18. Qc6+ $16) 17. Qg4 Bf6 {the bishop here has a very nice diagonal and protects g7.} 18. Bc3 O-O $11 {as we head into the middlegame the position is balanced.} 19. Rd1 Qb6 20. Ne2 {it was smart of my opponent to exchange the bishops, since otherwise White has little hope for play on the kingside.} Bxc3 21. Nxc3 {here the position calls for contesting the d-file, but I was over-optimistic about generating queenside threats.} a5 (21... Rad8) 22. f4 { removing the pawn from the g1-a7 diagonal where the Qb6 was eyeing it. Also a good attacking idea with f4-f5. However, it does leave the e3 square uncontrolled and available for the Black queen.} a4 {not very creative and ignoring the power of the queen.} (22... Qb4 $5 {with a side pin of the f4 pawn.}) 23. f5 a3 {I had to think for a while on these last two moves, as things are starting to heat up with the "race" on both sides. I correctly calculate that the text move holds the balance and expected White's next.} 24. b3 Nxb3+ $2 {however, I now play this as the result of an over-optimistic miscalculation. White plays the correct defensive line, which results in Black's attack not having enough punch to compensate for the material.} (24... exf5 25. Qxf5 Rae8 $11) 25. cxb3 Rac8 26. Qf3 Qc5 27. Kc2 $16 {now my attack is blunted and the best I can do is get another pawn for the piece, but I keep trying, figuring that the material will be insufficient anyway.} b5 28. Rh4 { a clever (and only) defensive move, as now ...b4 is met by Rc4.} Qe5 {by this point I'm really just hoping for a swindle, feeling that I've essentially lost. } (28... b4 {is probably still best, but after} 29. Rc4 Qa5 30. Ne2 exf5 31. Nd4 $16 {White is simply up material and it looks bleak for Black.}) 29. Rhd4 $18 Qb8 {now with the threat of ...b4 winning the pinned Nc3, but my opponent easily avoids it by removing the king from the pin.} 30. Kb1 b4 31. Ne4 Qe5 32. f6 {now my opponent seals the win quickly with a breakthrough on the kingside.} Rc7 33. Qg4 g6 34. hxg6 fxg6 35. Qxg6+ 1-0

24 September 2016

Annotated Game #161: A misleading winning narrative

In my next tournament, I played basically to expectations for my rating, so not a lot of progress.  This first-round game is nonetheless an interesting one, both for what happened on the board and in evaluating my perception of it.  Part of the practice of analyzing my own games is to notate them in my personal games database with my thoughts and some light analysis shortly after the game ends, to capture my perceptions at the time.  Once serious analysis is eventually done on the game, it's instructive to see how a more thorough, objective view matches up with how I was feeling about the game at the time.  This type of lesson offers useful conceptual feedback for how I evaluate future positions while at the board.

In this case, after an up-and-down opening (first up, then down), I blunder the exchange - although if you win in the end, you can call it an "unintentional exchange sacrifice".  After the "sacrifice" I do fight well for compensation, while in contrast my opponent plays passively and focuses on attempting to trade down material, without much else in terms of a plan.  I spot a possible tactic after my opponent weakens his kingside with  27...g6?! and eventually get the chance to execute it, leading to a breakthrough and a win.  (By coincidence - or perhaps not - this matches up nicely with ideas in the recent "importance of sequencing" post).

While reviewing my initial notes in the database, I was struck by how the final result colored my outlook on the entire game.  My opening play was initially fine but then got significantly weaker as I approached the middlegame, which is a recurring pattern that I've identified (so will now fix, as in Third Time's the Charm).  Specifically, one of my main recurring errors has been neglecting development and allowing my opponent to restrict my pieces, which always brings problems with it.  I should have been harsher (or more realistic) during my earlier evaluation and recognized that the narrative of triumph after the "unintentional sacrifice" was due less to my abilities - although I did find some correct ideas - rather than my opponent's passivity and creation of unnecessary weaknesses.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. e3 c6 5. b3 Bb4 {this was a little surprising, I felt that ...Bd6 would be more in keeping with Black's Semi-Slav type setup.} 6. Bb2 O-O 7. Qc2 Qd6 {this seemed like a premature development of the queen, as well as restricting the Bb4's retreat squares. We are now out of the database.} 8. a3 {the obvious reaction, inconveniencing the bishop.} Ba5 9. b4 {continuing with the theme of pushing back Black's pieces and gaining space on the queenside. Perhaps not most effective, however. The bishop on a5 is not doing much and represents a waste of time for Black, while the new square it goes to is more useful.} (9. d4 $5 {would get space in the center and make a the follow-on Bd3 development logical.}) 9... Bc7 10. c5 {this does nothing for my development and leaves Black's d-pawn looking stronger.} (10. Be2 dxc4 11. Bxc4 $14) 10... Qe7 $11 11. Be2 {again, d4 is logical but would have the disadvantage of shutting in the Bb2.} b6 {challenging the pawn chain at its top.} 12. cxb6 axb6 13. O-O Bb7 {Black continues with a rather slow development plan.} 14. Rfd1 Nbd7 {although I felt that Black had not played the opening particularly well, at this point his development is fine and a bit better coordinated than mine. He is certainly better positioned in the center for space. Komodo gives a slight edge to Black.} 15. d3 {in the expectation that the following sequence would occur.} e5 16. e4 d4 17. Nb1 c5 $6 {this seems like an obvious move at the Class level, to advance and support the d4 pawn, but with Black having gained space and restricted my pieces, this just allows me to get some breathing space on the queenside.} (17... b5 $5 {would lock things up to Black's advantage.}) 18. bxc5 $6 (18. Nbd2 {would help with my neglected piece development.}) 18... bxc5 {this is what I had expected.} ( 18... Nxc5 $1 {and now Black will dominate the queenside, likely winning the a-pawn and causing major problems once his bishops get further into play from d6 and c6.}) 19. Nbd2 Bc6 {here I failed to ask the question in my thinking process, what did my opponent's move change about the position? What new CCT does he now have available?} 20. Nc4 $2 {this leads to an unintentional exchange sacrifice. I spotted Black's skewer tactic immediately *after* moving. I therefore played the next couple of moves rapidly and with confidence, since there was nothing else to be done.} (20. Rdc1) (20. a4) 20... Ba4 $17 21. Qd2 Bxd1 22. Bxd1 {a key part of the sequence for White, capturing with the bishop rather than the queen. The bishop will be repositioned to a much better square, serving as partial compensation for the sacrifice.} Nb6 {normally it's a good idea to simplify with piece exchanges in order to magnify a material advantage, and this was presumably my opponent's main idea here. However, this benefits me by accelerating the activation of my light-square bishop.} (22... Rfb8) 23. Nxb6 Bxb6 24. Qg5 {I felt this was necessary to develop counterplay. The queen has to be activated and has a relatively open field in front of the Black king. The pin on the Nf6 will also lose Black some time.} Rfe8 {unpinning the Nf6.} 25. Bb3 {While Black is still comfortably winning on objective measures, this bishop now becomes a monster on the a2-g8 diagonal and its pinning of the f7 pawn will eventually be the decisive factor in the game.} Bc7 {clearing the b-file for one of Black's rooks and reinforcing e5. However, a Black rook never ends up on the b-file.} 26. Bc4 {anticipating future possible pressure down the b-file.} Nd7 {offering a queen trade.} 27. Qh5 {naturally I avoid trading queens and maintain some pressure on Black's kingside, adding h7 as a target and attacking f7 again. Ng5 now becomes a potential threat.} g6 $6 { unnecessarily weakening the squares in front of the Black king.} (27... Nf6 { is what I was expecting.} 28. Qg5 {and we try again with the position.}) (27... Rf8 {is the engine's choice, but this sort of defensive move can be psychologically hard to play, especially since the rook had just recently moved away from f8.}) 28. Qh6 Qf8 {this apparently was the idea behind the previous move, but this ends up placing Black's queen on a much more awkward square.} 29. Qh3 Nf6 {in contrast with the previous situation, now the Nf6 is not protected.} 30. Bc1 $15 {bringing another piece around to exert pressure and materially improving the evaluation for White, as previously the dark-square bishop was locked out of the game. Part of my compensation for being down an exchange is that I am able to use both bishops and the knight effectively to attack the kingside, along with the queen, while Black has only the queen and knight defending the kingside.} h5 31. Bg5 $6 {wrong piece. The bishop is doing fine on the c1-h6 diagonal where it is, while the knight could do better on g5. Attacking the Nf6 is not much of a threat in reality, although it does prompt my opponent to play an awkward follow-up move.} (31. Ng5 {would target f7 and increase the pressure.} Re7 32. Qh4 $15) 31... Bd8 ( 31... Qd6 $17 {is much better, getting the queen to a more effective square.}) 32. Qg3 {leaving the diagonal and shifting the queen's target to the now underprotected e5 pawn.} Nd7 $2 {missing the following tactic, one which I had spotted as a possibility after 27...g6, based on the pin of the f7 pawn. I believe my opponent was still focused on a general plan of trading down material.} (32... Qd6) 33. Bxd8 $18 Raxd8 34. Qxg6+ Kh8 (34... Qg7 35. Bxf7+ Kf8 36. Bxe8 Rxe8 37. Qxh5 $18) 35. Qxh5+ Kg7 36. Qg4+ {I thought for a while before making this move. I wanted to bring another piece (the Nf3) into the attack by leaving the g5 square open for it.} Kh8 37. Ng5 {now the combination of mate threats plus the attack on f7 decide the game.} Nb6 38. Qh5+ 1-0

22 September 2016

The importance of sequencing

Part of improvement comes in being able to better identify key tactical themes (pins, hanging pieces, sacrificial attacks, mating patterns, etc.) and the moves necessary to exploit them.  This is a huge subject in itself - which I've addressed before - and I would say constitutes the bulk (let's say for argument's sake 3/4) of success in the tactical realm.  However, I would include in that last 1/4 - which is often crucial in actual play - the idea of sequencing and precise move-order calculation.  This is where tactical ideas intersect with your visualization and calculation skills, which become more important the longer a sequence runs.

The following tactics problem, which I suffered some unnecessary blindness on when solving, reminded me forcefully of the necessity of considering sequencing - which is also another way of saying that you need to be able to visualize all of your opponent's responses concretely, and not just your own ideas:

Chess.com tactic problem 40353

Rasovsky - Mikyska

Result: *
Site: corrs. -
Date: 1908
[...] 13...c6 14.¤f6+ gxf6 15.¥d3
Powered by Aquarium

After the (blunder) by Black of 13...c6, breaking down the tactical elements of the position is not hard.  Black's last move forces you to think about where the Nd5 can (must) move and with Black's bare kingside, the f6 square immediately suggests itself.  The knight then double attacks h7, threatening mate with the queen.  Black must therefore take the knight with the g-pawn or lose, in the process leaving the king more vulnerable.  However, the White queen itself is still not sufficient to force the a win.  What to do?

Then one notices the light-squared bishop, which is in a place where it can move to hit h7.  With the g-pawn gone and nothing else on Black's side able to intervene defensively, the mate is assured.

So then why not simply play 14. Bd3 immediately (I thought), since it is just as forcing?  After ...g6 in response and then 15. Nf6+, the knight appears to move with the same effect, gaining a tempo on the check and dooming the h7 pawn.  But no, in fact the response 15...Qxf6! prevents the combination due to the fact that now both queens are en prise.  So only the sequence with the knight moving first can work.

This is just one conceptual example, but many sequencing choices will in fact occur during play.  As I've gotten stronger tactically and have been seeing different useful move possibilities in positions, the sequencing part - which I would consider the more sophisticated side of tactics - has become increasingly important.  It's certainly good to see those initial tactical ideas, but there remains more work to be done in executing them in my games, including seeing better opportunities in different sequences, for example as shown in Annotated Game #151.

21 September 2016

Training quote of the day #8: Garry Kasparov

From Peter Zhdanov's Yearbook of Chess Wisdom, quoting former World Champion Garry Kasparov:
You can learn just about anything from books, and chess is included.  But to really improve, you must play regularly, like any other sport.  The concentration and mental discipline needed to improve chess performance can't come from study.  Especially true below master level.  Experienced tournament players have developed those "game muscles" well.  Amateurs need to build them.  Study won't help you if you can't focus.

27 August 2016

Commentary: 2016 World Junior Championship, Round 12 (Bersamina - Xiong)

This very recent game caught my eye, as a victory by the new World Junior Champion, American GM Jeffery Xiong.  Ranked first in the world U16 category, Xiong in round 12 clinched the title by winning as Black against IM Paulo Bersamina.  I had an initial interest in the game because it (a Grand Prix Sicilian) turns into what could be considered a reversed English Opening, making its subsequent play full of ideas that are directly relevant to my opening repertoire.  There are a lot of more general lessons contained here, though, including the importance of time and development in the opening and early middlegame (which White ignores on multiple occasions), the value of the initiative, and some interesting tactical ideas.  White essentially takes a wrong turn with his plans on move 11, offering to sacrifice a pawn with very little compensation, but Xiong passes up simpler ways of exploiting this in favor of more complex play, which seems to be an intentional strategy.  Xiong's endgame technique and ideas are also worth looking at, in terms of how to win a won game.
[Event "World Junior Open 2016"] [Site "Bhubaneswar IND"] [Date "2016.08.20"] [Round "?"] [White "Bersamina, Paulo"] [Black "Xiong, Jeffery"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B23"] [WhiteElo "2402"] [BlackElo "2633"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "155"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. f4 Nc6 4. Nf3 g6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. O-O Bg7 7. Bc4 {this seems like a bit of a waste of time in the opening, especially after the next move. Presumably it was done to preserve the bishop from exchange.} Na5 8. Be2 Nf6 {this looks like it makes the knight a target for an advance of the e-pawn, but that would not turn out particularly well for White.} 9. Qe1 {at around 48 percent, this scores better than anything else for White in the database, but it's still not a good thing. Black has fully equalized already while White continues to lose time in the opening.} (9. e5 dxe5 10. Nxe5 (10. fxe5 $6 Ng4 $17) 10... O-O $11 {and Black has a comfortable game.}) 9... Nc6 10. Bc4 { inviting a repetition of moves, although Black can do better.} Nd4 (10... O-O $5 {the engine suggests castling first, which looks safer.} 11. d3 Nd4) 11. Qh4 $6 {this doesn't work and I'm not sure what White was looking to do here by offering the c2 pawn as a sacrifice. Even simply castling in response is fine for Black.} (11. Nxd4 {simplest appears best here.} cxd4 12. e5 dxc3 13. exf6 Qb6+ 14. Rf2 Bxf6 $11) 11... b5 {an interesting idea that further complicates the game and keeps the tension up, which is probably what Xiong wanted.} (11... Nxc2 12. Rb1 Nd4 $17 {and White doesn't have any real threats. For example} 13. Ng5 $2 (13. b3 $17) 13... d5 (13... e6 {is also sufficient}) 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. f5 (15. Nxh7 $2 {the knight is pinned here and Black now has a free hand.} Nb6 16. b3 Nxc4 17. bxc4 Bc6 $19) 15... Bf6 $19) (11... O-O 12. f5 $5 {should be OK for Black, but gives White at least the appearance of some initiative.}) 12. Nxd4 cxd4 13. Nxb5 Qb6 {Black has (temporarily) invested a pawn, but has the initiative in return.} 14. a4 a6 15. a5 Qc6 16. Na3 Nxe4 {now Black has his pawn back and a favorable position, while White's pieces are uncoordinated and he lacks an obvious plan to make progress.} 17. d3 Nf6 18. Nb1 {an excellent illustration of how time in the opening and early middlegame can be valuable. The knight has journeyed back to its original square, with associated tempo loss, while Black can now make progress in the center.} (18. Bb3 $5 $15 { would clear the c4 square for the knight instead.}) 18... d5 19. Bb3 Qc5 { this avoids having White play Ba4. While d6 seems like a more useful square for the queen, being less limited, Xiong no doubt had the next knight maneuver to e3 in mind, which the queen supports.} 20. Re1 Ng4 21. Re2 Ne3 {Black would be quite happy to have White capture the knight, thereby undoubling the Black d-pawns and giving him a passed pawn on e3.} 22. h3 {another time-wasting move. } (22. Nd2 $5 {White really needs to get more of his pieces into the game.}) 22... O-O {White now has no prospects on the kingside and it's about time to get the king to safety away from the center.} 23. Qe1 Rab8 {activating the rook; Black wants to play with all of his pieces. This may seem to ignore White's last move, which adds pressure to the Ne3, but it still cannot be taken without benefiting Black.} 24. Ra3 {again a move illustrating how awkward White's position is.} (24. Bxe3 dxe3 {opening up the long diagonal and the d4 square for the Bg7} 25. Rxe3 $2 Bd4 $19) 24... Rfc8 $19 {by this point White is under huge pressure, which will simply get worse, and can do nothing about it.} 25. Kh1 {moving off of the g1-a7 diagonal and taking away the ... Bd4 tactic, but it still doesn't help much.} Bf5 26. Bxe3 dxe3 27. Rxe3 Bxb2 28. Ra2 Bd4 {Black can again safely ignore White's threat to pick up a pawn, in this case on e7.} 29. Rf3 (29. Rxe7 Bf2 $1 {and now wherever the queen moves, the Re7 will be left hanging, or White opens himself to back rank problems.} (29... Bxd3 {would also be sufficient, as the Bb3 would be hanging after a recapture on d3}) 30. Qe2 (30. Qd2 Rxb3 31. cxb3 Qxe7 32. Qxf2 Rc1+) 30... Rxb3 {winning the piece, as if} 31. cxb3 $2 Qc1+ $19) 29... h5 {stopping g4 to kick the Bf5} 30. Nd2 {White finally gets all of his pieces developed, on move 30.} Bc3 31. Qf2 e6 {an instructive decision. Black heads for the endgame, which he must be confident of winning, as he will pick up the indefensible a5 pawn in the process.} 32. Qxc5 Rxc5 {After the exchange of queens Black wins the a-pawn and the game is practically over.} 33. Nf1 Rxa5 34. Rxa5 Bxa5 {Black has the outside passed a-pawn, the two bishops, and a well-placed rook, which should (and do) lead him to victory from this point on. } 35. Kh2 Bc3 36. g3 a5 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 37. Ne3 {designed to support the g-pawn advance} Rb4 {Black can also just make a waiting move with the bishop here, such as ...Bg7. This would remove White's subsequent threat along the third rank with the rook, although it perhaps doesn't matter in the end.} 38. g4 hxg4 39. hxg4 {Black can now play this several different ways. The problem for White is that his bishop is trapped after ...a4} Bxd3 40. Ng2 a4 41. Bxa4 Be4 42. Rxc3 Rxa4 {Black is still winning comfortably after the end of the sequence - remaining a pawn up, with a strong bishop vs. knight, and one pawn island versus two. However, those of us with lesser endgame technique might not have chosen this particular path.} 43. Ne1 Ra1 44. Re3 Rc1 {the ideal spot for the rook, behind White's isolated pawn.} 45. Re2 Kf8 { time to bring the king into the game.} 46. Kg3 Ke7 47. g5 Kd6 48. Kf2 Bf5 49. Nd3 Rh1 50. Ne5 Rh2+ {once the rooks come off, the win becomes more trivial for Black.} 51. Ke3 $6 {this allows the following tactic} (51. Kf3 Rxe2 52. Kxe2 $19) 51... d4+ 52. Kd2 Rxe2+ 53. Kxe2 Kd5 {compared with the above variation, Black is significantly ahead with the d-pawn and his king position in the center. Although the f-pawn will fall, this doesn't affect Black's defense against the White pawns, as Black's king will penetrate.} 54. Kd2 Ke4 55. Nxf7 Kxf4 56. c3 d3 {White could simply resign at this point, but apparently decides to play on in the hopes of a blunder by his opponent.} 57. Nd6 e5 58. Nc4 e4 {Black has two connected passed pawns in the center, will grab the g5 pawn giving him a third passed pawn, and Black's bishop covers the c8 queening square for White.} 59. Ne3 Kxg5 {a minor piece exchange is fine for Black, since the White king can't cover all of the passed pawns.} 60. Ke1 Bg4 61. Nd5 Kf5 62. Kd2 Ke5 63. Ne7 g5 64. Ke3 Bf3 65. c4 g4 {passed pawns (especially outside ones) must be pushed!} 66. Ng6+ Kd6 67. Nh4 Kc5 68. Nf5 Kxc4 69. Kd2 {is White playing for stalemate now? Hardly seems sporting.} Kd5 70. Ke3 Ke6 71. Ng3 Ke5 72. Nf1 Kf5 {Black's king now runs around the wing to escort his outside passed pawn.} 73. Ng3+ Kg5 74. Nf1 Kh4 75. Kf2 Kh3 76. Ke3 g3 77. Nd2 g2 78. Kf2 0-1

20 August 2016

Commentary: 2016 U.S. Championship, Round 11 (Krush - Paikidze)

This last commentary game from the 2016 US Championship is the decisive round 11 encounter between GM Irina Krush and IM Nazi Paikidze in the Women's section.  (Original ChessBase commentary can be found here.)  Krush by this point in the tournament, with 6 points, was out of the running, while Paikidze had to win as Black in order to catch up to WGM Tatev Abrahamyan.

As with many games, knowing the context is important to understanding the choices made by the players.  Paikidze as Black could not afford to be passive, while Krush as White had no need to strive for a win.  This dynamic I think helped shape the game from the start in terms of the opening choice (a King's Indian Attack).  White with 17. f4 provokes a complex middlegame with a number of tactical ideas lurking in the variations - mostly to Black's benefit.  Black in response sacrifices a pawn and has the initiative for almost the entire game, although Krush at one point had fought back to near-equality.  Paikidze's play illustrates some important tactical and positional concepts for improving players and the factors involved are well worth studying.

[Event "ch-USA w 2016"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2016.04.25"] [Round "11.2"] [White "Krush, Irina"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2465"] [BlackElo "2346"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "128"] [EventDate "2016.04.14"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 {a noncommital response to White's first move, while ruling out an immediate e4 as follow-up.} 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 c6 4. O-O Bg4 {this is slightly more challenging than the other standard move developing the bishop to f5.} 5. d3 {continuing with the standard plan of the King's Indian Attack setup. White will eventually play e4.} Nbd7 {the knight needs to be developed in any case, and this provides the option of supporting an ...e5 push.} 6. h3 Bh5 7. Qe1 { getting off the h5-d1 diagonal and behind the e-pawn.} e5 {played the vast majority of the time, forming a pawn duo in the center.} (7... e6 {is certainly possible, but is unambitious and drawish.}) 8. e4 dxe4 {not necessarily obligatory, but almost always played. The following game shows how problems can develop for Black by delaying it.} (8... Bd6 9. exd5 Bxf3 10. Bxf3 Nxd5 11. Nc3 Nxc3 12. bxc3 O-O 13. Rb1 Qc7 14. Bd2 f5 15. Qe2 Rae8 16. Bg2 Kh8 17. Qh5 Bc5 18. Bg5 Bb6 19. Rb4 Re6 20. Rh4 h6 21. d4 f4 22. gxf4 exd4 23. Qg4 Rg6 24. Be4 Rxf4 25. Qxf4 Qxf4 26. Rxf4 Rxg5+ 27. Kh1 Nf6 28. cxd4 Bxd4 29. Rd1 Bb6 30. Bf5 Kg8 31. c4 Bc7 32. Rf3 b5 33. cxb5 cxb5 34. Rb1 a6 35. Rc1 Be5 36. Rc6 Kf7 37. Rxa6 Bd4 38. Rd6 Bc5 39. Rc6 Be7 40. Rc7 g6 41. Re3 {1-0 (41) Movsesian,S (2695)-Zontakh,A (2546) Loo 2013}) 9. dxe4 Bc5 {developing the bishop to its most effective diagonal.} 10. a4 a5 {preventing a b4 advance.} 11. Na3 {actually the most common move played here, but scoring only 46 percent for White in the database. The point is to transfer the knight to c4.} O-O 12. Nc4 Qc7 {protecting e5 and connecting the rooks.} 13. Bd2 b6 {the obvious move, to ensure the a5 pawn is protected and Black's pieces are not tied down to it.} 14. Nh4 {intending to go to f5, but the knight ends up stuck here for a long time before exchanging itself for the bishop on g6.} Rfe8 { developing the rook, which was doing nothing on f8.} 15. Kh1 {getting off the a7-g1 diagonal and preparing to push the f-pawn.} Bg6 {anticipating the push g4 and pressuring e4, essentially inviting the following exchange.} 16. Nxg6 hxg6 {although White now has the two bishops, the individual minor piece trade is a fine idea for Black. Her light-square bishop was not doing anything very important and the White knight on the kingside otherwise could effectively support a pawn advance and/or could go to f5.} 17. f4 {a natural move, but perhaps White could have taken some more time to prepare it. Black is able to launch a counterstroke on the queenside.} b5 {the tactics work in Black's favor if White accepts the pawn sacrifice.} 18. Bxa5 (18. Nxa5 {is inferior, as the Na5 is out on a limb and its protectors can become overloaded, while Black has multiple other threats.} exf4 19. axb5 f3 20. Rxf3 (20. Bxf3 cxb5 $15 {and now Black can threaten the g3 and c2 pawns after ...Bd6.}) 20... cxb5 21. Rb3 Bd6 $15 22. Re3 (22. Rxb5 $2 Nc5 $17)) 18... Qc8 19. axb5 cxb5 20. Nd2 { the engine assesses the position as equal, as White's pieces are not as well coordinated as her opponent's and Black can start making threats along the e-file.} exf4 21. gxf4 Nd5 {a key move in the sequence, as the knight takes advantage of the pinned e-pawn to use d5 as an outpost and threaten to go to e3.} 22. Rf3 {defending the e3 square, albeit awkwardly.} (22. b4 $5 {is a recurring idea in this position that the engines identify. White at least temporarily gives back the pawn in order to better activate her pieces and deflect Black's threats. For example} Nxb4 23. Qb1 Nc6 24. Qxb5 Nxa5 25. Rxa5 Rxa5 26. Qxa5 Nf6 $11) 22... f5 $6 {this invites the advance of the e-pawn, which essentially solves White's problems with it.} (22... N7f6 {would increase the pressure and not allow for the advance, as if} 23. e5 $6 Nh5 $17 { and now the f-pawn is under fire.}) 23. e5 g5 {evidently this was Paikidze's idea, to pressure the e-pawn by undermining its support. White is faced with some complex choices.} 24. fxg5 $2 {this was unnecessary and justifies Black's play.} (24. Qd1 {would get the queen out of the pin first and improve on the idea.} gxf4 $2 (24... N7b6 25. fxg5 Rxe5 26. b4 Bxb4 27. Bxb4 Nxb4 28. Rxa8 Nxa8 29. Rb3 $16) (24... Nxf4 $2 25. Rxf4 gxf4 26. Bd5+ Kf8 27. Qh5 $16) 25. Nc4 bxc4 26. Qxd5+ $18) (24. b4 $5 {has similar ideas as in the variation above. The hanging Nd5 and the open long diagonal give White some tactical possibilities and Black has to be careful.}) 24... Nxe5 {Black now takes over the initiative. The two centralized knights in combination with the Re8 and Bc5 can make a variety of threats in this wide-open position.} 25. Rf2 $2 { preserving the rook in this way just leads to more trouble for White. The engines suggest a positional exchange sacrifice.} (25. Qg3 $5 Nxf3 26. Bxf3 $17 ) (25. Rf1 Ne3 $17) 25... Ne3 $19 {it's clear by this point that for the investment of a pawn, Black's pieces are now dominating the game. This is a more positional road to victory.} (25... Nd3 $1 {is even stronger, with a double attack on the queen and rook. White loses material in all lines, for example} 26. Bxd5+ Kh7 27. cxd3 Rxe1+ 28. Rxe1 Bxf2 $19) 26. Nb3 {protecting the c2 pawn by opening the second rank, but it would be safer to get the queen out of danger with Qb1.} Nxg2 {Black again passes up the ...Nd3 tactic.} 27. Rxg2 $17 f4 {following the precept that passed pawns must be pushed, although this reduces the pressure of Black's pieces.} (27... Nf3 $5) 28. Qc3 Nc4 (28... f3 {is favored by the engines and is the logical continuation of the previous move's idea.}) 29. Qf3 {White has been doing a good job of containing Black's threats as best she can and the engines show only a slight advantage for Black at this point.} Qf5 $15 30. Nxc5 {White logically wants to eliminate Black's strong bishop, but now the Ba5 is hanging. This is a case of where "doing something" in a position is actually inferior to waiting.} (30. g6 $5 {is the engine recommendation, a waiting move that also restricts Black's king.} Rac8 31. Qg4 Qxg4 32. Rxg4 Bd6 $15) 30... Qxc5 31. b4 Qf5 $17 {looking at how the position has transformed, White's bishop is now largely locked away, although may get back into the action via c7. Meanwhile Black's control of the e-file and the well-placed Nc4 are key advantages; the Ra8 can also easily get into the action.} 32. Rf2 Re4 33. Rg1 Rae8 34. Bc7 $2 {an apparently logical idea, to increase pressure on the f-pawn and have the bishop do something useful, but now Black's domination of the e-file and her rooks will decide the game.} ( 34. Kh2 {would protect the h-pawn, which is vulnerable to pressure along the 3rd rank.}) (34. Qg4) 34... Re3 $1 $19 35. Qxf4 Rxh3+ {a good example of the principle of looking for tactical exchanges, in this case the f-pawn for the h-pawn, since White could not take and also protect at the same time. Obviously the loss of the h-pawn hurts White much more than the f-pawn does Black, due to White's vulnerable king.} 36. Kg2 Ne3+ 37. Qxe3 {forced.} Qg4+ { here the value of the tactic of gaining a tempo is illustrated, with White's queen moving out of danger.} 38. Qg3 Rxg3+ 39. Bxg3 Re3 40. Kh2 Qh5+ {a nice little tactic to pick up the g-pawn and give Black a passed pawn on the kingside.} 41. Kg2 Qxg5 {White does not have compensation for being down material (R+B vs Q). It is instructive to see how Black's Q+R combination holds the initiative and how White is essentially helpless to do anything from this point forward.} 42. Kh2 Re6 43. Rgg2 Qh5+ 44. Kg1 Qd1+ 45. Rf1 Qd4+ 46. Rff2 Re1+ 47. Kh2 Qd1 48. Bf4 Qh5+ 49. Kg3 Rh1 50. Rh2 Rg1+ 51. Rhg2 Rh1 52. Rh2 Qg6+ 53. Kh3 Qe6+ 54. Kg3 Re1 55. Rhg2 Qg6+ 56. Kh2 Qe4 57. Bg5 Qxb4 { an illustration of the power of the queen to reposition herself with tempo and then pick up additional material in an endgame.} 58. Bf4 (58. Bf6 $2 Qd6+ 59. Kh3 Rh1+ 60. Kg4 gxf6 $19) 58... Qe7 59. Kg3 Re6 60. Kh3 Qd7 61. Kh2 Re4 62. Kg3 Qf5 63. Rf3 g5 {Black is now able to bring another piece into the attack.} 64. Bxg5 {one last attempt at setting a trap.} Rg4+ {the tactical intermediate move that finishes things off.} (64... Qxg5+ $4 65. Kh3) 0-1

13 August 2016

Commentary: 2016 U.S. Championship, Round 8 (Yu - Melekhina)

I selected this next commentary game both based on its excitement factor and it being a Symmetrical English (not two qualities you often see together).  A standard imbalanced position follows after Black's (FM Alisa Melekhina) 5...e5, which can lead to a slow maneuvering game.  In this case, however, White (Jennifer Yu, also the winner of the previous commentary game) chose to pursue a non-standard and perhaps somewhat risky kingside strategy starting on move 12, rather than focusing on the usual queenside and central play revolving around d5.

Melekhina reacted well and picked up the gauntlet by castling on opposite sides, but her apparently safe-looking move 14 became the root of later problems by opening the f-file.  Yu then took advantage of her opponent moving her bishops away from protecting key squares not once, but twice, then found some creative tactical resources to win.  An excellent and informative struggle between two fine players (although this was not Melekhina's tournament).

(You can also see the original US Championship round 8 reportage at ChessBase here, although it seems that the commentator was working from an incorrect scoresheet when referring to this game.)

[Event "ch-USA w 2016"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2016.04.22"] [Round "8.6"] [White "Yu, Jennifer R"] [Black "Melekhina, Alisa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A37"] [WhiteElo "2157"] [BlackElo "2205"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 9.3"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2016.04.14"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. Nf3 e5 {breaking the symmetry and establishing a central pawn presence.} 6. O-O Nge7 {the idea here is not to block the f-pawn's advance later.} 7. Ne1 {White's idea is to redeploy the knight via c2. This is slow, but the opening is largely about maneuver rather than attack.} d6 8. Nc2 {from here the knight can support the b4 advance or move to e3 to increase domination of the d5 square.} h5 $5 {this move scores well in the database - although see the next annotation - but is not often played. There is only one game listed in 2015 with it, for example.} (8... Be6 {is the more conventional choice, along with castling.}) 9. d3 {both Komodo and the database indicate that the reaction h4 should be avoided. In the small sample (19) of games available, it has been played roughly half of the time and scores badly at 25 percent. That said, White appears to be OK in the line, although it allows some additional attacking ideas for Black, as in the following game:} (9. h4 g5 10. hxg5 h4 11. Ne3 hxg3 12. fxg3 Be6 13. Ncd5 Qd7 14. Nf6+ Bxf6 15. Rxf6 Rg8 16. Nd5 O-O-O 17. d3 Nf5 18. Rxf5 Bxf5 19. Nf6 Qc7 20. Qf1 Be6 21. Nxg8 Rxg8 22. Bd2 Nd4 23. Qf2 Bg4 24. Bd5 Nxe2+ 25. Kg2 Nd4 26. Qxf7 Qxf7 27. Bxf7 Bf3+ 28. Kf2 Rh8 29. Re1 Rh2+ 30. Ke3 Bh1 31. Rxh1 Re2# { 0-1 (31) Markos,J (2327)-Navara,D (2433) Pardubice 2000}) 9... h4 {the most logical follow-up. If Black is going to advance the h-pawn, she should go all in.} 10. Ne3 {most played here, although the engine evaluates that first proceeding with standard play centered around the b-file is fine.} (10. a3 a5 11. Rb1 a4 12. Bg5 f6 13. Bd2 h3 14. Bh1 O-O 15. Ne3 {is one possibility.}) 10... Be6 {this gets the bishop out, but Black did not need to develop it this early, as it is doing fine on its original square for now. It does nothing to impede White's next move.} 11. Ned5 f6 {this seems a little premature and commital.} (11... h3 $5 {is the engine's choice, which would avoid White's later gxh4.}) 12. Qe1 {Yu here is signaling a shift in commitment to a kingside strategy, placing her queen on the e1-h4 diagonal and preparing her next move.} (12. Rb1 $5 {would continue with queenside and central play.}) 12... Qd7 13. f4 O-O-O {Melekhina notes the strategic shift and castles on the opposite wing, making White's threat of expansion on the kingside less urgent.} 14. fxe5 fxe5 $6 {this looks like a logical and "clean" move visually, but immediately gives White some advantage to play with, including the open f-file and the initiative. From here on out, the game gets wilder.} (14... Bxd5 $5 { with the idea of exchanging material and reducing potential White threats.} 15. Nxd5 Nxe5 16. gxh4 Nxd5 17. Bxd5 f5 $11) 15. gxh4 {ugly-looking but effective. Black has some compensation for the pawn, due to the weak doubled h-pawns, but White does an admirable job of covering the weaknesses and playing actively.} Bh3 $2 {it turns out that Black needs to worry more about her white-square weaknesses, especially on f7, with the absence of this bishop. White has a number of ways to take advantage of this.} (15... Bxd5 {is still a good idea, but leaves White in better shape compared with the above variation:} 16. Nxd5 Nxd5 17. Bxd5 Nd4 18. Bg5 $14) 16. Bg5 (16. Rf7 $1 {and Black has some unsolvable problems related to the 7th rank and king position, for example} Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Bh6 18. Bxh6 Rxh6 19. Nxe7+ Nxe7 20. Nd5 Re8 21. Qa5 $18) 16... Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Rdf8 18. h3 {White evidently was concerned about ...Qg4+ here, although the engine shows that is not necessary.} (18. Nxe7+ Nxe7 19. Rxf8+ Rxf8 20. Bxe7 Qxe7 21. Nd5 $16 {and Black no longer has any real compensation for the pawn.}) 18... Nf5 $11 {a good consolidating move by Black. With this and the previous rook move, she has shut down threats along the f-file. White can also no longer trade down material, as in the previous variation.} 19. Ne4 {centralizing the knight and recognizing that the e4 square is superior to b5 for it now.} Bh6 $6 {continuing with the theme of moving bishops away from controlling key squares, in this case f6. This time White takes advantage of it better.} (19... Ncd4) 20. Nef6 $16 Qe6 21. e4 {White has regained the initiative and revived the utility of the f-file.} Nxh4+ {a piece sacrifice based on an interesting tactical idea for Black.} (21... Nfd4 $16 {is the safer choice.}) 22. Bxh4 Bg5 $2 {unfortunately for Black, this bishop move doesn't work. Yu spots the refutation, which is not obvious. Two white pieces are hanging (the Bh4 and the Nf6) and the Bh4 can't move without allowing ... Qxh3. However, White finds a creative solution by giving back the piece.} ( 22... Bf4 {is the only good continuation here, with the threat of ...g5 and ... Qxh3.} 23. Rxf4 exf4 24. Nxf4 Qe5 25. Nxg6 Rhg8 26. Nxg8 Rxg8 27. Kh1 Rxg6 28. Qf2 $16 {still works out fine for White, however.}) 23. Nc7 $1 Kxc7 24. Nd5+ { The Nf6 escapes with tempo, thanks to the sacrifice of its brother.} Kd7 { now Black has problems with hanging pieces instead and loses at minimum the exchange.} 25. Rxf8 Bxh4 (25... Rxf8 26. Bxg5 $18) (25... Rxh4 26. Qg3 Rh5 27. Raf1 $18) 26. Qf1 (26. Rxh8 {might be simpler, with two rooks vs. queen in a position where the rooks will dominate.} Bxe1 27. Rxe1 $18) 26... Rh5 (26... Rxf8 27. Qxf8 Be7 28. Qg7 $18 {and Black cannot stop the rook transfer to f1 and then f6 or f7.}) 27. Qf7+ Qxf7 28. Rxf7+ Ne7 29. Raf1 {an illustration of the importance of the open f-file in the game, along with the weak 7th rank. Black's fate is now sealed.} Rh8 30. Rg7 Re8 31. Rh7 Bg5 32. h4 Bf4 33. Nf6+ 1-0

07 August 2016

Analyzing your chess games - it's now trendy!

The chess world is full of trends - popular openings (as in the above graphic, credit to Randy Olson / ChessBase), tournament formats (rapid chess is now a thing), and so on.  The chess improvement community, as a subset of this, has also been subject to trends - for example, a large part of the original blogosphere was focused on solving series of tactical problems via the Michael de la Maza method.  Although I wished them well in that regard, the "seven circles of hell" method of redoing tactical problems always seemed a little hyped and perhaps even suspect.  In the end, it almost always led to burnout.

This blog was founded in part to keep me honest and committed to chess training, with a big part of that being committed to the idea and practice of analyzing your own games.  Although it's a common practice for serious chessplayers, it's not something that has been prominently discussed or even necessarily present in the general consciousness of the chess improvement community.  Until more recently, that is.

In the past couple of months I've noticed an uptick in references, examples and useful highlights of the benefits of analyzing your games (and having them analyzed by others), more so than in any time since the 2012 post that's linked above.  Closely related to that is the idea that looking at others' thoughtful analyses in annotated games can provide unique insight into chess concepts, how an effective thinking process works, and can boost your own understanding significantly.

Here are some of those recent examples, most of which should also be good long-term resources for chess training:

1.  Jon Speelman's Agony Column

This new ChessBase column isn't about GM Speelman's games - although he's certainly racked up enough of them during his international career.  Here's what it is about, in his own words:
A game of chess is a battle both against your opponent and yourself. You have to make decisions almost every move (apart from very obvious ones including recaptures). The problem is to express yourself while avoiding blunders, though absolutely everybody from Magnus Carlsen down makes these occasionally,and to follow your desires while maintaining sufficient balance to remain within what is reasonable in the position.
This sounds both high level and abstract and obviously top players will be able, when on song, to produce games far beyond the level of club players. However, it still applies to club players, who must make decisions based on their understanding. They too must find their way through a maze of possibilities - or if you prefer, peer into the fog.
In this column I'd like to dispel some of that fog through analysing readers' games and/or answering specific questions. When working with students I normally start by asking to look at a game they are proud of and one they are not. And ideally I'd like readers to send in one of both - Ecstasy and Agony - though if you'd prefer just the former to be in print that's totally understandable. I can either analyse the whole game or focus on a particular position.
With the proliferation of strong chess engines, it's become not only easy to analyse your games with them but hard to resist their use. They provide a merciless commentary on the tactics, which we all often miss, but have only a limited connection to what is actually happening when two human beings do battle across the chess board: and often skew the viewpoint of spectators when watching games online.
I therefore propose to analyse readers' games as much as possible without an engine on. What I'm interested in, is identifying the critical decisions and "flow" of the game and neither concept is endemic to the silicon assistance we now employ. The engines are very addictive though so I imagine that I will check with one of our silicon "best enemies" for a second opinion and to error check.
I always think it's a miracle when I or anybody else plays a really good game or even avoids significant tactical mistakes. So I'm certainly not intending to be critical of anything that readers are kind and brave enough to send.
He's done a great job so far and in Agony Column #12 you can see a hybrid of original analysis and Speelman's commentary, submitted by a fellow blogger at the Hebden Bridge Chess Club.  I particularly like how Speelman focuses on practical lessons and insights for improving your game, not blindly following whatever the computer engine says is the best move (one of the pitfalls of computer analysis).

2.  Move by Move Chess Improvement (NM Julian Lin)

This recent post ("How to really improve at chess, no gimmicks, no lying, just the cold hard truth") caught my eye.  A relevant excerpt:
The most powerful thing I can leave you with is to do the following: analyze one of your games, but focus on doing the following: aim to find out as many of your mistakes as possible and note them. You might even want to suggest a better move than the one you played. Then do one more thing: try to come up with an understanding of why you made the mistake. Is this something that comes up often in your games? Then extend this further: how can you prevent this mistake in the future? How can you change your thinking to evolve as a player and not make this mistake again?

3.  Seven Questions to Ask Yourself After Each Game

This article at the Chess Improver site, by fellow chess improvement blogger Bryan Castro, helps provide some structure to your self-evaluation process.  One thing that I particularly like is that it emphasizes identifying positive examples from your play, along with mistakes; reinforcing the positives is something that I think can easily be overlooked in the process.  We need to recognize our mistakes but not punish ourselves too severely, which is just counterproductive; look towards the future and understand how to avoid falling into the same traps, that's a better approach.  On the flip side, we need to identify our best practices and learn how to repeat our successes in the future, without becoming overconfident.

4.  IM Silman's Chess.com articles with reader games

One of the more entertaining forums for showing improving players' games and analysis are the periodic articles by IM Jeremy Silman on Chess.com.  The recent "If the Board Says ATTACK, Then ATTACK!" is an excellent example of how to gain insights by looking at a game both conceptually and concretely, while having some fun.  Silman is sometimes panned for being too harsh in his comments, but I find it refreshing to see the attitude that chess is a game that should not be taken too seriously (by non-professionals at least) and that a sense of humor over our play is a good thing in the long run.

5.  dana blogs chess (NM Dana Mackenzie)

It's hard to find a better advertisement for analyzing your own games than the above-linked blog, especially the recent series on his most memorable games.  Game #5 particularly stood out to me, since the "never give up" theme I think is terribly important for practical play - many times I've despaired but still put effort into finding the best move, and have been rewarded for it.  Dana's analysis and his solicitation of commentary is something to be emulated.