10 December 2018

When plateauing is not a bad thing

After "The Phenomenon of Plateauing" appeared, over the past year I've reached and successfully maintained a new plateau in the low Class A range, around 100 Elo more than my previous decades-long plateau (see "The Long Journey to Class A").  It's true that maintaining a certain level of performance rather than progressing can be frustrating in the long term.  However, in the short term - in this case, a year - for me it's served as a validation of having consolidated the (modest) breakthrough in improvement since starting this blog.

Plateauing as a phenomenon should not be confused with lack of effort.  It's been a hard-fought year, with a number of examples of me gutting out draws after being objectively lost, or grinding away a win after achieving a small but significant advantage.  It's also featured some disappointing losses against both higher-rated and lower-rated opposition after I had major advantages but failed to convert them.

One of the things that keeps me positive about a future upward improvement trajectory, rather than believing I've reached my playing strength cap, is that I can readily see specific lessons to carry forward from each game, either at the time or after analysis.  Another positive sign is the ability to gain advantages against significantly higher-rated opponents at the Expert and Master level, rather than playing indifferently or simply imploding due to rating shock.

There remains a lot of work to be done - see "Training quote of the day #9" - but it's mostly pleasurable and I look forward to strategizing about the next year's worth of chess study.

06 December 2018

Play the Leningrad Dutch like a 3000+ engine

One of my longer-term goals is to learn the Leningrad Dutch, since I think it's a fascinating, demanding and aesthetic opening that will also push my chess boundaries.  Some players put down the Dutch in general - I guess they don't like moving their f-pawns early in the game - but it's instructive to see how the new silicon beast AlphaZero handles it as Black, as shown in this Chess.com article:


[Event "Computer Match"]
[Site "London, UK"]
[Date "2018.01.18"]
[Round "255"]
[White "Stockfish 8"]
[Black "AlphaZero"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A88"]
[PlyCount "130"]
[EventDate "2018.??.??"]

1. d4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. c4 d6 7. Nc3 c6 8. Rb1 a5
9. Qb3 Na6 10. Rd1 h6 11. Be3 Rb8 12. Rbc1 Bd7 13. c5+ Kh7 14. Na4 Nc7 15. Bd2
Be6 16. Qc2 Ncd5 17. b3 Ra8 18. Be1 Qe8 19. e3 g5 20. Nd2 Qh5 21. Bf3 g4 22.
Be2 Kh8 23. Nc4 Ne4 24. h4 Ng5 25. hxg5 hxg5 26. f3 gxf3 27. Bf1 f4 28. Rd2
fxe3 29. Nxe3 Nxe3 30. Rh2 Bh3 31. Rxh3 Qxh3 32. Bxh3 Nxc2 33. Rxc2 Bxd4+ 34.
Bf2 Bxf2+ 35. Kxf2 Kg7 36. Nb6 Rad8 37. Rc3 Rh8 38. Be6 Rh6 39. Re3 Rf8 40. Nd7
Rh2+ 41. Kf1 Re2 42. Rxe2 fxe2+ 43. Kxe2 Rh8 44. Kd3 Rh6 45. Bg4 d5 46. Ne5 e6
47. Nd7 Kf7 48. Ke3 Rh1 49. Bf3 Re1+ 50. Kd2 Ra1 51. Bd1 Ke7 52. Ne5 Kf6 53.
Ng4+ Kf5 54. Nh6+ Ke4 55. Nf7 g4 56. Nd6+ Kd4 57. a4 Ra2+ 58. Ke1 Kxc5 59.
Nxb7+ Kb6 60. Nd8 Rg2 61. Nxe6 Rxg3 62. Kf2 Rc3 63. Bxg4 Rxb3 64. Bd1 Rb4 65.
Kf3 Re4 0-1

03 December 2018

Annotated Game #203: Small advantages are hard

This next tournament game illustrates the difficulty of doing meaningful things with small deviations from theory which, while not best, aren't bad in themselves.  My opponent clearly did not have a familiarity with the Caro-Kann, so I easily achieve equality and perhaps a slight positional edge, but no more.  Some patient re-deployment of my pieces was likely the best strategy, but instead I let my opponent gain a slight initiative on the queenside and then achieve a nice positional plus in an imbalanced position.  However, he did not see the critical continuation on move 27, which would have involved shifting his queen to attack my bare kingside, and we ended up in a repetition of moves.  He played well, so I have no regrets about the result, despite the large rating gap.

A more general strategic insight is that against significantly lower-rated opponents, if you have a more imbalancing opening repertoire, you probably will have greater chance of success.  I don't think that's a reason to give up playing solid openings like the Caro-Kann if you are higher rated, but it is a consideration if you want to create more obvious winning chances.

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Class D"]
[Black "ChessAdmin"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B13"]
[Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"]
[PlyCount "58"]

{B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack} 1. e4 c6 2. d4
d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Nc3 {this is one of those moves that is unusual in the
opening, but not necessarily terrible. We are now out of book.} Nf6 5. h3 {
preventing ...Bg4, but perhaps not the best use of a tempo this early.} Nc6 6.
Be3 {Again maybe not the best, but a sensible reinforcement of d4.} Bf5 7. Bd3
Bxd3 {the usual practice in the Caro-Kann is to exchange bishops on d3 when
White offers the trade. This does develop White's queen, but it is usually
preferable to having it be exchanged on g6, which then provides more of a
target for any kingside advances by White.} 8. cxd3 {although the doubled
pawns look awkward, Komodo evaluates it as equal to the queen recapture. The
pawns could be weak at some point later, but are hard to attack. And as
compensation, White now contests e4 and c4, so a Black knight can no longer go
to those squares.} e6 9. a3 {covering b4 and further restricting my knight.}
Be7 $11 {a rather passive bishop development.} (9... Bd6 {I had not played due
to the possible harassment by White's knight, but the engine evaluates that as
being better for Black:} 10. Nb5 Bb8 $15 {and now the knight cannot stay on b5,
while the bishop will have a good diagonal permanently. Black will need to
spend some time re-deploying his pieces, but there is no hurry as White has no
threats.}) 10. Nf3 O-O 11. O-O Rc8 {the opening phase is over and the position
is very balanced.} 12. Rc1 a6 {Controls b5} (12... Ne8 13. b4 a6 {followed by .
..Nd6 is Komodo's suggested plan, repositioning the knight to a better square
and freeing f6 for potential use by the bishop. This would also have avoided
some of the coming awkwardness on the queenside.}) 13. Ne5 Nd7 14. Nxd7 {
My opponent's strategy is evidently to exchange off pieces and head for a draw.
} (14. Nxc6 {might be a better choice for exchanging down.} Rxc6 15. Na4 Rxc1
16. Qxc1 $11) 14... Qxd7 15. Na4 {threatening a fork on b6.} Qd8 16. Nc5 {
now the knight is attacking b7, forcing me to respond.} Bxc5 {here a bit of
patience and boldness might have served me better.} (16... Qc7 $5 {places the
queen opposite the Rc1, but there's no way White can take advantage of this.}
17. Qb3 Bf6 $11 {counterattacking d4 rather than trying to defend b7.}) 17.
dxc5 d4 {I thought for a while here on how would be best to proceed.} (17... e5
{is perhaps the more natural move here, although the text move is just as
equal.}) 18. Bd2 Qd5 19. Re1 a5 (19... Rfe8 $5 {is just as equal as most moves
here, but it has the advantage of activating the rook and reinforcing Black's
possibilities for central play.}) 20. b4 axb4 21. axb4 {by now we have a clear
imbalance in the position between the 2-1 queenside majority for White and
Black's central pawn majority. It's still dead even in terms of evaluation,
however, as neither side has a way to make real progress with good play. In
practice, however, White's more advanced pawn majority creates more pressure,
as we'll soon see.} Ra8 22. Ra1 Ra2 23. Rxa2 Qxa2 24. b5 Ne7 $6 {the first
real miscalculation on either side.} (24... Na7 {threatening the b-pawn is
much more effective as a defense.} 25. Bf4 Qa5 26. Qa1 Qxa1 27. Rxa1 Nxb5 28.
Kf1 $11) 25. Bf4 $14 Nd5 {the knight looks good visually, perhaps, but now
White gains a significant positional bonus by installing his bishop on d6.} 26.
Bd6 Ra8 {this looks logical, but White could now take advantage of the rook's
absence from the kingside by targeting e6 with a sacrifice.} (26... Re8 $5) 27.
Qb1 {this leads to a drawing line.} (27. Qg4 $5 {is critical. In addition to a
potential sac on e6, there is a brute force threat against Black's king after
Be5. The best defense according to the engine is to pitch the h-pawn as a
distraction.} h5 28. Qxh5 Qd2 $16) 27... Qd2 28. Rd1 Qe2 29. Re1 $11 Qd2 {
the position was objectively equal and I felt White had the only real winning
chances if I deviated, so I was content to take the draw.} 1/2-1/2

26 November 2018

Have to back Caruana now

I generally don't have strong personal favorites in World Championship matches, although it's natural to pull a bit for one side.  After Game 12, however, I have to fully back Caruana going into the tiebreak of the 2018 World Championship.  Carlsen seriously violated the mental toughness rules** by offering a draw in a superior position, in what was the decisive classical game.  That certainly made it seem like all he was aiming for was a draw from the start.  He wasn't sick or exhausted or suffering from any other exogenous factors, either.

Caruana in the press conference even looked slightly taken aback, saying that "White could never be better" in the final position, then going on to mention how at least he was more equal at the end than he had been a few moves before, when there was more danger.  There is some justice in the outcome, however, as it seems Caruana could have essentially forced a repetition of moves earlier in the game, but chose not to.

GM Erwin L'Ami's video analysis - click on Round 12 in the Round-up show frame on the Chessbase 2018 World Championship Page - is well worth viewing, for a candid look at the game.

** draw rules:
  • Do not deliberately aim for a draw from the start of a game, regardless of your opponent's rating or your tournament standing.  If you play your best and press any advantages you are able to obtain, you are more likely to achieve what you need and may in fact win.
  • Resolve not to offer a draw to your opponent unless the position on the board is in fact completely drawn.  This will contribute to a winning mindset and to not being afraid to play out any position.

24 November 2018

Annotated Game #202: Breaking the trend

Although my results hadn't been terrible in the previous three games of this open tournament (1 out of 3 versus much higher-rated opposition, including my first-ever win over a master), I hadn't played very well at all.  I consciously understood that I needed to break this trend (see "Streakiness in Chess Performance") and did so effectively with this fourth-round game, facing an Expert.

The most important factor, both psychologically and in terms of chess skills, was that I was able to reach a position-type I knew quite well out of the opening.  Objectively it's balanced for both sides until around move 17, when my opponent essentially wastes a tempo and I am able to seize the opportunity to take control of the a-file.  From there on, I have the initiative and am able to go up a pawn, although after a tense confrontation and tricky sequence in the center, we end up in a draw.

I think that the idea of having better success out of "comfortable" positions - regardless of the objective measurement of equality - has gained a lot of force in recent years, primarily due to Magnus Carlsen's ability to win from seemingly dead equal positions, and his deliberate strategy of choosing solid openings many times that have no theoretical advantage whatsoever.  It certainly worked in this case for me, as I knew what to do in the middlegame transition phase better than my opponent did, so was able to seize the initial opportunity when it appeared on the board.

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "ChessAdmin"]
[Black "Expert"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A26"]
[Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"]
[PlyCount "84"]

{A26: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 and d3} 1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 Bg7
3. g3 d6 4. Bg2 Nf6 {going for a King's Indian setup, which was expected, even
with a somewhat unusual move-order.} 5. Nf3 O-O 6. O-O e5 7. d3 Nc6 8. Rb1 a5
9. a3 Re8 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bxf6 {the idea behind the exchange is that White's
dark-square bishop is constrained by all of the pawns on dark squares, so is
best traded for the Nf6, which is normally a good attacking piece for Black on
the kingside.} Bxf6 12. b4 axb4 13. axb4 {everything so far is very standard.}
Bg7 14. b5 Ne7 15. Qb3 {generally speaking, in these types of English
formation, it's sometimes hard to figure out where to put the queen. Here, it
seems clear that b3 is an excellent square, as it supports the b-pawn, doubles
up on the b-file, and lines up on the a2-g8 diagonal. There are no obvious
drawbacks, even with Black lining up his bishop to oppose the queen.} f5 $5 {
an uncommon (only one game in the database), aggressive play by Black, which
however is in keeping with typical KID ideas.} (15... Be6 16. Nd2 c6 17. Rfc1
d5 18. bxc6 bxc6 19. Qd1 Ra7 20. Na4 f5 21. cxd5 cxd5 22. Nc5 Bf7 23. Rb7 Rxb7
24. Nxb7 Qd7 25. Nc5 Qd6 26. e3 d4 27. Nb7 Qd7 28. Nc5 Qd6 29. Nb7 Qd7 30. Nc5
{Georgiev,K (2660)-Akopian,V (2600) Tilburg 1993 1/2-1/2 (41)}) (15... c6 16.
Rfd1 d5 17. cxd5 cxd5 18. d4 e4 19. Ne1 Qd6 20. e3 g5 21. Rdc1 Be6 22. b6 Rec8
23. Na4 Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Rc8 25. Rb1 Rd8 26. Nc2 h5 27. Na3 Bd7 28. Bf1 h4 29. Nb5
Qf6 30. Na7 {Oral,T (2415)-Simacek,P (2255) Prague 1997 1/2-1/2 (42)}) 16. Nd2
{this was played in the only DB game (see below for that continuation). It's a
common idea in the English, unleashing the Bg2 being the main idea.} (16. Nd5
Nxd5 17. cxd5 $11 {is preferred by Komodo. This is another common idea in the
English, where after an exchange on d5, doubled d-pawns are accepted in
exchange for gaining space and cramping Black.}) 16... Kh7 $146 {moving the
king off the diagonal, but now White gets a bit of initiative on the queenside.
} (16... f4 17. Nd5 Nxd5 18. Bxd5+ Kh8 19. Ra1 Rxa1 20. Rxa1 fxg3 21. hxg3 Bg4
22. Bxb7 Bxe2 23. Bc6 Rf8 24. Ra8 Qf6 25. Rxf8+ Bxf8 26. Ne4 Qf5 27. Qc2 Bf3
28. Nc3 Bxc6 29. bxc6 Be7 30. Nd5 Bd8 31. c5 {Seel,C-Eissing,C Pinneberg 1996
1-0 (55)}) (16... c6 $5 17. Ra1 Be6 18. e3 $11) 17. Ra1 {whenever White can
play this move with a Black bishop still on c8, it always has some punch to it,
due to the Ra8 hanging.} Rb8 (17... Rxa1 18. Rxa1 c6 19. Ra8 $14) 18. Ra7 $16 {
this is now a great rook, exerting lateral pressure on the 7th rank while also
dominating the a-file.} e4 {my opponent is willing to sacrifice a pawn for a
bit more space and activity, which I gladly accept.} 19. dxe4 $16 Bd4 {with a
"backwards" attack on the Ra7, which I calmly move back. Although it's a shame
it's no longer on the 7th rank, the pawn more than compensates for that.} 20.
Ra2 fxe4 21. Ndxe4 Be6 {it's understandable that Black wants to develop his
neglected bishop, but I could have reacted more strongly.} (21... Bg7 22. Rd1
b6 23. e3 $18) 22. Nd5 {part of Black's strategic problem has been his
relatively more cramped position and less-effective pieces. This exchange just
helps him, although it's not a terrible move in itself.} (22. Rd2 $5 {the
virtue of this move is that it shifts the rook to what is now a more effective
file on which to exert pressure.} Bg7 (22... Be5 23. b6 {and the idea still
works, by simultaneously threatening to exchange on c7 and undermine the d6
pawn. For example} Nf5 24. bxc7 Qxc7 25. Nd5 $18) 23. b6 $18) 22... Nxd5 $16
23. cxd5 Bf5 24. e3 {I thought for a long time before playing this, as the
continuation is rather complex.} Bxe4 25. Bxe4 Bb6 ({after} 25... Rxe4 26. Qd3
{is now the key move, forking the rook and bishop.} Qe8 27. Ra4 $16) 26. Qd3 (
26. Ra4 $5 {is a more creative idea, protecting the bishop and making the rook
mobile along the 4th rank.}) 26... Qf6 {developing the queen and protecting g6.
At this point I was a pawn up, but didn't have any good ideas on how to make
further progress.} 27. Kg2 Re7 28. Qc2 {I'm starting to make moves that mark
time rather than make threats, so Black is able to recover a bit of initiative.
} (28. h4 h5 29. Bf3) 28... Rbe8 29. Bd3 Kg7 30. Ra4 {finally I figure this
idea out.} Qg5 31. e4 {again, not a terrible move, but not necessarily in the
spirit of the position, either. It protects the d5 pawn, but contradicts the
idea of having the Ra4 laterally mobile and bottles up the Q+B battery. At the
time, I felt it would help shut down any counterplay by Black and it was
intended to help to mobilize my extra pawn.} (31. Qb3 $5 {is more flexible and
would allow the rook to subsequently transfer to f4 or h4, to good effect.})
31... Rf8 32. f4 Qf6 33. e5 (33. h4 $5 $16) 33... dxe5 34. fxe5 Qxe5 35. Rxf8 {
missing the critical continuation. Now the position becomes largely even.} (35.
Re4 $5 Rxf1 36. Rxe5 Rg1+ 37. Kh3 Rxe5 38. d6 cxd6 39. Qc8 {going after the b7
pawn and the soft underbelly of the 7th and 8th ranks, instead of the g6 pawn})
35... Kxf8 36. Bxg6 Qxd5+ 37. Be4 Qxb5 38. Ra8+ {deliberately going for a
drawing line, now that I'm a pawn down.} Kg7 39. Qc3+ Qe5 40. Qxe5+ Rxe5 41.
Bxb7 Re2+ 42. Kh1 Re1+ 1/2-1/2

09 November 2018

Annotated Game #201: The importance of falsifying all your moves

The best thing that can be said about this next game is that it wasn't a miniature, like the previous one.  There are some useful lessons from the opening / early middlegame phase, particularly regarding the move 10 decision to avoid doubled pawns that was not in fact best.  However, the main lesson is to falsify all of your planned moves - meaning, to expend the mental effort necessary to calculate if your opponent can refute them.  This theme was originally introduced in Annotated Game #35: Thou Shalt Falsify.  Sometimes I find it all too easy to slip back into laziness, when a move looks fine (for me), or can be made on "general principles".  It does take additional mental effort to meaningfully check for your opponent's possible responses, rather than simply giving the board a cursory look.  Probably the best piece of advice I have ever received from a martial arts master is "don't be lazy", so I try to replay that in my mind whenever I am tempted to cut corners.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C42"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "46"] {[%mdl 8192] C42: Petroff Defence: 3 Nxe5 and unusual White 3rd moves} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Qf6 {an unusual move to protect the e-pawn, immediately signaling aggressive intentions.} 8. d4 {White proceeds as usual in this variation.} exd4 9. exd4 { normally it's "dealer's choice" on which pawn to recapture with here, but with the queen on f6 I think it's probably better to use the c-pawn.} (9. cxd4 Bb4+ 10. Bd2 Bxd2+ 11. Qxd2 O-O 12. Rc1 Bh3 13. O-O Qg6 14. Ne1 Rad8 15. Bxc6 bxc6 16. f3 Rd5 17. Nd3 Rg5 18. Nf4 Qh6 19. Nxh3 Qxh3 20. Rxc6 Rc8 21. e4 Qh5 22. Qf4 Ra5 23. Rxc7 Rxc7 24. Qxc7 h6 25. Qc8+ Kh7 26. Qc4 Ra3 27. d5 Qe5 28. Rd1 Qb2 29. d6 Rxa2 30. Qxa2 {1-0 (30) Suba,M (2531)-Ljubarskij,J (2344) Bad Zwischenahn 2008}) 9... Bg4 $146 (9... Bd7 10. O-O h6 11. Re1+ Kd8 12. Ne5 Nxe5 13. dxe5 Qe6 14. Bxd7 Qxd7 15. Qf3 Kc8 16. Be3 Qe6 17. Rab1 c6 18. a4 Be7 19. a5 Rd8 20. a6 b6 21. c4 Kd7 22. c5 b5 23. Qg3 g5 24. Qf3 {Moracchini,F (2270) -Trinh,R (2230) Issy les Moulineaux 1989 1/2-1/2}) (9... Bd6 10. Bg5 Qe6+ 11. Kf1 $14) 10. Be2 {here I was transfixed by the obvious threat to create double f-pawns, so retreated the bishop.} (10. O-O $5 {the engine has no such prejudices against doubled pawns and instead sees what other possible advantages White could get in compensation.} Bxf3 11. Re1+ {this is the key idea, using the open e-file to harass Black's king. Losing the right to castle and having the king in the center is more worrisome than the kingside pawn structure, although White should be careful.} Kd8 (11... Be7 12. Qxf3 Qxf3 13. gxf3 Kd8) 12. gxf3 Bd6 13. Bf1 Qh4 (13... Qg6+ 14. Bg2) 14. h3 $16) 10... Bd6 $11 {Black has an active position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface. The position is equal, but I don't really have many prospects for progress.} 11. O-O O-O 12. h3 Bf5 13. Bd3 {looking to trade, as Black's bishop seems more active than my own.} (13. Bg5 $5 {is a better idea, as it develops my last piece with tempo.}) 13... h6 {basically a free move for Black, preventing the previous bishop development idea by seizing control of g5.} 14. Rb1 Rab8 15. Qc2 $2 {an example of lazy thinking and not following my thinking progress, which requires *always* to falsify your intended moves.} (15. Re1 b6 $11) 15... Bxh3 {my opponent spots the tactic, which is based on the overloaded g-pawn and the now not sufficiently protected Nf3.} 16. gxh3 $6 {here it would have been better to simply accept the loss of a pawn, rather than disrupting my pawn structure for no good reason.} (16. Re1 $15) 16... Qxf3 $17 17. Bf5 Ne7 18. Bg4 Qf6 {Black is simply a pawn up now and I still have no real threats.} 19. Rb5 {I start becoming desperately aggressive with my plans now, basically trying to force counterplay.} c6 20. Rh5 {unfortunately Black has too many pieces able to defend his kingside, for any sacrificial ideas to work on my part.} Qg6 (20... Nd5 $5) 21. Qb3 (21. Qxg6 $5 {is technically much better, but at the time I didn't think I had a real chance if the queens stayed on the board. In reality, it's worse for White, as we'll shortly see.} fxg6 22. Ra5 $17) 21... Nd5 22. Kh1 $4 {simply worsens the situation. I wanted to break the pin on the Bg4, was the original thinking.} (22. Rxd5 cxd5 23. Qxd5 $19) 22... Qe4+ {now Black has mate threats, thanks to the queen and knight combination.} 23. f3 (23. Kg1 {what else?} Nf4 24. Bxf4 Qxf4 25. Re5 $19) 23... Qe2 (23... Qe2 24. Rf2 Qxf2 25. Re5 Bxe5 26. dxe5 Qf1+ 27. Kh2 Qxc1 28. Qxd5 cxd5 29. h4 Qf4+ 30. Kg2 Rbc8 31. c4 Rxc4 32. Bf5 Qxf5 33. Kg3 Qf4+ 34. Kh3 Rc2 35. a4 Qxf3#) 0-1

04 November 2018

Video completed: The Fort Knox Variation in the French Defence

I recently completed "The Fort Knox Variation in the French Defence" by IM Lawrence Trent, which is a ChessBase 60-minute video download.  I am not in fact taking up the French for its own sake, but using this variation to make sure that if I want to play the Dutch Stonewall by transposition, I can't be tripped up by the move-order sequence 1. d4 e6 2. e4.  Now it's important to note that White on move 3 can avoid the Fort Knox by not playing either 3. Nd2 or 3. Nc3 (either of which allows 3...dxe4, leading to the Fort Knox after 4...Bd7).  However, the less frequently played French lines like the Advance and Exchange variations are not critical and I feel Black can get by at a reasonable level with just some basic familiarization.  This is especially true if you are a Caro-Kann player who responds to the Advance variation with 3...c5, which heads into French-type positions.

Because the Fort Knox is structurally very similar to the Caro-Kann, I believe going this route is easier for me - or at least is more efficient in the near term - in terms of building an opening repertoire without major holes.  The alternative would be having to look in-depth at the non-standard Dutch lines after 1. d4 f5 (although I may do that at some point in the future).


1.  Introduction - this is a very basic intro to the Fort Knox which covers the initial entry into the variation - White has pawns on e4/d4 and Black on e6/d5, then goes 3. Nc3 (or Nd2) dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bd7.  IM Trent then discusses Black's standard development plan (...Bd7 followed by ...Bc6 and usually ...Nd7, with the idea of exchanging the bishop for one of White's knights and then playing ...c6 for a solid pawn structure), and talks a bit about the solidity of the opening and some of its past practitioners.

2.  Variation - 5. c4.  IM Trent says that he likes to start with the sidelines and this is an interesting one, in which White gets the c-pawn forward before retreating the knight with Ne4-c3.  Black sticks with standard developing moves up until a novelty, which gets the bishop off c6 with the idea of following up with ...c5 and then playing actively.

3.  Variation - 5. Nf3 Bc6 6. Neg5 Bd6; IM Trent in the video labels it as "Tricky Neg5".  (Note: there is a typo in the video's table of contents which says "Nge5" instead of "Neg5", which is rather confusing and suggests more editing effort was needed by ChessBase).  This is perhaps White's only/best shot at major tactical complications, with the idea of sacrificing the g5 knight on f7 or e6.  Black can go horribly wrong if he ignores White's tactical threats, for example by playing 6...h6? instead of the recommended 6...Bd6, which covers the e5 square.  But with smart play by Black, White simply doesn't have enough compensation for any sacrificial attacks.  Some memorization is needed in these lines, although not a huge amount.  The main line ends up looking very much like a Caro-Kann.

4.  Variation - 5. Nf3 Bc6 6. Bd3 Nd7 7. Qe2 Ngf6 8. Neg5.  Like the above variation (and also with a table of contents typo), White tries to be a little tricky and aggressive.  However, Black now has time for the standard Fort Knox plan of developing with ...Nd7 followed by ...Ngf6.  IM Trent's recommendation - he doesn't give any alternatives - is to respond with 8...Qe7, which looks awkward but at the same time defends against all of White's sacrifice ideas on f7 and e6.  The queen can later on move off the e7 square to good effect, and/or Black can castle queenside, allowing the follow-up of ...g5 and developing the dark-square bishop to g7.

5.  Variation - 5. Nf3 Bc6 6. Bd3 Nd7 7. O-O [listed in table of contents as Qe2] Ngf6 8. Ned2.  Here White's idea is to reposition the knight to c4, hoping to dominate e5 that way.  IM Trent offers multiple possible ideas for Black in response, including ...Bb5, ...Bd5 - both of which allow for the ...c5 pawn break - or simply ...O-O.  Black is not afraid to exchange the light-squared bishop for a knight, or even in some variations to preserve it on the long diagonal after going ...b6 first.  GM Rustamov is observed to often play ...Bd5 in these situations.

6.  Variation - 5. Nf3 Bc6 6. Bd3 Nd7 7. O-O [listed in table of contents as Qe2] Ngf6 8. Ng3.  This is in fact White's main line, according to IM Trent.  He presents the idea of avoiding the standard plan of an immediate ...Bxf3 reaction by Black, instead using GM Jobava's modern move 8...g6!? which blunts the White light-square bishop, offers up g7 for Black's dark-square bishop development, and takes away the idea of Nh5 for White as a future attacking move.  There is a lot of relatively new territory to explore, but IM Trent shows various plausible scenarios, including the later utility of the ...Bxf3 idea. White's 9. c4 is the most challenging response for White, who sacrifices a pawn on d5 in order to force Black's king to f8, but Black according to Trent should be OK, as it's White who has to prove compensation for the material.

And that's all there is to the opening!  The video concludes with a quiz section of five puzzles, taken from GM-level tournament games, that help show what kinds of positions you can end up with in the Fort Knox.  They're drawn from all stages of the game and include some effective ideas, for example multiple examples of exchange sacrifices.  They also demonstrate that the Fort Knox, while an equal opening, is certainly not devoid of tactical possibilities.

General comments:
  • The Fort Knox is not intended for aggressive counterplay by Black.  IM Trent emphasizes key concepts such as opportunities for multiple exchanges on e4 and the general idea of exchanging off White's active pieces, to arrive at a position where White has nothing.  Black however also has nothing in terms of obvious winning chances in most lines, so it's important to be aware of this.  I think the Fort Knox could be used to win if your opponent is the type who is too aggressive and typically over-presses in equal positions.
  • Each of the variations covered feature a direct link to the analysis in game format, so you can review them directly rather than having to go through the video again.
  • IM Trent usefully cites reference games in his narrative and encourages you to go through the full games, which is always a good idea.  He points you toward top players like GM Rustamov, who has played it frequently, and others like Gelfand and Karpov who have played key games.
  • The typos and misleading text in the video's table of contents (the "text' field of the database) are annoying but not a critical flaw.

03 November 2018

Annotated Game #200: A ghastly little game

This ghastly little game teaches a few things, so perhaps it wasn't a total waste of time.  Firstly, the strategic error of 4...Bg4?!? is not in itself losing, or even bad according to an engine, but it does not fit at all with what Black really needs to be doing in the position (4...e5).  These types of early strategic errors often result in a very narrow path to equality, which is easy to fall off of and into a worse position which slowly (or more rapidly here) leads to a loss.  The other major strategic error, 7...Qxd1, is also useful to illustrate how flawed is the idea of always going for piece exchanges (including the queen) against a much higher-rated opponent.  Just because material is off the board does not mean you are any safer, and in fact can simply heighten your opponent's advantage.  Don't be afraid to keep material on the board and maneuver, in other words, rather than simplify into a lost position.  You can see one of the earlier games on this blog, my simul against GM Yermolinsky (Annotated Game #4), as another good example of this.

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Expert"]
[Black "ChessAdmin"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D10"]
[Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"]
[PlyCount "33"]

{D10: Slav Defence: cxd5 (without early Nf3) and 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3.
Nc3 dxc4 {an aggressive continuation unique to the Slav.} 4. a4 Bg4 {the best
that can be said about this move is that it's creative.} (4... e5 {striking in
the center is more to the point, exploiting the now-open d-file for Black.}) 5.
f3 {I confess I had been hoping for a move like this in reaction, which causes
problems for White's development.} Bh5 {a logical retreat, but it doesn't do
anything for Black's development.} (5... Bd7 $5 {with the idea of} 6. e4 {
and now} b5) 6. e4 e5 $146 {the right idea, just played a little late.} 7. dxe5
Qxd1+ $2 {a strategic blunder. I now have a much more difficult time dealing
with White's pawns, while White's king position is effectively no longer weak.
I believe I let myself be dominated by the idea of 'against stronger opponents,
trade down quickly'} (7... Nd7 {should be equal. For example:} 8. e6 (8. g4 $6
Qh4+ 9. Ke2 Bg6 10. Nh3 Qe7 $15) 8... fxe6 9. Bxc4 Qh4+ $11) 8. Kxd1 Nd7 {
again with the right idea, played later than it should have been.} 9. g4 Bg6 {
although Komodo only gives a small edge to White, it's easy to see how White's
space advantage makes it much easier for him to play.} 10. f4 $14 h6 $2 {
unfortunately the correct defense is moving the h-pawn two squares forward,
not one. I was concerned about providing a haven for the bishop on h7, but
also should have recognized the need to break up White's kingside formation,
which now rolls forward and crushes me.} (10... h5 11. Bxc4 (11. f5 {is now
less effective:} Bh7 12. gxh5 $6 (12. g5 Nxe5 $11) 12... Nxe5) 11... hxg4 $14)
11. Bxc4 $16 {the most straightforward winning continuation. I'm now down a
pawn with no compensation and still being squeezed.} Bb4 12. Nge2 O-O-O 13. Kc2
$18 {now White's king is out of danger and he can fully mobilize his forces.}
f6 $6 {a desperate move that hastens my downfall.} (13... h5 14. g5 Ne7 15. Rf1
$18) 14. f5 {good enough to win.} (14. e6 $5) 14... Nxe5 {again accelerating
the loss, but I was done for anyway.} (14... Be8 15. exf6 Ngxf6 16. Be6 $18)
15. Be6+ Kc7 16. fxg6 Nxg4 {why not? Basically wishing that White would miss
the backwards bishop move, with no other hope.} 17. Bxg4 {a quick end to a
ridiculous game.} 1-0

29 October 2018

Annotated Game #199: First Master scalp

This first-round game is notable for really only one reason, and that is because it marks the first time I ever defeated a Master-level opponent in tournament play.  It's due to a tactical miscalculation on his part, rather than any brilliance on mine, but I was nevertheless happy to take the win.  I think it's important for any improving Class player to realize that significantly higher-rated opponents are still quite capable of making blunders or incorrect decisions during the course of play, with no game being an inevitable crushing defeat from start to finish.

In the analysis I also was able to identify some key errors in positional understanding, for example the thought behind 9. Be3, which should be valuable for improving future play in such types of positions.  It's also worth noting sequences like the one beginning on move 19, which serve to illustrate the lesson that just because you can do something fancy on the board using intermediate moves and such, doesn't mean that you should.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Master"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A37"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "79"] {[%mdl 8192] A37: Symmetrical English vs ...g6:4 Bg2 Bg7 5 Nf3} 1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 Bg7 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 Nc6 {we now have a Symmetrical English, although Black soon stops mirroring White's setup.} 5. Nf3 d6 {breaking the symmetry and consolidating control of e5.} 6. O-O e5 7. d3 Nge7 {Black prefers not to block his f-pawn.} 8. Bg5 h6 9. Be3 $146 {This is unfortunately rather nonsensical positionally. At the time, I selected this square for the bishop so as to potentially exchange it for a knight landing on d4. However, this is a restrictive place for the bishop and prevents a future e2-e3 to evict a Black knight landing on d4.} (9. Bxe7 {I considered and it scores significantly better than the bishop retreat in the database. In this situation, Black's knight is probably better than White's dark-square bishop, making the exchange worthwhile for White.} Nxe7 10. Ne1 f5 $11) (9. Bd2 {is the standard retreat. White can potentially follow up with Qc1 and pressure h6.}) 9... O-O 10. Qc1 { the point behind retreating the bishop rather than exchanging it. However, the pressure on h6 does not really bother Black.} Kh7 11. Ne1 {beginning the standard plan of repositioning the knight to c2, in order to unleash the Bg2 and potentially support b2-b4 in the future.} Rb8 12. Nc2 Nd4 13. Rb1 {done to further prepare the b4 advance, although waiting is not necessary here. In other English Opening positions, the a1-h8 diagonal is open for Black's bishop and the rook move is in fact required.} (13. Bxd4 $6 {unfortunately would be a positional mistake, as after} exd4 14. Nd5 {Black can follow up with ...b5 to undermine White's central presence, while the half-open e-file will also be useful.}) (13. b4 $5) 13... Qa5 {this queen sortie is annoying but not best.} 14. Bxd4 (14. Re1 {is probably simplest, overprotecting e2, after which the engine assesses Black has nothing better than} Qd8 $11) 14... exd4 15. Nd5 Nxd5 16. Bxd5 {I had calculated this far ahead when initiating the exchange on d4. Black is a little better, however, as he has the two bishops and my pieces are not as well coordinated.} Bh3 17. Re1 Be6 {this was unnecessary and gives me a tempo to get moving on the queenside.} 18. b4 {the correct decision, according to Komodo, with the intention of trying to unravel the pawn chain.} Qc7 19. bxc5 $6 {this starts an unnecessarily complicated sequence. At the time, I was trying not to straighten out Black's pawn structure for him, but the results of this line are worse.} (19. Bxe6 fxe6 20. bxc5 dxc5 21. Rf1 $11) (19. e4 $5 dxe3 20. Nxe3 $11) 19... Bxd5 $15 20. cxd6 Qxd6 21. cxd5 Qxd5 22. Nb4 {the positional imbalances favor Black slightly. He has a 2-1 queenside majority and, perhaps more importantly, can easily defend his isolated d-pawn, which gives him a space advantage.} Qd6 23. Qd2 {my queen here is definitely inferior to Black's.} (23. Qf4 $5 {beginners are taught to avoid doubled pawns, but here the damage to my pawn structure would be less bad than letting Black's queen be dominant.} Qxf4 24. gxf4 {and White has more dynamic play than in the game.}) 23... Rbc8 {around this point in the game, I did not have a sense of how White could proceed meaningfully, other than try to block Black's plans.} 24. Nc2 b6 25. Rec1 Rc3 $17 {A classical outpost, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface. Black is using his space advantage well and the Nc2 is looking quite sad.} 26. Ne1 Rfc8 27. Rc2 {the idea being to double on the c-file and exchange off the rooks, if possible.} Qa3 (27... h5 28. Rxc3 dxc3 29. Qc2 $17) 28. Rbc1 $6 (28. Rcb2 $15 {I hadn't even considered, but was a better defense.}) 28... Qxc1 $4 {throws away the game, as Komodo states. Normally such an "x-ray" tactic would work down the c-file, but here the Ne1 bolsters the Rc2, so I can recapture on c1 with the queen (not rook) and cover everything.} (28... b5 {mobilizing the queenside pawn majority would be a road to victory.}) 29. Qxc1 $18 {after this point, I simply played solid moves until making the time control.} h5 30. Rxc3 Rxc3 31. Nc2 b5 32. Qb2 a5 33. Kg2 b4 34. Na1 Rc5 35. Nb3 Rd5 36. Nd2 f5 37. Qc2 Re5 38. Nc4 Rc5 39. Qa4 {by this point I've managed to rearrange my pieces profitably and the end is near.} Bh6 40. Qd7+ 1-0

28 October 2018

Streakiness in chess performance

From "How much does one game affect the next game?" by Michael Richmond
"Streakiness" is the tendency to keep losing (or winning) several times in a row.  It's a well-known phenomenon in team sports, also including individual performances in sports like baseball and cricket where particular results (for example pitching vs. hitting) can be meaningfully isolated from the overall team performance.  Naturally, this tendency to have positive or negative results in streaks also extends to individual sports like tennis and chess.

As with any complex phenomenon, it's nearly impossible to point to a single, definitive explanation for a particular string of results.  I do think a large part of it, however, often can be explained by the psychological expectation or "hangover" that is generated from the previous game.  Winning generates positive feelings - although this is not always helpful for an improving player, if it masks substantive weaknesses.  On the flip side, if you lose, it is common to experience unhelpful emotions such as anger, shame, feelings of worthlessness, etc.  This type of personalized reaction is in fact natural - a lot of time, effort and preparation goes into a serious game.  As a player, you almost always are mentally invested in even a casual match.  It's therefore healthier to experience the emotional reaction and then move on, rather than try to repress it.

So how does a chessplayer break out of a losing streak, which is the most common concern with streakiness?  Most of the time we are talking about a short-term losing streak, but in some cases it may be the symptom of a longer period of stagnation or decline in results.

Substantively, it is important for improving chessplayers to work on all aspects of their game, as it's rarely the case that a specific weakness is wholly responsible for a streak of bad results - unless you (perhaps unconsciously) keep playing into situations where you are weak.  For example, a player may have little knowledge of endgames, but nevertheless tends to head straight for them by exchanging down material whenever possible.  Another common issue is reaching middlegame positions for which you don't know the standard plans and characteristics of the position-types.  These weaknesses can be addressed (or at least better avoided) through candid self-assessmentanalyzing your own games, and targeted improvement plans.  Self-analysis will also directly contribute to understanding and avoiding the repetition of the same types of errors across different games.  These long-term practices will tend to boost your overall playing strength over time and contribute to shorter-term success as well.  There is no magic pill for instant short-term improvement in chess skills, in other words.

Psychologically, especially in terms of your short-term performance, it is more important for players to overcome the "hangover" of a previous loss or losses by focusing fully on the game in front of them.  Success in accomplishing this is partly based on willpower and your ability to focus, but is more strongly underpinned by adopting an attitude of mental toughness in all your games.  Getting in the habit of treating each new game as unique, as winnable, and as a stepping stone on the road to mastery goes a long way towards erasing bad vibes from previous games.

Finally, it's important to understand that your opponent "gets a vote" in the result of a chess game - meaning that you may play well and still lose, or alternatively play poorly and still win.  In addition to cultivating mental toughness as mentioned above, for improvement purposes it's therefore better to focus on your quality of play in each game, rather than solely on the final outcome.  You can't fully control the results you have, but you can dedicate yourself to playing with increasing excellence - which is a reward in itself - and that will inevitably be reflected in your playing strength and future competitive results.

20 October 2018

Annotated Game #198: Winning the queenside race

This last-round tournament game was another much-needed win for me.  Strategically, it is a good illustration (at least at the Class level) of how dangerous the English Opening can be when White can get their blows in first on the queenside, without a real response from Black.  His 12...f4 looks aggressive, but I can simply ignore it and create a series of threats on the queenside that give me the initiative, which I never relinquish. 

Positional pluses for White that helped lead to the win included developing the queen to an ideal square and getting the bishops on very effective diagonals; the dark-square bishop, which is sometimes not as effective in these lines, moves from d2 to b4 at a critical juncture, providing a knockout blow due to its latent pressure on a lineup of Black's pieces on the a3-f8 diagonal.  Other effective maneuvers include seizing the a-file and achieving a dominant, centralized knight by exploiting Black's hole on d6.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A26"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "71"] {A26: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 and d3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 g6 4. d3 Bg7 5. g3 Nge7 {a somewhat unusual development for the knight, but not terribly uncommon either. The idea is not to block the f-pawn.} 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O d6 8. Rb1 a5 9. a3 f5 10. Bd2 {up to this point I've followed White's standard plan of development. Deciding where to put the queen's bishop is often not clear-cut, but I felt that d2 was a reasonable square here. It's also the top database choice and scores well (54 percent). The bishop gets out of the way of the heavy pieces on the first rank and the e1-a5 diagonal could be useful in the future, influencing b4 and possibly transferring the bishop to c3.} (10. Nd5 $5 {is another interesting idea.} h6 11. b4 axb4 12. axb4 Nxd5 13. cxd5 Na7 14. Qb3 Nb5 15. Bb2 Bd7 16. Ra1 Qe7 17. e3 g5 18. Qc4 g4 19. Rxa8 Rxa8 20. Nh4 Qg5 21. Bc1 Rf8 22. f4 exf4 23. Rxf4 Nc3 24. d4 Nb5 25. Bf1 Kh8 26. Qc2 c6 27. dxc6 bxc6 28. Bd3 Nc7 29. Bxf5 Nd5 30. Ng6+ Kg8 31. Nxf8 Nxf4 32. Nxd7 Ne2+ 33. Qxe2 Qxf5 34. Nb6 Qe4 35. Nc4 {1-0 (35) Leer Salvesen,B (2365)-Shtivelband,V (2170) Pula 2011}) 10... Bd7 11. b4 {no reason not to proceed with the plan.} axb4 12. axb4 f4 $146 {Black gains space, as Komodo notes via the Fritz interface, but without an immediate threat. I decided to keep going on the queenside.} (12... h6 13. Qc1 Kh7 14. b5 $11) 13. b5 $16 { the engine gives a significant edge in its evaluation to White here. The main problem for Black is that his queenside pawns are weak and White is in a good position to immediately begin operations.} Nb8 (13... Na5 14. Ra1 $16) 14. Qb3 {the natural square for the queen, where among other things it supports a potential b-pawn advance and lines up on the a2-g8 diagonal against Black's king.} Kh8 15. Ra1 Rxa1 {forced} 16. Rxa1 {with sole possession of the a-file, White has future threats to deploy the rook to either the 7th or 8th ranks.} fxg3 {trying to generate some kingside counterplay.} (16... Bc8 $5 $16 { is the engine's recommendation, going for pure defense.}) 17. hxg3 {sometimes it is difficult to chose which pawn to recapture with on g3. In this case, with White's rook away from the f-file and Black not being able to do anything in the near future on the h-file, recapturing with the h-pawn is indicated.} c6 {this looks like a reasonable try, but White has too many weapons on the queenside.} 18. Ra8 $18 {pinning the Nb8} Qc7 {getting out of the pin, but only temporarily.} 19. b6 {a great illustration of how White's space advantage can be applied concretely.} Qd8 {now the queen is back in the pin.} 20. Ne4 { a good move, but not the most accurate way of targeting the weak d6 pawn.} (20. Qa3 {makes it even easier for White, as the queen pressures d6 and is also able to penetrate on the a-file, where it can do further damage to Black's crumbling queenside; both the Nb8 and b7 are vulnerable.} Bg4 21. Qa7 {and material loss is inevitable for Black.}) 20... d5 {this again looks like a reasonable try, but White has too many good options.} (20... Nf5 $5) 21. Nd6 { taking advantage of the gaping hole on d6.} Be6 22. Nxb7 {the first material gain for White.} Qd7 {this allows me to gain a tempo with the knight withdrawal, but Black is essentially already lost.} (22... dxc4 23. dxc4 Qe8 24. Nc5 $18) 23. Nc5 Qd6 24. Bb4 {increasing the pressure on the a3-f8 diagonal, where Black has multiple pieces lined up, before doing anything else. } dxc4 25. dxc4 {I thought about my options here and considered the text move the simplest path to a win.} (25. Nxe6 Qxe6 (25... cxb3 26. Bxd6 $18) 26. Qxc4 Qf6 $18) 25... Bf5 26. Na6 {this knight is doing an outstanding job of creating threats with every leap. Now the discovered attack on the a3-f8 diagonal is devastating to Black.} Qe6 27. Rxb8 Rxb8 28. Nxb8 {by this point White's positional advantage has been converted into a materially winning position.} Qc8 29. Bxe7 {I'm happy to exchange down while a piece up and with the b6 passed pawn looming as a threat.} Qxb8 30. c5 Qb7 31. Qf7 {threatening a back-rank mate, now that the Black queen has moved away from the defense.} Qb8 32. Bd6 Qa8 33. b7 {the final nail in the coffin.} Qa6 34. b8=Q+ (34. Qe8+ Bf8 35. Qxf8#) 34... Bc8 35. Qe8+ Bf8 36. Qxf8# 1-0

06 October 2018

Annotated Game #197: Play the long game when needing a win

Having lost in the previous two rounds, including rather shamefully in round 3, I very much needed a turnaround win in this tournament.  "Needing" a win can, however, be a dangerous state of mind, like when gamblers keep making larger and riskier bets to try to catch back up to where they think they should be; it rarely ends up well.  Here I will give myself credit for having enough patience to "play the long game" and recognize the need to patiently maneuver, rather than try to break through prematurely, although my play was not necessarily optimal along the way.

There are a couple of key strategic moments that lead to the win.  The first comes at move 26, where I correctly realized that pawn breaks on the queenside, where both my opponent and I had castled, would favor me (Black).  About 20 moves later in a double rook endgame, I find the final breakthrough idea, involving a temporary rook sacrifice with a deflection tactic (which the engine awards a '!!' in its analysis).

That said, this game's analysis is perhaps even more valuable for me in the long term for the missed ideas, for both myself and my opponent, which will help me refine my understanding of the middlegame structures in the Classical Caro-Kann.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "122"] {[%mdl 8256] B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. Bd3 {a solid but unambitious continuation for White.} e6 {I judged it better to make a developing move (releasing the Bf8) rather than exchanging on d3. Having the bishop exchanged on g6 can sometimes weaken Black's king position, but here it's not yet a concern. Primarily Black has to worry about sacrifices on g6 that undermine the e6 pawn, and/or play up the h-file once the king is castled.} 8. Bg5 Be7 9. Bxg6 hxg6 10. Qd3 Nbd7 {it's standard to develop the queen's knight before castling, in part to provide the option of castling queenside.} 11. O-O-O { consistent with the idea of exchanging on g6 and hoping for active play on the kingside.} Nd5 {my plan here is to clarify the situation on the kingside by encouraging the trade of the Bg5, then castle queenside, which I felt was more solid than castling kingside. Black should be careful about bringing a knight to d5 in the Classical Caro-Kann, however, when it can be chased off by the c-pawn.} (11... Qc7 $5) 12. Bxe7 {my opponent goes for the obvious response, exchanging on e7.} (12. h4 {would be a more challenging response, putting the onus back on Black. Exchanging on g5 would not be good, as the h-file could then be opened to White's benefit.} Bxg5+ $2 (12... b5 {is the engine's choice, starting immediate counterplay on the queenside}) 13. hxg5 Rxh1 14. Rxh1 $16) 12... Qxe7 13. Qd2 O-O-O 14. Ne2 (14. c4 $5 Nc7 $14) 14... N7f6 (14... e5 { instead would be a thematic pawn break. Black is well positioned to play in the center.} 15. Nc3 Nxc3 16. Qxc3 e4 $11 {the pawn can be reinforced by ...f5 and Black has a comfortable, if no more than equal, game.}) 15. Kb1 {keeping an eye on the weak a-pawn and clearing the c1 square.} Ne4 {the original intent behind the previous knight move, taking an active central position.} ( 15... Ng4 $6 {hitting the f2 square looks tempting, but White can protect everything and effectively re-deploy his Ne2 at the same time.} 16. Nc1 $14 { and there are no good follow-ups to the previous one-move threat.}) 16. Qe1 { forced} Ndf6 {here I was trying to anticipate a c4 push and proactively re-deploy the knight.} (16... Qb4 {Komodo prefers this more assertive approach, activating the queen and preventing c4.} 17. c3 (17. Qxb4 Nxb4 18. Rhf1 g5 19. h3 f6 $11) 17... Qb5 18. Ka1 $11) 17. Nd2 {it's difficult here for White to come up with a useful plan, although the position is equal.} (17. h3 Kb8 $11) 17... Nxd2+ {the correct decision, improving the relative value of my minor pieces.} 18. Rxd2 Ne4 {obvious, but unimaginative.} (18... e5 $5 {would be a bit more challenging.}) 19. Rd1 Qf6 {the right general idea, of activating the queen, here with the intention of pressuring both f2 and d4. However, g5 may have been a better square for the queen, pressuring the g-file and the d2 square.} 20. f3 {the obvious reaction.} Nd6 {the position here is quite balanced now. It will require patient maneuvering.} 21. Ng3 Nb5 {Increases the pressure on d4, but again this is easily solved by White.} 22. c3 Rd7 { continuing with the single-minded idea of building up pressure on the d-file.} (22... Qf4 {would at least move the queen to a better square.}) 23. Ka1 (23. Ne4 {is an idea that my opponent seemed to miss. Although it's not enough for a real advantage, initiative shifts to White and Black has to be careful about things like covering the c5 square.} Qf5 24. Qe3 b6 $11) 23... Rhd8 {the problem with this is that the rooks now both have less space to work with, and the Ne4 idea gets better as a result. Luckily my opponent fails to find it.} ( 23... Nd6) 24. a4 {White makes the decision to weaken his kingside shield, apparently optimistic about the pawn push.} ({Instead} 24. Ne4 Qe7 25. Nc5 Rd6 $14 {is rather awkward for Black.}) 24... Nd6 25. Rd3 Qe7 {redeploying now with an eye toward the weakened queenside.} 26. b3 $6 {although this covers c4, it makes the next move more effective in punching holes in White's pawn shield. } (26. Qe2 Nf5 $11) 26... b5 {this break favors Black, who is better positioned with both the heavy pieces and his knight to exploit the resulting holes on the queenside.} 27. axb5 $6 {this simply plays into my plan. White instead should move the queen onto a better defensive square, for example e2 (covering the 2nd rank) or b1.} Nxb5 $17 28. Qc1 c5 {the best follow-up. Now the rooks on the d-file can make their pressure felt.} (28... e5 {is not as effective due to} 29. Re3 $15 {pinning the e-pawn and getting the rook away from the d-file threat.}) 29. Ne2 e5 {with the added pressure on d4, now this move is effective.} 30. d5 (30. Re3 f6 31. f4 e4 $17) 30... e4 $2 {this looks aggressive but would allow White to stablize the center.} (30... Rxd5 $5 { is simple and breaks through immediately.} 31. Rxd5 Rxd5 $17 32. Rd1 Rxd1 33. Qxd1 Qd6 {heading for a pawn-up endgame.}) 31. fxe4 $6 (31. Re3 {holds things together.} Qf6 (31... f5 $6 32. c4 Nd4 33. fxe4 $14) 32. fxe4 $11) 31... Qxe4 { Black forks: d3, g2+e2} 32. Qe3 {now White forks: c5+e4} (32. Re3 $5 Qxg2 33. c4 Nd6 $15) 32... Qxg2 {after some thought, I mis-evaluated the possible continuations, although the text move is still fine for Black, and perhaps represents the best practical chances for an advantage.} (32... Qxe3 33. Rxe3 Rxd5 $15 {and White has some compensation for the pawn, although the engine doesn't think it's enough to offset Black's advantage. I was worried about} 34. c4 {but} Rd1+ 35. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 36. Kb2 Nd6 $15 {should be fine, because after} 37. Re7 {White's rook can't take advantage of the 7th rank due to the rook fork on d2.}) 33. Qf3 $2 (33. Rhd1 {is the only good defensive move here, but White I'm sure didn't want to abandon the h-pawn.} c4 (33... Qxh2) 34. R3d2 Rxd5 35. Nd4 $11) (33. Qxc5+ {doesn't work, although it's a rougher ride for Black:} Nc7 (33... Rc7 $15 {is perhaps the easier route to go}) 34. Rhd1 $5 Qxe2 35. d6 Rh8 36. R1d2 (36. dxc7 $2 Rxd3 37. Rxd3 Qxd3 38. Ka2) 36... Qe4 37. Rd4 Qh1+ 38. Rd1 Qb7 39. dxc7 Qxc7 $17) 33... Qxf3 {now I make the correct evalution and exchange queens.} 34. Rxf3 f6 {here I choose safety over activity, which is not usually the way to go in rook endings. It's still enough to maintain the advantage, though.} (34... Rxd5 $1 35. c4 Rd1+ {we saw this idea in a previous variation} 36. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 37. Kb2 Rd2+ 38. Kc1 Rxe2 39. cxb5 Re7 $19 {and now Black can consolidate the two-pawn advantage without much trouble.}) 35. c4 Nd6 {this looked like the obvious move to me, but the engine disagrees. It also again shows how rook activity should be maximized.} ( 35... Re8 $5 36. Rf2 Rde7 $17) 36. Nc3 {this is a much less effective square for the White knight. Evidently my opponent's idea was to cover the e4 square.} (36. Nf4 $5 $14 {goes after the weak kingside g-pawn, en route to an excellent post at e6.}) 36... Re8 {now I start activating the rooks.} 37. Rhf1 (37. Na4 Rc7 $15) 37... Rde7 38. R1f2 $6 {this doesn't make a lot of sense, as the knight is currently covering the e2 square, so penetration on the 2nd rank isn't an immediate concern.} Ne4 (38... g5 $5 {looks like a good preliminary move, protecting the g-pawn and threatening ...g4 at some point, as White has nothing constructive to do in the meantime.}) 39. Nxe4 Rxe4 {here I felt confident that although White has the passed d-pawn, my rooks were better and could do more damage with White's knight out of the way. It's a somewhat premature simplification, though, and could allow White to more easily equalize.} 40. Kb1 (40. Kb2 {would be better, protecting the b-pawn and getting closer to the action.}) 40... Re1+ 41. Kc2 Kd7 (41... Rh8 $5) 42. Kd2 ( 42. h4 {is the key idea for White, fixing the g-pawn on g6 and allowing White to pressure on the g-file, for example} R1e4 43. Rg2 Rxh4 44. Rxg6 Re7 $11) 42... a5 {not a bad move, but both I and my opponent continue to ignore the ideas around g5 for Black and h4 for White.} 43. Rg3 Ra1 {the idea being to switch focus and break through on the queenside.} 44. Rgg2 $2 (44. Kc3 { and White hangs on} g5 45. h4 $11) 44... a4 45. bxa4 {it's better to take than to allow Black to create a passed a-pawn, but White is still in a great deal of difficulty.} Rxa4 46. Kd3 g5 {ironically, this is no longer Black's best move, although it is still good.} (46... Ra3+ 47. Kc2 g5 $19) 47. Rc2 $2 (47. Ra2 $5 {this is the defensive idea for White that the rook check on a3 would have prevented.} Rxa2 48. Rxa2 $17) 47... Ra3+ {now I find the idea.} 48. Rc3 { this would be an equally good defense, except for} Re3+ $3 {Komodo gave the exclamation points via the Fritz interface, so I've left them in as coming from an objective source. This is an aesthetically pleasing deflection tactic that forces a breakthrough on the queenside.} 49. Kxe3 Rxc3+ 50. Ke4 Rxc4+ 51. Kf5 Rd4 52. Kg6 Rxd5 53. Kxg7 Rd6 {not the quickest route to victory, but I was playing conservatively to keep the win in hand.} 54. Kg6 c4 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 55. Rc2 Rc6 56. Kf5 Rc5+ {although this gives back a pawn, it permanently bars White's king from the fight to prevent the pawn from queening. } 57. Kxf6 Kc6 {now Black wins with a simple king march.} 58. Kg6 Kb5 59. h3 c3 60. Rxc3 Rxc3 61. Kxg5 Rxh3 0-1

29 September 2018

Annotated Game #196: Your opponent is always dangerous

This third-round tournament game is a short morality play about greed, overconfidence and the benefits of never giving up if you aren't yet completely lost.  The main lesson for me is to calmly consolidate after my opponent blunders, and to always treat them as being dangerous.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A25"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "40"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Be7 5. d3 O-O 6. a3 {an unusual but logical move in this position, as it takes away the b4 square from Black's knight and prepares b2-b4.} d6 {Black has a solid but unambitious setup.} 7. b4 a6 8. e3 {this isn't bad at all, and allows me to capitalize on Black's next blunder, but in general I'm making too many pawn moves in the opening. Without a Black threat of advancing the f-pawn, as occurs in some variations when Black plays an early ...f5, this is also unnecessary. Objectively, Nge2 followed by d4 or f4 is a decent plan.} (8. Nf3) 8... b5 $4 9. Bxc6 $18 Rb8 { my opponent, to her credit, fights on.} 10. cxb5 axb5 11. Bxb5 {here I start getting a bit greedy, figuring why not take the extra pawn? Again, it's objectively good with best play, but by moving the bishop off the h1-a8 diagonal it neglects my kingside, which is full of light-square holes.} Bb7 12. e4 {yet another pawn move.} (12. Nf3 $18) 12... c6 13. Ba4 d5 {by this point my opponent actually has the initiative and I should be very careful, given that my king is still in the center and I remain underdeveloped.} 14. Qc2 $6 ( 14. Nf3 {again is the best way to play, developing and getting my king closer to castling.}) 14... c5 15. Nge2 {Black by this point has at least partial compensation for the piece.} dxe4 {my opponent chooses to open lines in the center, which is a good practical way to play.} 16. dxe4 cxb4 17. axb4 Bxb4 18. O-O {despite my pieces not being at all coordinated or doing much of anything useful, this should now be enough to regroup and win rather easily.} Qc8 19. Ba3 Qh3 20. Bxb4 $4 {incredibly, I have a total thinking process fail and miss Black's next move. Greed is definitely a deadly sin.} (20. f3 {is necessary.}) 20... Ng4 $1 0-1

23 September 2018

Training quote of the day #16

“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?
- Dr. Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

21 September 2018

DVD completed: Stomping White with the Stonewall Defense

I recently finished the DVD "Stomping White with the Stonewall Defense" by GM Eugene Perelshteyn.  I found it to be a complete, if not comprehensive, intro to the Stonewall; the run-time is a little over 2 hours.  In my view, it offers enough of a mix of general ideas and specific suggestions to enable you to start playing it immediately in tournaments and experimenting on your own.  I've looked at other Stonewall resources previously and I would say this DVD is also a good addition to a Stonewall player's library, not just at the "intro" level, with some novel approaches and key concepts clearly explained and illustrated.  (Don't let the "Stomping White..." title mislead you, as it's actually a balanced treatment of the opening that doesn't promise a win for Black.)

One of the practical strengths of the lessons is the repeated presentation of different move-order possibilities to enter the base Stonewall formation (Black pawns on f5/e6/d6/c6, with Nf6 and Bd6 piece developments).  This allows you to strategize and choose which ones may be best suited for your existing repertoire - including the French move-order (1...e6), Queen's Gambit Declined (1...d5 followed by ...e6), Slav and others.  Naturally you can also commit on move one to the Dutch Defense (1...f5), but be careful with that; all of the anti-Dutch lines (like 2. Bg5 and so on) are in play after that, so you may never reach the Stonewall.

GM Perelshteyn typically mentions multiple, equally good plans for Black at critical points, although he will indicate a preference and then go deeper into certain lines.  For example, the primary strategic option he presents is fianchettoing Black's light-square bishop (with ...b6 and ...Bb7) in the main lines, but there are also examples where the alternate plan of ...Bd7-e8-h5 is shown to be strong.

The lessons also emphasize the fact that in the Stonewall, understanding the keys to the different setups / development schemes are usually more important than the move-order.  This reduces the amount of memorization required in terms of sequencing moves, and is a helpful insight in general for the improving player.  For study purposes, however, it may actually be a little more difficult to integrate the Stonewall into your existing computer repertoire database.  I ended up splitting my Dutch Stonewall "games" into two: White fianchetto and White non-fianchetto setups and using more text comments than usual on the ideas involved.

Following is a summary of the chapter contents with some personal commentary.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Fianchetto Systems with Nh3
  • Nh3 development by White (instead of Nf3): GM Perelshteyn does a good job of highlighting possible Black plans and offers a suggested method of taking on White's main ideas: Black should preserve the dark-square bishop, exchange off White's bishop once it lands on f4 by ...Nh5, or - in the case of b3 followed by Ba3 - exchange on a3 and misplace White's knight.
  • I appreciated the expert evaluations and explanations of why particular exchanges and moves worked in this particular setup. Normally Black tries to avoid exchanging off the dark-square bishop, for example, but here specific positional considerations outweigh that general principle when White plays Ba3.  In the other scenario, Black drops back the bishop on d6 to e7 when challenged by Bf4, since the exchange on f4 would in contrast help reposition White's Nh3 to a better square.

Chapter 2: Fianchetto Systems with Nf3
  • GM Perelshteyn prefers the ...b6/Bb7 development in the main line for White that features the development setup b3/Bb2/Qc1/Ba3.  He points out simplifying lines leading to endgame and more complex middlegame possibilities.
  • 8. Bf4 plan for White is also covered; here the exchange is OK, and then he shows the potential power of alternate bishop development for Black (...Bd7-e8-h5/g6)
  • Also shows alternate bishop development in Nc3/Qc2 plan for White, with queenside pawn expansion (Rb1 followed by b4).

Chapter 3: e3 and Nf3 Setups (non-Fianchetto)
  • This chapter demonstrates more classic Stonewall kingside attack ideas, centered around an early ...Ne4 by Black, followed by ...Qf6 and ...g5.  
  • Does a good job of emphasizing the elements of attack and the associated key concepts (control of e5, exchanging with a knight on g3, etc.)

Chapter 4: e3, Bd3 and Nge2 Setups
  • In this setup, White reserves the option of f2-f3 to kick a ...Ne4.
  • White also has different castling options - Bd2 followed by O-O-O is a possibility.
  • GM Perelshteyn recommends quick action by Black on the queenside after castling (O-O), with ...Na6 development, exchanging pawns on c4 then following up with ...b5.  These lines may involve pawn sacrifices, but Black has good compensation.

Chapter 5: Sample game: Kramnik-Anand, Melody Amber 2008
  • This game is particularly interesting for reaching the Stonewall via the Queen's Indian Defense move-order.
  • Black undertakes a thematic attack on the kingside after playing in the center; Anand switched to this strategy after Kramnik committed to a queenside advance.
  • Also notable for Anand's brilliant tactical finish with the queen
  • Below is the (unannotated) game, for those interested in taking a look.

[Event "Amber-rapid 17th"] [Site "Nice"] [Date "2008.03.15"] [Round "1"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E15"] [WhiteElo "2799"] [BlackElo "2799"] [PlyCount "86"] [EventDate "2008.03.15"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "FRA"] [EventCategory "21"] [SourceTitle "CBM 123 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2008.05.06"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2008.05.06"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Bg2 c6 8. Bc3 d5 9. Ne5 Nfd7 10. Nxd7 Nxd7 11. Nd2 O-O 12. O-O f5 13. Rc1 Nf6 14. Bb2 Bd6 15. Nf3 Qe7 16. Ne5 Rac8 17. Nd3 Rfd8 18. Re1 Qe8 19. e3 g5 20. Rc2 g4 21. Qc1 Qe7 22. Rd1 Ne4 23. c5 bxc5 24. dxc5 Bb8 25. Ne5 Ng5 26. Qa1 Nf7 27. Nxf7 Kxf7 28. a4 h5 29. b4 h4 30. b5 Bb7 31. Rdc1 Kg6 32. Be5 Bxe5 33. Qxe5 Qf6 34. Qd4 e5 35. Qb4 hxg3 36. hxg3 Rd7 37. Qa5 Rh8 38. Qxa7 f4 39. exf4 exf4 40. gxf4 Rdh7 41. Qb6 Qxf4 42. bxc6 Qf3 43. cxb7+ Kf5 0-1

Chapter 6: Sample game 2: student game
  • This game, by one of GM Perelshteyn's students, features an early c5 by White, followed by immediate queenside play. Black responds with the classic ...Bd7-e8-h5 plan and builds up on the kingside after locking the queenside and center.
  • It illustrates typical Black attacking themes against a setup that might be used by a club-level opponent.  One of the important lessons is that Black takes the necessary time to build up and does not rush the attack.

Chapter 7: Conclusion
  • Summarizes the overarching ideas: Stonewall pawn formation achieved through various openings - Dutch, Slav, QGD, Triangle formation, French 1...e6; there are various move-order tricks; Black's fianchetto development vs. Bd7-e8-h5 standard plans.

17 September 2018

Annotated Game #195: Drifting into the wrong plan

This second-round tournament game features the Slav main line for White, and the Lasker variation (5...Na6) for Black.  This looks unusual, but I like it because it avoids a huge amount of theory and is OK for Black.  Basically the knight should hop into b4 fairly early on and otherwise standard Slav developing moves are good.

In the game, by move 12 (...Nb4) I'm fine, but could have also looked at the 12 ...c5 pawn break idea, which was more challenging in the center.  (I would say that missing this idea is part of a pattern of playing openings "by rote", which I need to overcome by thinking more for myself.)  The main problem is a lack of strategic understanding of the position, which results in either drifting planless (moves 13-19) or finally selecting a wrong-headed plan focusing on the c-file.  Move 22 is an instructive strategic error, as (more seriously) is 24...f6?, which opens lines around my king and weakens my center.  I committed a similar error in another recent game, unnecessarily advancing the f-pawn and only focusing on the increased activity it could (theoretically) give my pieces, without properly taking into account that my opponent would benefit twice as much from it.  A good strategic lesson - although one should not conclude to never move the f-pawn as a result, just be very careful about the balance of forces that are unleashed.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "85"] {[%mdl 8256] D16: Slav Defence: 5 a4: Lines with 5...Bg4 and 5...Na6} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Na6 6. e3 Bg4 7. Bxc4 e6 8. h3 Bh5 9. O-O Be7 10. Be2 {at the time, I thought this was largely a wasted tempo, but the bishop is doing no good on the a2-g8 diagonal.} O-O 11. Ne5 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 Nb4 { this is where the knight normally belongs in this variation of the Slav. The move is perfectly fine, but an alternative also suggests itself:} (12... c5 $5 {effectively challenges White's center and takes advantage of the fact that the knight can still support it from a6.}) 13. Bd2 a5 {not a bad move, but unnecessary, and it accomplishes nothing for me in practical terms, as the Nb4 is adequately protected. Better would be to develop with ...Qc7 to connect the rooks and pressure e5, or perhaps go for the immediate ...c5 idea to challenge the center.} (13... Nd7 $5 {is also a worthwhile idea, challenging White's well-placed knight.}) 14. Rfd1 Qc7 15. Rac1 Rfd8 16. Qc4 {this is aggressive-looking but really doesn't help White much.} (16. Qf3 {is a better square for the queen.}) 16... Nbd5 17. Be1 Nxc3 {this is OK, but I really didn't have much of a plan here.} (17... Bd6 {when no plan leading to an advantage is obvious, it's a good idea simply to improve the position of your pieces. On d6, the bishop is on a much more useful diagonal (b8-h2) and fights for the e5 square.}) 18. bxc3 Nd7 {I continue with the rather basic idea of just exchanging pieces.} 19. f4 Nxe5 20. fxe5 Rac8 $6 {this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the position. Not a blunder, but a strategic inaccuracy.} (20... Qd7 {is one path, removing the queen from the c-file and thereby freeing the c6-pawn to capture on b5. The plan would be to play ... Rdb8 and push b7-b5.} 21. Rb1 $11) (20... Bg5 {is another simple yet effective idea, greatly improving the bishop's scope and targeting the weak e3 pawn.}) 21. Bd2 {somewhat passive.} (21. Rb1 $5) 21... c5 {finally I am able to get in this active idea.} 22. Qe2 c4 $2 {this is a classic Class player type error, not being comfortable in maintaining pawn tension. Now the pawn is isolated on c4 and White's center is stronger for it.} (22... b6 {is another simple but strong move.} 23. Rb1 $11 {White cannot get enough pressure down the b-file to break through and pawn exchanges would not help him either.}) (22... Qd7 $5 23. Rb1 Qxa4 24. Ra1 Qc6 25. Rxa5 Ra8 $11) 23. Qf3 $14 {pressuring b7 and f7 at the same time.} Qc6 {at the time I thought this would solve my problems.} 24. Rf1 f6 $2 {this creates weaknesses for Black. It seems I have a tendency to do this sort of self-inflicted wound with the f-pawn by not calculating fully the consequences of an advance and pawn break.} (24... Qxf3 $5 25. gxf3 b5 26. axb5 Rb8 $11) 25. exf6 $16 Bxf6 {now the f7 square and e6 pawn are weak, with additional lines opened around the Black king.} 26. e4 (26. Rb1 Rc7 $16) 26... Rf8 $6 (26... e5 {was the best defense.} 27. Qf5 (27. dxe5 $6 Bxe5 {and now if} 28. Qf7+ Kh8 29. Rf5 Qd6 $15) 27... Kh8 28. d5 Qxa4 29. Bg5 Bxg5 30. Qxg5 Qe8 $11 {Black's pawn snatching at least provides compensation for the uncomfortable position.}) 27. Qg4 $16 {the most effective idea for White, pinning the g-pawn and creating tactical possibilities on the f-file against the Bf6. Also pressures the e6 pawn.} e5 $2 {it's interesting to me how good ideas played a tempo too late can turn into bad ones. This is an example.} ( 27... Rce8 $16) 28. d5 $18 {my opponent finds the move that leads to a winning advantage. The passed d-pawn becomes a major factor now.} Qc5+ 29. Kh2 Kh8 30. Rb1 {keeping the pressure on all the weak points in my position.} Rc7 31. Rb5 { by this point I realized I was in big trouble, since my passive defense can't cover all of my weaknesses.} Qa7 32. d6 Rcf7 33. Qe6 {it's instructive how White takes such effective advantage of my positional weaknesses, penetrating here to a key square.} b6 34. Qxc4 Qd7 (34... Rd7 35. Qe6 Qb7 36. Be3 $18) 35. Rxb6 Bd8 {desperation, but this just gets me in further trouble, due to back rank problems.} 36. Rxf7 Rxf7 37. Rb8 Rf8 38. Bg5 {I could resign here, but played on a few more moves in case my opponent randomly blundered.} h6 39. Bxd8 Rxd8 40. Rxd8+ Qxd8 41. Qc7 Qf6 $2 {I missed the forced exchange of queens in the next sequence, but I was lost anyway.} 42. Qc8+ Kh7 43. Qf5+ 1-0

15 September 2018

Training quote of the day #15

From "A chess master reflects on strategies and human potential" in the Washington Post Magazine interview with NM David Bennett
Is there a moment it all came together for you?
It was at the historic Marshall Chess Club championship in Greenwich Village. I lost three games in a row at the very beginning and was pretty mad at myself. Then I had this moment of clarity. And I wrote down every single thing I had done wrong. Maybe things I had done well, too. Just this relentless self-critique, probably four pages long. But that worked, because then I won five out of my six next games. And looking at that note before every game is actually one of the things that led me to finally break through and become a master, to find that flow where I began to play more consistently.

11 September 2018

Annotated Game #194: Distractions

It's often the case that a chess game features a kingside versus queenside race, with the game going to the swiftest side to break through.  In this first-round tournament game, my opponent opts for an accelerated queenside castling strategy, in the process successfully exchanging off the light-squared bishops.  By move 14, however, strategic errors on his part have given me already a near-winning advantage, with the road open to his castled king.  I give him great credit for making dangerous-looking demonstrations on the kingside that successfully distracted me from breaking through against his king position, which resulted in a position where I had pressure but no way to make progress.  Evidently the pressure was too much to maintain for my opponent, however, as he unnecessarily exchanged a knight for two pawns and in the process gave me new opportunities to break through, which I did not pass up for a second time.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A25"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "87"] {[%mdl 8192] A25: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 but without early d3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 d6 4. Bg2 Be6 5. d3 Qd7 6. Nf3 {this standard-looking move actually scores poorly (around 40 percent) in the database, due to Black's early formation of a battery on the c8-h3 diagonal.} ( 6. Rb1 $5 {offers an accelerated version of White's typical queenside expanion plan with b2-b4 coming, only this time with both kings still in the center. The point is that White benefits from this standard plan, regardless of when it is started, while keeping the Ng1 at home to keep control of the h3 square.} ) 6... Bh3 7. O-O h5 {aggressive, but in keeping with Black's development; he clearly will be castling queenside.} 8. Nd5 {I saw no reason to refrain from the thematic occupation of the d5 outpost, being slightly ahead in development. } O-O-O 9. b4 {a benefit of the previous move, the b4 square is now protected by the knight.} Nce7 $2 {under other circumstances this might be a prudent retreat, anticipating b4-b5, but it causes a tactical problem for Black on the 7th rank, which I spotted. Note the now-unprotected f7 pawn.} (9... Bxg2 $142 { is a viable option} 10. Kxg2 h4 $11) 10. Bxh3 $16 Qxh3 11. Ng5 {threatening the pawn with tempo} Qf5 12. e4 Qg6 13. h4 {I chose to overprotect the Ng5 here, in order to later free up the dark-square bishop for other action.} (13. Be3 {would immediately hit the undefended queenside.} Kb8 14. h4 $16 {with similar play.}) 13... Nxd5 $2 {a strategic error, exchanging off Black's defensive piece and opening lines to his king. My opponent probably was following the general maxim of exchanging pieces to relieve space problems. Indeed, he is able to follow up by developing an additional piece to e7, but this is too slow to defend.} 14. cxd5 $18 Be7 15. Be3 {right idea, targeting the weak a7 pawn - but not the most efficient execution, as it end up wasting a tempo with the bishop.} (15. Qa4 $18 {immediately adds more threats.}) 15... Bxg5 16. Bxg5 (16. hxg5 $5 {is strongly preferred by the engine, which isn't bothered by what looks like potential for kingside counterplay.} h4 17. g4 Ne7 18. Qa4 $18 {and here Black can't in fact make any rapid progress down the h-file, while White's queen and other pieces threaten quickly to break through against the Black king.}) 16... f6 $16 17. Be3 Qe8 {sensibly swinging the queen back to the defense, offering to sacrifice a pawn. However, I don't take it, preferring to build up piece pressure.} (17... Kb8 {was objectively a better defense.}) 18. Qc2 (18. Bxa7 $5 g5 (18... b6 $6 19. a4 Kb7 20. a5 $18 { and Black's king is in major danger.}) 19. hxg5 fxg5 20. Rc1 $18) 18... Kb8 $16 19. a4 (19. Rfc1 $5 {would get the rook into play on the c-file and also be a logical follow-up.}) 19... Qe7 $6 {d7 is a more logical square, keeping the queen on the valuable e8-a4 diagonal.} 20. a5 {continuing the march of the pawns toward Black's king position.} g5 $2 {further deteriorates the position, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. Objectively this is the case, but in practical terms it successfully distracts me from breaking through on the queenside, which I could do immediately.} (20... Qd7 $5 $18) 21. hxg5 (21. a6 $1 c5 22. bxc5 dxc5 23. axb7 $18) 21... fxg5 $2 {again, technically a blunder, but it continues the distraction.} 22. Kg2 (22. a6 {still wins almost immediately.}) 22... h4 {while still not spotting the winning a6 idea, I still now am able to neutralize the push easily and maintain the advantage.} 23. Rh1 g4 {Black prepares h3. Now I really start to give away the advantage by redeploying my pieces away from the queenside - unnecessarily.} 24. Qe2 $6 (24. a6 {ends the debate} h3+ 25. Kh2 {and Black can do nothing more.}) 24... h3+ $16 25. Kh2 {now if Black hurries, he can hold reasonably well on the queenside. However, he doesn't find the best path.} Qg7 $6 (25... Nf6 {getting another piece into the game.} 26. b5 Rc8 27. Rhc1 $16) 26. b5 $18 Rc8 27. Qc2 { a less effective and slower way of exerting pressure.} (27. Bxa7+ {I recall looking at the idea, but ultimately not seeing how I could break through.} Kxa7 28. b6+ Kb8 29. Rhb1 Nf6 30. a6 $18) 27... Ne7 28. Rhb1 {White prepares the advance b6} Qf6 29. Qb2 $6 {a useless and time-wasting move. I did not ask myself what the Qf6 can now do for Black.} (29. Qe2 $5 {going back to the previous square, where the queen pressured the g4 pawn, would be better, defending against Black's next.}) 29... Qf3 $14 {my opponent finds the best idea in the position, with a mate threat on g2.} 30. Rg1 {forced} Rhg8 $2 ( 30... Rh7 {would help defend along the 7th rank.}) 31. b6 $2 {this fails against the best defense.} (31. Ra2 {is rather subtly found by the engine, reinforcing the 2nd rank and defending f2 again, allowing for possible moves by the bishop. For example} Rg7 32. Qa3 {a key move, threatening to break through on the a-file and also pressuring d6, meaning the c7-pawn can't move without negative consequences for Black. My opponent has no good moves at this point, with both b6 and Bxa7+ as threats.}) (31. Qa3 {immediately also is good, if not as incisive.}) 31... a6 {the best response.} 32. bxc7+ Rxc7 $11 33. Rab1 {I now have pressure but without the Rg1 in play and the Be3 no longer threatening anything, there is no way for me to make progress...unless my opponent makes a mistake.} Nxd5 $4 {this in fact would have been a smart play in some earlier variations, but now sacrificing the piece for two pawns is completely unnecessary and gives me a winning position.} (33... Nc8 $11 { is one move that holds everything together.}) (33... Rf8 {is another.}) (33... Rg7 {is another.}) 34. exd5 $18 Qxd5 35. Qb6 {the problem for Black is that he no longer has the knight to help defend against the queen penetration.} Kc8 36. d4 {it's nice to see that Komodo agrees this is the best move. I've mentally moved it up a gear, since Black's blunder.} exd4 37. Bxd4 Rf8 38. Rbd1 { getting the rook into play, as it was not being effective on the b-file.} Qf3 39. Qxd6 Rc2 {I give my opponent credit for fighting until the end.} 40. Qe6+ { I thought for a while here and chose a relatively simple and safe winning continuation.} Kb8 41. Qb6 {protecting against the sacrifice on f2 and also lining up the fatal blow.} Rfc8 42. Qa7+ Kc7 43. Be5+ Kc6 44. Qb6# 1-0

06 September 2018

Training quote of the day #14

"Your mindset at competition begins at training. Always remember, you compete how you train. If you let your ego get in the way of training properly, it’s going to destroy you come competition time. There are two main pitfalls I see when it comes to ego in training:
  1. 1) Spending too much time on the things you’re good at
  2. 2) Worrying about winning and looking good"
(From the article "How to Kill Your Ego and Avoid Choking in Competition" on The Competitive Edge - Medium.com) 

28 August 2018

Annotated Game #193: How strategic errors can snowball

This final-round tournament game illustrates a curious phenomenon, namely how small strategic errors you make tend to "snowball" - gathering weight as time goes on, until your game is crushed by them.  I believe this is because strategic errors reflect an incorrect mindset on the part of the player, and/or a fatally flawed understanding of the position.  Relatively small errors early on are clues that you are thinking wrongly about the position.  Later this often leads to incorrect plans and, consistent with that, more significant errors.

Below, we can see that a rather pleasant position for White around move 7 starts losing momentum after move 10.  I have the (flawed) idea of setting up a Hedgehog-type position, but succeed instead in playing too passively and not seizing enough space to properly develop and maneuver my pieces.  My opponent does a good job of playing natural moves that improve his position on the queenside, until I (too early) become desperate for a solution, which rapidly sends my game downhill.  Moral of the story: seek to understand the position's requirements, especially for your pieces' activity, rather than trying to impose an arbitrary strategy onto the board.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "62"] {[%mdl 8192] A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5 A16: English Opening: 1.. .Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 {with this move, Black is essentially playing an English Four Knights variation with his e-pawn on e6 rather than e5. This is solid but unambitious.} 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 {I saw no benefit to allowing d5-d4, and the exchange gives White a target on the long diagonal.} Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 $146 7. bxc3 $14 (7. dxc3 {going directly into the endgame is level, but unnecessary for White, who has a nice positional plus based on the Bg2.}) 7... Bd6 8. O-O O-O 9. Rb1 {immediately positioning the rook on the half-open file and pressuring b7.} Rb8 10. d3 {although this isn't a bad move, I would say that I strategically start to lose momentum here. I shouldn't be afraid to play d4, with more central control over c5 and e5. Controlling the c4 and e4 squares doesn't do as much for me. I was thinking (a little too vaguely) about setting up a Hedgehog structure for White, but what results isn't that.} (10. d4 e5 {if Black challenges in the center, then exchanging off would be to White's advantage, so I could just improve my pieces further. For example} 11. Qd3 h6 {otherwise Ng5 is a strong follow-up move} 12. Rd1 $14) 10... b6 11. Be3 $11 {now I have problems with cramped space and developing my pieces to useful squares.} (11. Bb2 $5 {would be a little more active.}) 11... Bb7 12. Qc2 h6 {Secures g5} 13. Rb2 {by now it's clear I lack a viable strategy. Going for doubled rooks on the b-file is next to useless.} Qd7 14. Rfb1 Ne7 15. a4 {my plan, such as it is, is to try and crack open the queenside with my a-pawn. However, Black can avoid any problems by simply ignoring the pawn, so it's a rather bad plan.} c5 {this actually gives the a-pawn advance a bit more bite. Now Black cannot play b6-b5 in response, for example.} (15... e5 16. a5 f5 $11) 16. a5 Nd5 17. Bd2 $6 { continuing to make even more passive moves. I was worried about ...Nxe3, but failed to calculate that Black could not ignore the pawn capture on b6 first.} (17. axb6 axb6 {now the doubled rooks have a purpose in life on the b-file} 18. Bd2 Bc7 $11) 17... bxa5 $11 {the correct decision. The a-pawns of course are weak, but Black is temporarily a pawn ahead and having a passed a-pawn is compensation.} 18. e4 {the engine points out that it's better to go after the a-file immediately, but at least I'm thinking a bit more actively now. However, not calculating consequences and alternatives results in a weaker game.} (18. Ra1 Bc7 19. Qc1 {avoiding a potential future attack from a knight landing on b4.} Rfe8 20. c4 $11) 18... Nb6 19. Rb5 a4 $15 {with Black's extra a-pawn now protected, he has a small edge, although the battle still revolves around his weak queenside pawn structure.} 20. Be3 {this delays the rook move and allows Black to start making threats.} (20. Ra5 $5) 20... Bc6 21. Bxc5 $4 {this was just desperation, also based on flawed calculation.} (21. Ra5 $15 {this is the best bet to save the position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface.}) 21... Bxb5 $19 22. Bxd6 Qxd6 23. Rxb5 {now I'm just a full exchange down with no compensation, plus Black's a-pawns have fewer defenders in front of them.} Rfc8 24. Rh5 {now I really start getting desperate and hope to get something going on the kingside with my rook.} Qa3 {my opponent correctly ignores it.} 25. c4 Qb3 26. Qd2 a3 27. Bf1 {note how useless this once-promising bishop turned out to be.} Qb2 (27... Nxc4 {is a cute tactic:} 28. dxc4 Qxf3 $19) 28. Qf4 a2 29. Ne5 {one last gasp before resigning.} Rb7 30. Rxh6 gxh6 31. Qxh6 Qxe5 0-1