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.