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