31 May 2016

The phenomenon of plateauing

Lately there have been several top-flight articles in the international chess media about training for the improving player, highlighted here have been the interview on improving your chess with Boris Gelfand and the "How do you become a Life Master" blog post from Dana Mackenzie.  Another recent one and well worth the read is "Chess Progress: making the big leap" by IM Albert Silver.  Silver's take on improvement focuses in part on the phenomenon of plateauing, which is common to many long-term training programs.  Essentially you get diminishing returns, or show little progress, for an extended period of time before making another significant incremental gain in performance - or the "big leap" of the article title.

This phenomenon is well-documented across a large number of disciplines, including martial arts and sports, so it should be no surprise that chessplayers have to deal with it as well.  I've experienced it before in other contexts as well, including learning mathematics.  I recall quite well the effort needed to truly absorb and understand more complex topics like calculus, where it took a lot of extra, sustained effort for me before a mental lightbulb went off and I was able to grasp and apply the concepts.

Part of the lesson to take away from a proper understanding of the phenomenon is that sustained, regular effort will in fact pay off in the end, as long as it can be considered "effortful study" - that is, not simply doing rote exercises or ones that are already comfortably in your knowledge base.  The problem for me has been to free up enough time and energy to in fact concentrate on moving forward my chess knowledge and performance; for now, I don't feel like I'm making enough progress.  As an adult chess improver, it's been work and travel that has often gotten in the way and sometimes there's no good way around that - the job takes precedence or sucks up the majority of your time and energy for a while.  In fact, I'll be traveling for most of June and will be away from serious chess (and this blog) as a result.  But I have hopes for the second half of this year that I can dedicate the requisite time and focus more regularly on chess training.

I'll conclude this post with what I think is a relevant observation from the Silver article, worth reading in its entirety (linked above).
Chess progress for beginners, or at the very least players who have never truly challenged their limits, is more about spurts and bursts than slow and steady. The size and depth of this burst is what varies the most. Sometimes that burst of results is a blip on the radar, a magic performance we are unable to sustain, and sometimes it is simply our new reality. The latter is what we all wish for. How do we achieve that leap forward, and how do we know we aren't simply 'stuck'?

29 May 2016

Annotated Game #159: The dangers of distraction

This next tournament game illustrates the dangers of getting distracted from the central features and truths of a position.  As White, I achieve a comfortable game out of the opening and have a clear target in the form of my opponent's king in the center.  Then, at a key point (move 15) I allow myself to be distracted by my opponent on the queenside and a couple of moves later he has equalized, which was a disappointing turn of events.  Luckily, he then distracts himself with potential queenside prospects and moves his queen offside, allowing me to resume an attack in the center after all.

While there are some interesting tactical and positional points in the analysis, the main overriding theme for the game is the need to focus on central control and find any way to get at the opponent's king, including sacrifices to open lines (such as the variation on move 14).  Another personal theme revealed is my difficulty, which is something that has been highlighted repeatedly in analysis, of visualizing attacks, especially mating nets.  I had trouble looking at the series of moves from 22-25 and selecting the most effective ones, although my opponent had even more trouble finding his way and was fatally distracted by snatching a queenside pawn.  As a result, I was able to clearly see the sequence starting on move 26 and win.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "57"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 d5 2. cxd5 {exchanging a flank pawn for a central pawn is usually a good idea and this early on there are no potential drawbacks.} Nf6 3. Nc3 Nxd5 4. Nf3 Nxc3 5. bxc3 {White is quite comfortable here, with a small lead in development and no challenges from Black.} Bf5 {this move is something of a time waster.} (5... g6 {is the main idea for Black here, developing the kingside and staying flexible.}) 6. Qb3 {a (good) obvious move to take advantage of the bishop leaving the queenside.} Qc8 {...b6 or ...Be4 are alternatives to protect the b-pawn, but White still gets more out of the Qb3 move than Black does in any of his options to counter it.} 7. Ba3 $146 {not a bad move, but I should be focusing on control of the center and completing my own development. The idea is to make Black's own kingside development more difficult by restraining ...e6 due to the threat of Bxf8. My opponent decides (erroneously) that this is fine, however, so the move turns out well for me.} (7. g3 e6 8. d3 $16 {and after Rb1 and Bg2, Black is going to have problems defending threats down the b-file and the long diagonal.}) 7... e6 (7... c5 {is a way to resolve the problem, costing a pawn but leaving White without any remaining threats.} 8. Ne5 Be6 9. Qb5+ Nd7 10. Nxd7 Bxd7 11. Qxc5 Qxc5 12. Bxc5 $14) 8. Bxf8 $16 Rxf8 {this leaves Black's king more centralized and therefore vulnerable.} (8... Kxf8) 9. d3 (9. d4 $5 {is more to the point, with Black's king stuck in the center, as White needs to seize territory and pry open the position.}) 9... h6 {while preventing a knight hop to g5, this is dangerously slow for Black's development.} (9... Nc6 10. Nh4 $16) 10. e4 {not a bad continuation, but I could have done more with the position.} (10. g4 $5 {for example is now possible, since taking the pawn would lose to a queen fork on a4.} Bh7 11. Rb1 {and now the b-pawn is doomed, for example} b6 $6 12. Bg2 c6 13. Nd4 e5 14. Nb5 $1 {and the Bg2 proves its worth on the long diagonal, since taking the Nb5 loses material for Black, but the knight's attack on the d6 square anyway becomes decisive.} Qd7 15. Qa3 f5 16. Nd6+ $18) (10. Rb1 {is also good.}) 10... Bh7 11. Be2 Nd7 12. O-O Rb8 13. Rad1 {now that Black has defended the b-pawn adequately, the obvious place to put the rook is on d1, to support a pawn advance. The Rf1 should stay where it is, as it can be better used on either the f- or e-files.} c5 14. e5 {played to enable a follow-on push by the d-pawn, but this was not in fact necessary.} (14. Nd2 {is a solid move that would support the e-pawn and help reposition the knight to a better square.}) (14. d4 $5 {immediately is something the engine likes.} Bxe4 15. Rfe1 Bd5 (15... Ke7 16. d5 Bxd5 $6 (16... Rd8 17. dxe6 Nf6 18. exf7 Kf8 19. Bc4 $16) 17. Rxd5 $18) 16. Bc4 Bxc4 17. Qxc4 cxd4 18. Qxd4 $16 {White is a pawn down but Black is under heavy pressure in the center, with kingside weaknesses. For example}) 14... b5 {trying to get some space and counterplay on the queenside. This in fact works, as it distracts me from the task in the center.} (14... Ke7 15. d4 Rd8 16. Nd2 $14) 15. Rc1 (15. d4 $16 {continues the plan without distraction.}) 15... Qc7 16. d4 c4 {now it's clear that the rook moves back and forth have just wasted time.} 17. Qd1 $6 (17. Qb2 {makes much more sense, keeping control of the b4 square.} a6 18. a4 {this is a common positional theme, temporarily sacrificing a pawn to render the entire structure weak.} bxa4 19. Qa3 $16) 17... Nb6 $11 {Black now defends the d5 square and prevents a White breakthrough. I now have to regroup and come up with a different approach.} 18. Nd2 Nd5 {the optics of the centralized knight look good, but the practical consequences are bad for Black.} (18... Ke7 19. Bf3 $11) 19. Bf3 $14 {the bishop would be happy to exchange itself for the Nd5 and open the way for the e-pawn to advance.} (19. a4 $5 {is again a good idea as well.}) 19... Bd3 { the Black bishop springs annoyingly back to life, although this is not a real threat.} 20. Re1 Qa5 $2 {this removes Black's most powerful piece from the defense of his king, which is about to become the target of White's operations. } (20... Nf4 $5 21. g3 Nh3+ 22. Kg2 Ng5 23. Be2 Bf5 $16) 21. Bxd5 exd5 22. e6 $18 fxe6 23. Rxe6+ $6 {premature. I thought for a long time here about the queen moves, but my brain by this point was fuzzy and I could not see a clear way to an advantage. My opponent however does not find the one defensive move that works.} (23. Qg4 {seems obviously superior in hindsight, although it's a long variation to get to the final advantage.} Rf6 24. Qxg7 Qd8 25. Nf3 Rg6 26. Qh8+ Ke7 27. Qxd8+ Kxd8 28. Ne5 Rg8 29. Nc6+ $16) (23. Qh5+ Kd7 24. Qe5 $16) 23... Kd7 $2 (23... Kf7 {and Black is OK.} 24. Qg4 Rb6 25. Rce1 Kg8 26. Re8 Qa3 $11) 24. Re5 {again, Qg4 would be better, but now this is sufficient for the win.} (24. Qg4 {and White wins, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} g6 ( 24... Bf5 25. Qxg7+ Kxe6 26. Re1+) 25. Ra6+ Bf5 26. Qxf5+ Rxf5 27. Rxa5 b4 28. Rxa7+ Kd8 $18) 24... Kc6 (24... Kc7 25. Qg4 Rf7 26. Rxd5 Rd8 27. Rc5+ Kb8 $18) 25. Qh5 {I thought again for a while and picked the wrong queen move.} (25. Qg4 Qd8 26. Qxg7 $18) 25... Qxa2 $4 {this is the real losing move, as the queenside finally proves a fatal distraction.} (25... Rbd8 $16) 26. Re6+ { now I am able to construct the win with clear calculation, not worrying about getting there the fastest, just the surest.} Kc7 27. Qxd5 {only the third fastest route to mate, according to the engine, but a sure one.} (27. Qe5+ Kc8 28. Qxg7 Qa6 29. Rxa6 Rg8 30. Rc6+ Kd8 31. Rd6+ Ke8 32. Qd7+ Kf8 33. Rf6#) 27... Qa3 28. Qc6+ (28. Rc6+ Kb7 29. Rd6+ Kc7 30. Qc6#) 28... Kd8 29. Rd6+ (29. Rd6+ Qxd6 30. Qxd6+ Kc8 31. Re1 Be2 32. Rxe2 Rb6 33. Qxf8+ Kb7 34. Re7+ Ka6 35. Qc8+ Ka5 36. Rxa7+ Ra6 37. Rxa6#) 1-0

21 May 2016

Annotated Game #158: Openings that aren't as bad as you think

The next tournament game features a provocative opening from my opponent (White), which however unusual, was not in fact bad.  This is a common theme in tournament play, where it can be easy to underestimate your opponent based on an unfamiliar or goofy-looking opening choice.  This can be as early as the opening move (1. b4!?) or, as in the below game, an early divergence.  These lines need to be evaluated critically and carefully and not simply dismissed as inferior, especially if your opponent has experience playing their pet lines.

In this game, the divergence comes quite early (3. g4) and is aggressive in nature, so had to be taken seriously; passive moves that diverge from standard "book" ones are obviously less of a threat.  I responded unevenly to the challenge and would have benefited from playing more according to opening principles, as shown in the annotations.  Among other things, I should have focused more on checking tactics in the openings (a recent theme) and concentrating on development and a central breakthrough once my opponent's king was stranded in the center.  Despite a flash of brilliance (moves 22-23) which should have led to a win, I let the game slip away and also missed a chance to win the resulting king and pawn endgame.  All in all, a very uneven performance, but I also give credit to my opponent, who played significantly stronger than his rating.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "94"] {D00:1 d4 d5: Unusual lines} 1. d4 d5 2. e3 Bf5 {played early to avoid White getting in Bd3 first. This has the disadvantage of allowing the game continuation, however.} 3. g4 {although this looks like a strictly beginner move, it's not as bad as it seems at first glance.} Be4 {the obvious "retreat" (forward) for the bishop, provoking the next move.} 4. f3 Bg6 5. h4 h6 (5... h5 6. g5 e6 7. Bd3 Bxd3 8. Qxd3 Bd6 9. f4 Ne7 10. Ne2 Nf5 11. Nd2 O-O 12. Nf3 c5 13. b3 Nc6 14. c3 a6 15. Bd2 b5 16. O-O c4 17. Qc2 Qc7 18. b4 a5 19. a3 Ra6 20. a4 axb4 21. axb5 b3 22. Qb2 Rxa1 23. Rxa1 Na7 24. Qb1 Nxb5 25. Bc1 Qb7 26. Kf2 Ra8 27. Rxa8+ Qxa8 28. Bb2 Ba3 29. Ba1 Nbd6 30. Ng3 Nxg3 31. Kxg3 Ne4+ 32. Kg2 b2 33. Bxb2 Qb7 {0-1 (33) Budrewicz,H (1603)-Mietek,L (1959) Mazowsze 2009}) 6. h5 Bh7 7. Bd3 Nf6 {a slightly unusual idea, but it gets Komodo's approval. The more conventional ...Bxd3 would also be fine, but I didn't want to leave White having the only piece developed and more space.} 8. c4 (8. Ne2 c5 $11) (8. Bxh7 Nxh7 $11 {controlling the g5 square is actually a valuable mission for the knight here}) 8... e6 {played as an "obvious" move, in order to develop the dark-square bishop. In the game I mis-evaluated the capture on d3 as benefiting White more, by developing the queen, but this is simply not the case. Taking on c4 and making the bishop effectively waste a tempo by recapturing is also a good option.} (8... Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Nc6 $11) (8... dxc4 9. Bxc4 e6 $11) 9. c5 $6 {this is a classic Class player mistake. The pawn chain is over-extended and can be immediately challenged and broken...although unfortunately this is not something I do.} (9. Bxh7 Rxh7 10. cxd5 Nxd5 $11) 9... Be7 {again played automatically, although it is not bad in itself.} (9... Bxd3 10. Qxd3 b6 11. cxb6 (11. b4 a5 $17) 11... axb6 $17 {Black will now be able to challenge for central control and gain space with ...c5, while the dark-square bishop will find a good home on d6 or e7 and help dominate the dark squares.}) 10. Nc3 Nc6 {again, not a bad move, but I am simply not understanding the needs of the position (challenge the advanced c-pawn and trade off the Bd3, as in the previous variation).} 11. Nge2 e5 {this is a bit premature.} (11... Bxd3 12. Qxd3 O-O {better prepares Black for the central struggle.}) 12. Bxh7 Nxh7 13. Qb3 {this was very annoying and something that I had not spotted, which resulted from a failure to check tactics in the opening phase. Now I place too much emphasis on the material, rather than development, which is a mistake. The fact that White's king is in the center should signal that development and a quick central breakthrough is the key to the position.} Bh4+ $6 {taking advantage of White's dark-square holes, but in a premature way. The major problem with the move is that the Qd8 is now tied to the Bh4's defense.} (13... O-O $5 14. Qxd5 (14. Qxb7 $6 Qd7 15. Qb3 Rad8 $17 {with ... Ng5 to follow, giving Black major pressure in the center and the kingside.}) 14... Bf6 {and Black has full compensation for the pawn, for example} 15. Qxd8 Raxd8 16. dxe5 Nxe5 17. O-O Rfe8 18. Kg2 Nd3 $11) 14. Kd1 $14 O-O $6 {this would now allow a legitimate snatch of the b7 pawn by White, but my opponent does not take advantage of the opportunity.} (14... exd4 {can be played immediately.} 15. exd4 Rb8 16. Qxd5 Bf2 17. Bf4 Bxd4 18. Qxd8+ Kxd8 $14) 15. Nxd5 $6 {taking the wrong pawn.} (15. Qxb7 exd4 16. exd4 Qf6 17. Rxh4 Qxh4 18. Qxc6 $16) 15... exd4 $15 16. e4 {although the previous move correctly supported the Nd5, the d4 pawn is now a thorn in White's side.} Na5 (16... Nf6 $5 {bringing the knight back into play is better, as the b7 pawn is tactically protected. For example} 17. Qxb7 $4 Nxd5 18. exd5 Qxd5 $19 {and Black is dominant.}) 17. Qd3 Be7 $2 {played to get the bishop out of the line of fire, but ignoring White's potential threat.} (17... c6 $5 18. Ndf4 b6 $11) 18. b4 ( 18. Bf4 $1 Bxc5 19. Bxc7 Qd7 20. Bxa5 Qa4+ 21. Kc1 Qxa5 22. a3 Qa6 23. Qxa6 bxa6 $16 {gives White an easy plus, as Black finds the d4 pawn hard to protect and has doubled a-pawns.}) 18... Nc6 $11 19. Bb2 {threatening the d-pawn, but this is not so critical.} (19. Bf4 $5 {is best, but no longer packs the same punch as in the previous variation.} a5 20. Bxc7 Qd7 $11 {and White has too many things to worry about (the b4 pawn, the c7 bishop, etc.) to be able to consolidate the pawn advantage. Not to mention that his king is stuck in the center.}) 19... Nf6 $15 20. Nxe7+ {my opponent understands that simply capturing the d-pawn is not good, but this actually makes things worse for him. Part of his problem is that the Qd3 is hanging, giving Black some tactical ideas.} (20. Nxd4 Nxd5 21. Nxc6 bxc6 22. exd5 Rb8 $17) 20... Qxe7 $17 21. a3 $2 {an obvious move, to reinforce the b-pawn, but now Black's forces swing into action.} (21. Ng3 $5 $17) 21... Ne5 22. Qb3 d3 $19 23. Nd4 Nxf3 $1 {this should have been the winning move, cracking open the center.} 24. Qxd3 (24. Nxf3 $2 Qxe4) 24... Nxd4 25. Bxd4 Rad8 26. Kc2 Nxg4 $17 {obvious, but not best. Conceptually, it would be better to bring other pieces into the attack first. Also, White has an obvious response that generates a threat.} (26... Qe6 $5 27. Rhe1 $19) (26... Rfe8 $19) 27. Rhg1 Rxd4 $6 {this was unnecessary.} (27... Qe6 $5 $17 {is something that I completely missed, a subtle queen move that solves Black's problems.}) 28. Qxd4 $15 Rd8 29. Qxd8+ Qxd8 30. Rxg4 {at this point I started thinking draw, although the engine shows an advantage for Black. Queen endings are tricky in general. In this case, I had an ideal one, with White's king being in the open and lots of space for my queen to maneuver.} Qd4 31. Rag1 Qf2+ (31... Kf8 $5 $17) 32. Kb3 Qd4 {showing a lack of imagination.} ( 32... Qf3+ 33. Ka4 Kf8 34. Rxg7 Qxe4 $17) 33. Rxg7+ Qxg7 {heading for a drawn K+P ending.} 34. Rxg7+ Kxg7 35. e5 $2 {I knew this was a mistake, although I didn't take full advantage of it. The pawn is unsupported and can be traded off to Black's benefit.} (35. Kc4 $5 $11 {might be a viable alternative}) 35... f5 (35... f6 $1 36. exf6+ Kxf6 $19) 36. Kc3 {correctly not exchanging.} Kf7 37. Kd4 Ke6 38. a4 $2 {unfortunately my lack of endgame familiarity leads me to miss the win.} (38. b5 c6 39. a4 f4 $15) 38... f4 (38... a6 $19 {and Black gets the upper hand.}) 39. Ke4 f3 40. Kxf3 Kxe5 41. Kg4 b6 (41... c6 $5 42. Kf3 a6 43. Ke3 Kf5 44. Kd4 Kf4 45. b5 a5) 42. c6 (42. cxb6 cxb6 43. a5 b5 $15) 42... a5 (42... a6 $5 $15) 43. b5 $11 {and now there's no escaping the draw, for either player.} Ke4 44. Kg3 Ke3 45. Kg4 Ke4 46. Kg3 Ke3 {Twofold repetition } 47. Kg4 Ke4 1/2-1/2

18 May 2016

How do you become a master (according to someone who is)

One of the best chess blogs currently active is the simply-titled "dana blogs chess" (also linked in the sidebar).  Probably the most succinct and useful summation (that I've seen) of what it takes to become a chess master is contained in his recent "How Do You Become A Life Master?" post.  He draws on an experience of being interviewed to further contemplate the question, with excellent results (and comments).

I'll let you read all of the specific chess observations via the original linked post above, but here's an excerpted general observation which I think is also very relevant for any improving player (or person...)
The question was, “If you could talk with your 20-year-old self, what would you say to them?”
I had two pieces of advice for my 20-year-old self. The first was: Don’t be afraid of failure. Before I was 20, all I did was succeed, succeed, succeed. (Except at things like sports, where I failed early and often. However, it is socially acceptable for a nerd to be bad at sports.) But three of my most formative experiences, the things that taught me humility and forced me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, were failures.

15 May 2016

Annotated Game #157: Halfway tournament turning point

This round 5 game - now over the halfway mark - was a performance turning point for me in the tournament.  I had been struggling a lot in previous games and generally speaking played more fluidly from this point forward.  Given that it had been several months since my previous tournament, perhaps this was simply the necessary "warmup" time required.  In any case, my opponent in this game was significantly lower-rated and did not seem to be as focused on fighting as hard as possible, also moving faster than she should have.

In the game, a tactical mistake on move 8 (which I did not catch until move 9) gave me a significant advantage and I was able to consolidate and expand it going forward.  The win was relatively easy, but still interesting given the position, so it helped put me in a better frame of mind for subsequent rounds.  A lesson reinforced for me, however, was to always check tactics in the opening when in an unfamiliar position, even if elements of it are common to my experience.  This also cropped up later on (see move 26), pointing out the importance of examining checks, captures and threats (CCT).

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "75"] {A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 {White is taking a gambit approach here, rather than worrying about the c-pawn, in the spirit of Queen's Gambit type positions.} g6 {Black decides to fianchetto the king's bishop as well, leading to a largely symmetrical position.} 5. O-O Bg7 6. d3 {I played this primarily to keep the game out of traditional queen's pawn opening territory. Of course it is a helpful move in itself, reinforcing c4 and contesting e4. I wanted to play b3, but at the time I believed that the Bg7 on the long diagonal would make that impossible. However, this is not the case.} (6. d4 {would be a straight transposition to a Schlecter Slav variation, which is normally very good for White (and scores 61 percent from this position).}) (6. b3 $5 Ne4 7. d4 O-O 8. Bb2 a5 9. Nbd2 Bf5 10. Nh4 Nxd2 11. Qxd2 Be6 12. f4 dxc4 13. f5 gxf5 14. Nxf5 Bxf5 15. Rxf5 e6 16. Rh5 cxb3 17. axb3 Nd7 18. Rg5 f6 19. Rgxa5 Rxa5 20. Qxa5 Qxa5 21. Rxa5 Nb6 22. e4 Rd8 23. Ra7 Rd7 24. Kf2 Kf7 25. Bh3 Nc8 26. Ra8 Nd6 27. Kf3 Nb5 28. Ra4 Rd8 29. Bg4 f5 30. Bh5+ Ke7 31. e5 Bh6 32. Ke2 Bg5 33. Bf3 Bh6 34. Bg2 Bg5 35. Bf1 Bh6 36. Kf3 Bf8 37. Ke3 Kf7 38. Bc4 Be7 39. Ke2 Rd7 40. Ke3 Rd8 41. Bxb5 cxb5 42. Ra7 Rd7 43. Ra8 b4 44. Rh8 Kg7 45. Rc8 Kf7 46. Kd3 h5 47. Kc4 h4 48. Bc1 hxg3 49. hxg3 Bf8 50. Bg5 Bg7 51. Rd8 Rc7+ 52. Kxb4 Bf8+ 53. Ka4 Rc3 54. Bf4 b5+ 55. Kxb5 Rxb3+ 56. Kc4 Ra3 57. Rd7+ Ke8 58. Rb7 Ra4+ 59. Kc3 Ra3+ 60. Kc4 Ra4+ 61. Kc3 Ra3+ 62. Kc2 Be7 63. Rc7 Rf3 64. Ra7 Kd8 65. Ra5 Kd7 66. d5 exd5 67. Rxd5+ Ke6 68. Ra5 Rf2+ 69. Kd3 Rf3+ 70. Kc4 Rf1 71. Ra6+ Kf7 72. Ra7 Ke6 73. Ra6+ Kf7 74. Kd5 Rd1+ 75. Kc6 Ke6 76. Kc7+ Kf7 77. Rh6 Bd8+ 78. Kc6 Be7 79. Rh7+ Ke6 80. Rh6+ Kf7 81. Kc7 Bd8+ 82. Kc8 Be7 83. Rc6 Rd5 84. e6+ Kf6 85. Bc1 Rc5 86. Bb2+ Kg5 87. Rxc5 Bxc5 88. Be5 f4 89. gxf4+ Kf5 90. Kd7 {1-0 (90) Mikhalevski,V (2535)-Rozhko,D (2313) Minsk 2015}) 6... O-O 7. Bg5 {I thought that it would be too awkward to try and develop the bishop via b2, so this is an alternative. The text move also tempts Black to play h6 and create a potential target of the h-pawn, although ...h6 is not bad in itself.} (7. Qc2 {tends to be the choice of high-level players in this position, opting for flexible development. }) 7... Nbd7 {this is rather restrictive for Black, although solid.} (7... h6 8. Bd2 Nbd7 9. Bc3 dxc4 10. dxc4 Qc7 11. Nbd2 b6 12. Rc1 Bb7 13. Qc2 Rfe8 14. e4 e5 15. Rfd1 Rad8 16. Nf1 Nh7 {1/2-1/2 (16) Angyal,F (1958)-Kovacs,I (1820) Hungary 2014}) 8. Qc1 {a rather obvious approach to the position, but I felt exchanging the Bg7 would be strategically advantageous.} (8. cxd5 {is an interesting idea.} Nxd5 9. Qd2 Qb6 10. Nc3 Nxc3 11. bxc3 Re8 12. Rab1 Qc7 13. d4 Nb6 14. Bf4 Qd8 15. e4 Be6 16. Rfd1 Qc8 17. Bh6 Bg4 18. Qf4 Bxf3 19. Bxf3 e5 20. Qc1 Bxh6 21. Qxh6 Qe6 22. d5 cxd5 23. exd5 Qd6 24. Rb4 f5 25. h4 Rac8 26. Qe3 e4 27. Be2 Rc5 28. h5 Rec8 29. hxg6 hxg6 30. Qd4 Rxc3 31. Kg2 Rc1 32. Rb1 Rxb1 33. Rxb1 Rc7 34. Rd1 Re7 35. a4 a6 36. a5 Nd7 37. Rb1 Qe5 38. Qc4 Qd6 39. Rxb7 e3 40. f4 Kf7 41. Qc6 {1-0 (41) Saulina,V (2253)-Romanko,M (2404) Magnitogorsk 2011}) 8... Nc5 $2 {not seeing the tactical problem with the "loose" knight.} (8... dxc4 9. Qxc4 Nd5 10. Qc2 $11) 9. Bh6 $6 {here I was simply playing on automatic in the opening phase and continued with the idea of the minor piece trade, without first checking tactics.} (9. cxd5 {simply wins a pawn, due to the hanging Nc5.} Qd6 10. dxc6 $16) 9... Bd7 {my opponent however also fails to pay sufficient attention to the position and catch her previous mistake, so I finally spot the tactic, which now requires exchanging bishops first.} (9... Bxh6 $5 10. Qxh6 dxc4 $11) 10. Bxg7 $16 Kxg7 11. cxd5 Na4 (11... Qb6 {would be at least temporarily more challenging for White, creating a more awkward position for me.} 12. dxc6 Bxc6 13. Na3 $16) 12. dxc6 Bxc6 { I'm now a pawn up with no compensation for my opponent, but it's hardly an overwhelming position.} 13. Nc3 Nb6 {The knight maneuver has mostly wasted time for my opponent. Looking at the position, the Bc6 is well placed for Black, so I decide to gain some space on the queenside and chase it off the long diagonal.} (13... Rc8 14. Qd2 $16) 14. b4 a6 15. Qb2 {supporting an eventual push of the b-pawn and placing the queen on the long diagonal.} Kg8 { getting the king off the long diagonal. Prudent, but Black continues to lose time.} 16. a4 Nbd7 {the knight returns to its original developed square, having consumed a number of tempi to get there. The extra time for development has given me a significantly better position in comparison, which the engine evaluates as nearly two pawns up (one for the material, the other for positional factors). My queen and minor pieces are well-placed, while Black's (apart from the Bc6) aren't doing much.} (16... a5 17. Rfc1 $16) 17. b5 Bd5 { I'm happy to make the minor piece trade, giving me an unopposed light-square bishop on the long diagonal.} (17... axb5 18. axb5 Bxf3 19. Bxf3 $16) 18. Nxd5 Nxd5 19. Rfc1 $18 {there's an ironic saying in analysis that it's always the "wrong rook" you pick when you have a choice of which one to move to a square, here it seems obvious that White can best employ both rooks on the queenside.} Qb6 (19... a5 20. Ne5 e6 21. Nc4 $18) 20. Qd4 {I was perfectly fine with getting the queens off the board and heading into an endgame with both a material and positional advantage.} (20. e4 {is preferred by the engine.} N5f6 21. e5 Nd5 22. Nd2 e6 23. Nc4 $18) 20... e6 (20... Qxd4 21. Nxd4 N7f6 22. a5 $18) 21. Qxb6 N7xb6 22. a5 {this seemed the simplest approach to gaining space and further harassing Black's pieces.} Nd7 23. b6 {this may not be necessary at this point, but I wanted to not have to worry about pawn exchanges and also get a lock on the c7 square.} (23. e4 Nb4 24. Rc7 $18) 23... Rfc8 24. Nd2 Nc3 { for once, I had spotted this knight move as a potential threat to e2 in advance and had calculated that moving the king would be good for me as a response.} 25. Kf1 Rab8 (25... Nd5 $5) 26. Rc2 {a good enough move, but not the best.} (26. Bxb7 $1 {is an example of how I should have been using CCT to find winning tactics.} Rxb7 27. Ra3 $18 {- this situation combines a deflection tactic (the defending rook to b7) with a pin and double attack on the Nc3. White wins material.}) 26... Nd5 27. Rac1 Rxc2 28. Rxc2 {being a pawn up and having a stranglehold on the c-file, along with the strong Bg2, gives me a winning game. However, it still has to be won.} Kf8 29. d4 {here I want to take away the e5 square from Black's knight and use my central pawn to gain space.} Ke8 30. Rc4 {looking to prevent ...Nb4-c6.} (30. e4 $5 {can also be played immediately.} Nb4 31. Rc7 Nc6 32. Nc4 $18) 30... Kd8 31. e4 Ne7 32. Nb3 {proactively protecting a5 from a potential ...Nc6 from my opponent, and also allowing a possible jump to c5. Not the most effective move, however.} (32. e5 $5 {is also a good way of preventing ...Nc6.} Nd5 33. Ne4 $18) 32... Nc6 { so a knight ends up on c6 anyway, but it doesn't last long there.} (32... Rc8 33. Rxc8+ Kxc8 34. Ke2 $18) 33. d5 Nce5 34. Rc7 {by this point it's obvious White will eventually crack Black's position, although not necessarily quickly. Black now gets desperate and the game slips away much faster.} Nd3 $6 (34... Rc8 35. Rxb7 Rc3 36. Nd4 $18) 35. dxe6 (35. Bh3 {played immediately makes it even easier for White.} Rc8 36. Rxb7 N3c5 37. Nxc5 Rxc5 38. dxe6 fxe6 39. Bxe6 Nf8 $18) 35... fxe6 36. Bh3 {this is a move that all English players - or anyone who likes to fianchetto the king's bishop - should keep in mind as a possibility; sometimes it is too easy to simply leave a bishop on its originally developed square without thinking of making the slight adjustment in position to h3. Here it has a great effect, guaranteeing material loss for Black.} Ke7 37. f4 {cutting off Black's pieces from the e5 square.} h6 38. Ke2 {and Black will lose either the d3 or the d7 knight, for example after ...Nb4 39. Nc5} 1-0

02 May 2016

Interview - Improve your chess with Boris Gelfand

The linked interview with GM Boris Gelfand, conducted for ChessBase by IM Sagar Shah, is one of those rare ones with a top-flight player where it's not just for PR, they are candid and offer genuine insight into what really matters in chess.  The full interview is well worth the time, here I'll highlight some of the former World Championship Candidate's views on opening study, which is a theme of this blog:

Coming to your openings, you usually begin the game with 1.d4 and recently you have stuck to this move. Are you not afraid that your opponents would come prepared with computer analysis?
BG: Of course I am afraid, but it’s a risk whatever you do! If you prepare a lot of moves, you cannot go too deep and your opponents might be better prepared. Also, I play a lot of different systems, sometimes the Catalan, sometimes 3.Nf3 and 4.Nc3, and I keep varying. I don’t think my opening repertoire is narrow.
What is your opinion about the opening? Should players focus on the openings since young age or they should first work on other phases of the game?
BG: I think it is always better to focus on other aspects of the game apart from openings at an early age. Let’s say learning basic endgames, to get some tactical alertness, to learn pattern recognition, to study the classics. I think all these are much more important than focusing on the openings.
At some point, however, one would have to learn openings. At that moment how would you advice players to go about working on this first phase of the game?
BG: It’s different for different people. I believe that young players must try to follow the repertoire of a player whom they like the most.  You can easily get the opening ideas and you are also able to follow the complete games. For example, if you like a classical player you can take Kramnik’s repertoire. But you also have to be alert. You cannot just blindly follow the sharp lines. Your idol might have worked a lot while you just don’t know what to do! I would also suggest playing openings that suit your style.