29 May 2018

How Carlsen makes us feel better about chess IV

What phase of your career do you feel you are in?
'I don't know. I feel that I have been in the game for a long time already and I think if you do the right things, you can be good for a very long time. I feel that I am closer to the start than to the end of my prime. I enjoy playing and I still have so much to work on. It's very obvious to me that I can still be much better, and from tournament to tournament I am trying to learn something new about chess or about myself. But it's not easy. I've got to be better now. I had a few poor tournaments last year. Then I felt like I turned myself around, but now I need to take the next steps. I cannot remain stuck at the level I am at now...not only as regards chess, but as regards the combination of chess and psychology'

 (From New in Chess 2016-4, interview with Magnus Carlsen after winning Altibox Norway Chess for the first time)

28 May 2018

Annotated Game #188: Simul vs. WIM Sabrina Chevannes

This next game is from a simul played against WIM Sabrina Chevannes at a chess festival.  I was pleased to see the London System on the board from my opponent, as I've had good results against it.  I handle the initial opening phase well (through move 7), first avoiding, but then running into a similar problem with White penetration of the queenside as occurred in Annotated Game #183.   Here the opening variation isn't really the problem, as the queen exchange for Black is fine (unlike in the linked game), but rather recognizing White's opportunity to target the c6-pawn from the side with the rook on the a-file.  Luckily my opponent missed this (rather unusual) opportunity as well and the game continued.  Other lessons learned from the analysis were the power of the ...e5 break for Black and the need to evaluate better the impacts of key piece exchanges.  In the end, I correctly trade off my passed central pawn for one of White's queenside pawns in the endgame and reach a drawn position, which I was happy to take.

[Event "Simul"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Chevannes, Sabrina"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "66"] [EventDate "2015.03.17"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "2"] {D10: Slav Defence: cxd5 (without early Nf3) and 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 { an early entry into the London System, although now Bf4 is considered better than the originally less committal Nf3 in the opening structure. ChessBase considers the opening a Slav Defense (ECO D10).} Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 {I like playing this because of the symmetry and increased control of e4, and find it easier to play as opposed to developing the bishop on the queenside.} (3... e6 { is the most popular move in the database, no doubt because of all the Queen's Gambit Declined players.}) 4. c4 c6 {we now have a traditional Slav structure for Black, versus a non-traditional White setup.} 5. Qb3 {White immediately hits the queenside, as removing the protector of b7 is the main drawback of the previous move.} Qb6 {played in the vast majority of games. Black is not afraid to swap queens.} 6. c5 {this space-gaining push is a natural reaction and the most played. The trade-off for White is that it eliminates tension in the center.} Qxb3 7. axb3 {in exchange for the doubled pawns, which are not much of a weakness since I can't target them easily, White has the semi-open a-file. However, this is not as much of an issue as in some other Slav variations, since White also has trouble directly exploiting it.} Nbd7 8. Nc3 e6 {this is too conservative. I should have recognized the ...e5 pawn break possibility, although in this case it requires some assistance from the Nf6 and creative play; the break is a normal reaction to White's earlier c4-c5 push, which leaves the black pawn on d5 secure.} (8... e5 $5 {this works because of the Nf6's mobility and the fact that the c5 pawn depends on the d4 pawn for protection. The fact that we are already in an endgame-like position also means that Black has less to worry about regarding king protection.} 9. dxe5 Nh5 10. b4 Nxf4 11. exf4 g5 {offering a wing pawn for a central one, a good deal for Black.} 12. g3 gxf4 13. gxf4 f6 14. exf6 Nxf6 $11 {and Black has full compensation for the pawn, given better piece activity and the obviously weak White kingside pawns.}) (8... a6 {is also commonly played in this position, with good results for Black (56 percent). One example:} 9. b4 Rc8 10. Be2 h6 11. h3 g5 12. Bh2 Bg7 13. Nf3 O-O 14. O-O Ne4 15. Nxe4 Bxe4 16. Nd2 Bg6 17. Nb3 e5 18. dxe5 Bxe5 19. Bxe5 Nxe5 20. f4 Bd3 21. fxe5 Bxe2 22. Rf6 Rce8 23. Nd4 Bd3 24. Rd1 Be4 25. e6 fxe6 26. Rxh6 e5 27. Ne6 Rf5 28. Rf1 d4 29. exd4 Rxf1+ 30. Kxf1 Bd5 31. Nxg5 exd4 32. Rh4 d3 33. Rd4 Re2 34. Rxd3 Rxb2 35. Rg3 Rxb4 36. Ne4+ Kf8 37. Nd6 a5 38. Ra3 a4 39. g4 Ke7 40. Ke2 b5 41. g5 Rb2+ 42. Ke3 Rb1 43. Nf5+ Ke6 44. Nd4+ Ke5 {0-1 (44) Teglas,B (2172)-Deak,F (2259) Hungary 2009}) 9. b4 {proactively reinforcing c5 and preventing a7-a5.} b5 $2 { this is exactly what Black should not do in this position, giving White an inroad on the queenside; luckily, my opponent did not recognize the opportunity.} (9... Nh5 10. Bc7 Rc8 11. Be5 a6 $14) 10. cxb6 $6 (10. Ra6 $1 $18 {targeting the now-vulnerable c-pawn is winning for White.}) 10... Nxb6 $14 { obviously this is what I had intended on move 9. The c-pawn is now backward, but White has issues with her b-pawns being weak as well.} 11. b5 c5 { naturally not exchanging on b5, which would give White a great post for a minor piece and open up the c-file.} 12. Nf3 Nfd7 13. Ne5 Nxe5 $6 {despite my previous move, which was aimed at reinforcing both c5 and e5, this piece exchange is not a good follow-up. Afterwards White's minor pieces are improved in relative terms versus mine.} (13... cxd4 14. exd4 Bd6 {the key idea in this line. Now another piece is developed and White's hold on the center is challenged.} 15. Nxd7 Kxd7 16. Bxd6 Kxd6 17. Be2 $11) 14. Bxe5 $16 {Komodo likes White's position better, with the central Be5 a significant constraint on my play, including pressuring g7 and preventing my bishop from being developed to its best diagonal on d6.} Kd7 {mobilizing the king with the reduced material on the board is now more important than seeking to castle. There is also no good way to protect the g-pawn without giving White further advantage in space and development on the queenside.} 15. Be2 {not the most challenging move.} (15. dxc5 Bxc5 16. Bxg7 Rhg8 $16) 15... f6 $14 {taking care of the threat to g7.} 16. Bg3 cxd4 17. exd4 Bd6 18. Bxd6 Kxd6 $14 {my opponent apparently felt that safe exchanges and a slight plus were a better route to victory. White maintains some slight advantages on the queenside, but no longer has urgent threats, so I felt much better about my position.} 19. g4 { a rather direct approach which does not gain White anything.} Bg6 20. f4 e5 { this time, I recognize the value of the pawn break. The next sequence is essentially forced.} 21. dxe5+ fxe5 22. fxe5+ (22. f5 Bf7 {is fine for Black, with two connected passed pawns in the center offsetting White's kingside majority.}) 22... Kxe5 $11 {and now Black has a new passed pawn on d5. White will have to pay attention to neutralizing it, rather than advancing her own plans.} 23. Bf3 Be4 $6 {an unnecessary exchange that potentially weakens the central pawn's position.} (23... d4 $5 {is the more aggressive choice:} 24. Bxa8 dxc3 25. bxc3 Rxa8 26. O-O $11) (23... Raf8 $11) 24. Nxe4 $6 {following the general rule of exchanging knights for bishops, but here it helps me.} (24. Bxe4 $5 {is the better choice.} dxe4 25. O-O $16) 24... dxe4 $15 25. Bg2 Nc4 { making an obvious threat, but not a significant one.} (25... Rhf8 $5 {is actually the key move, mobilizing the rook and preparing ...Rf4.} 26. Rf1 Rxf1+ 27. Bxf1 Kf4 $15) 26. Ra4 {now White is more active again and I am on the defensive.} Nd6 27. O-O Rhb8 $6 (27... g6 {is necessary to reduce 7th rank threats from White's rook on the f-file.}) 28. Re1 {White evidently does not see the following sequence, a good example of CCT in action:} (28. Bxe4 $5 { the pawn is protected twice and attacked twice, but} Nxe4 29. Rf5+ Kd6 30. Rd4+ Ke6 31. Rxe4+ Kd6 32. Rd4+ Ke6 33. b4 $14 {with pressure, although the doubled extra b-pawn may not be decisive.}) 28... Rxb5 $11 {the correct choice, to reach a completely level position where White has no more real threats.} 29. Bxe4 Nxe4 30. Rexe4+ Kf6 31. b4 Rab8 32. h4 g5 33. Ra6+ R5b6 1/2-1/2

22 May 2018

Why Aronian Plays the English

In recent times I have taken a liking to this move. After all, in the main openings too much is already known, and contortions such as 1.d4 and, after any move, 2. Bf4 do not yet attract me. It only remains to rely on the openings of my early youth - the English and the Reti.
-- GM Levon Aronian, New In Chess 2016 #4

(From the introduction to Aronian's annotations to Aronian-Carlsen, Stavanger 2016 round 8)

[Event "Norway Chess 4th"] [Site "Stavanger"] [Date "2016.04.28"] [Round "8"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2851"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2016.04.19"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [EventCategory "21"] [SourceTitle "CBM 172"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2016.05.12"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2016.05.12"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 d5 4. Nf3 g6 5. b3 Bg7 6. Bb2 O-O 7. O-O dxc4 8. bxc4 c5 9. d3 Nc6 10. Ne5 Na5 11. Qc1 Qc7 12. Nd2 Ne8 13. f4 Nd6 14. Bc3 Rb8 15. Qa3 b6 16. Bxa5 bxa5 17. Nb3 Nb7 18. Bxb7 Qxb7 19. Nxc5 Qc7 20. d4 Rd8 21. Rfd1 f6 22. Nf3 e5 23. fxe5 fxe5 24. Nxe5 Bxe5 25. dxe5 Rxd1+ 26. Rxd1 Qxe5 27. Rd8+ Kf7 28. Qf3+ Bf5 29. Rxb8 Qxb8 30. g4 Qb4 31. Nd3 1-0

20 May 2018

Annotated Game #187: Taking on the "Sniper" with a reloader tactic

(Note: this replaces a previous, duplicated Annotated Game #187)

In the following tournament game, my opponent uses the "Sniper" formation, which was popularized first in a 2011 book then a 2017 ChessBase DVD by FM Charlie Storey.  You can read in more depth about it in the previous links, but basically the idea is to have a system as Black with ...g6, ...Bg7 and ...c5 to meet all of White's options.  Since this formation is a component of some more mainline opening systems, it's not an entirely untrodden path in the opening, although it is an original approach.

Against the English Opening, I don't think the "Sniper" has as much bite, primarily because the key ...c5 pawn move for Black isn't as challenging when White does not yet have a pawn center built up.  Here we get into a Symmetrical English, which is not really what Sniper players are looking to do, and as White by move 9 I feel I have a comfortable, active game.

The turning point of the game is a "reloader" tactic that I spotted the potential for, involving a sacrificial knight fork on g5 that gains me a pawn and a lasting advantage, although I give it back temporarily before my opponent gets too greedy with pawn-grabbing and neglects his king position, allowing me to break through with tactics involving forks, pins and sacrifices.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A34"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "6"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nf3 Bg7 3. Nc3 c5 {known as the "Sniper" formation. Without a pawn on d4, however, it does not have independent importance.} 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 { now we're in more familiar Symmetrical English territory.} O-O 6. O-O d5 { a more aggressive continuation than maintaining symmetry with ...Nc6. I am fine with exchanging the central pawn and opening the h1-a8 diagonal, however.} 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Qb3 {the second most popular continuation in the database. I liked the idea of hitting b7 and getting my queen on a good diagonal early.} ( 8. Nxd5 {is more popular, for example in this game by Kramnik:} Qxd5 9. d3 Nc6 10. Be3 Bxb2 11. Rb1 Bg7 12. Qa4 Qd7 13. Bxc5 b6 14. Be3 Nd4 15. Qd1 Bb7 16. Nxd4 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Bxd4 18. Bxd4 Qxd4 19. Qb3 Rac8 20. Rfc1 Rc5 21. e3 Qd6 22. d4 Ra5 23. Rc2 e5 24. Rd1 Rd8 25. Rcd2 Qd5+ 26. Qxd5 {1/2-1/2 (26) Kramnik,V (2801)-Grischuk,A (2761) Moscow 2012}) 8... Nb6 9. d3 {needed to release the bishop. The d4 square is dominated by Black, but I nonetheless have comfortable development.} Be6 {taking the diagonal for his own, but in the process blocking any idea of advancing the e-pawn.} 10. Qc2 h6 {taking the g5 square away from the Nf3 (and the Bc1). However, Black is starting to get behind in development.} 11. Be3 {developing and targeting the c-pawn, which is isolated from its natural support (the b-pawn) by the Nb6.} Qc8 12. Rfd1 { here I thought for a while, as I saw no obvious plan for White. The rooks seemed to be to be well placed on the d- and c-files, so I decided to continue development that way.} Rd8 {in order to oppose the idea of my advancing the d-pawn.} 13. Rac1 $14 {by this point Komodo gives White a small plus. I have all of my pieces developed, while Black's queenside remains partially undeveloped. The c-pawn also remains a target, which my opponent recognizes with his next move.} Na6 14. a3 {making sure the Na6 does not come into b4, and also removing the a-pawn from the Be6's pressure.} Bh3 15. Bh1 {the engine ranks higher pretty much any alternative to this move, which preserves the bishop. At the time, I felt that its influence over the long diagonal was worth maintaining.} (15. Ne4 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 Nd5 17. Bxc5 {doesn't get White very much after} f5 18. Ned2 Qxc5 19. Qxc5 Nxc5 20. Rxc5 Bxb2 21. Nc4 Bf6) (15. Bxh3 Qxh3 16. Qb3 $14 {and now White has more play on the light squares with the Black bishop's absence, although it hardly seems decisive.}) 15... Qd7 16. Qd2 {threatening h6.} Kh7 {this obvious-looking move turns out to be a problem for Black.} (16... g5 $5) 17. Ne4 {this attacks both c5 and g5, with potential tacticsr on both squares. My opponent did not see the threat on g5, however.} Qb5 $2 {neglecting protection of the now-hanging Bh3.} (17... Be6 {appears to be the best option, as it's not so simple for White to take on c5.} 18. Nxc5 Nxc5 19. Rxc5 Na4 20. Ra5 Nxb2 21. Rc1 {although now despite the material equality there is still a plus for White because of the a-pawn weakness, Black's more awkward piece placement, and the Bh1's influence. For example} b6 22. Ne5 Qe8 23. Bxa8 bxa5 24. Bc6 Qh8 25. Qxb2 Bxe5 26. Qb5 $14) 18. Nfg5+ { a genuine "reloader" tactic! The knight fork on g5 is repeated.} hxg5 19. Nxg5+ Kg8 20. Nxh3 $16 {now I am a clear pawn up with no compensation for Black. I also am eyeing Black's weakened king position.} Nd5 {making my next move choice with the Be3 that much easier.} 21. Bh6 Qxb2 22. Qg5 $6 {here I was disappointed that my opponent had found a way to regain the pawn, and I overlooked how to continue with an advantage.} (22. Qxb2 Bxb2 23. Rb1 Bxa3 24. Rxb7 $16 {preserves the advantage, although it's not immediately obvious to a Class player (i.e. me) during the visualization/calculation process. The immediate threat is Ra1, winning a piece as both the Na6 and Ba3 are hanging. Black can avoid this, but the a7 pawn is also underprotected. Play could continue} Nab4 {(also protecting against Bxd5 followed by Rxe7)} 25. Bxd5 Nxd5 26. Ra1 Bb4 27. Raxa7 $16 {and I'm back to being a clear pawn up.}) 22... Bf6 $11 23. Qg4 Qxa3 $2 {this is simply greedy and gives me back the initiative and an advantage.} (23... Nc3 $11) 24. Be4 $1 {threatening to sacrifice on g6.} Kh7 $2 (24... Bg7 25. Bxg7 Kxg7 26. Nf4 $16 {and the attack continues.}) (24... Qa4 {pinning the Be4 seems to be the best practical chance for Black.} 25. Nf4 Nxf4 26. Bxf4 $16) 25. Qh5 {after a good deal of thought, this seemed to me to be the best follow-up, taking advantage of the pinned g6 pawn. Komodo agrees.} Rh8 26. Qxd5 Kxh6 27. Qxf7 $18 {material is equal but Black's king is under heavy pressure.} Rag8 28. Nf4 (28. Qe6 {is the idea behind a quicker route to victory by repositioning the queen.}) 28... Rg7 29. Qd5 b6 $6 {protects against the pawn snatching threat, but neglects the king.} 30. Bxg6 $1 e5 { a nice try on defense, blocking the route to h5, but the queen can reposition to again threaten the square.} 31. Qf3 Rxg6 32. Qh5+ Kg7 33. Qxg6+ 1-0

19 May 2018

FT: Boxer Wladimir Klitschko - 'Chess is war with an army'

As I've highlighted on this blog several times in the past, the Financial Times (FT) periodically publishes thoughtful chess-themed articles and interviews, the most recent one being with heavyweight champion boxer Wladimir Klitschko.  The chess itself isn't the really interesting part, although Klitschko knows both Kramnik and Kasparov; rather, it's how Klitschko has incorporated it into his life and his outlook on competition and winning.  Here are a couple of the more interesting points from the article for me; the full interview (linked above) is well worth reading.
According to my opponent, there are some unlikely parallels between top-level boxers and chess players. His friend Kramnik told him that grandmasters “lose an incredible amount of weight during a tournament”. “Some tournaments,” Klitschko says, “are long. It shows how much energy and calories your brain can burn. They lose like, if I’m not wrong, during the two weeks or week and a half, up to 20kg. If they go to sleep, they cannot really turn off their mind. It’s just constantly doing combinations and combinations and combinations.”
In his book, he says that before any fight, he visualised the fighting style of his opponents while also imagining victory. He believes the same approach can work in any negotiation. “Internalise your winning pose,” writes Klitschko. “Save similar motivational pictures on your smartphone and have a look at them if you have doubts.”
The champ appears genuinely elated and takes a photograph of the final board to send to Kramnik. “It’s an exciting game because it’s a war with an army,” he says of chess. “It’s a lot of co-ordination, a lot of focus, a lot of endurance. You have to be really agile in everything you do. It actually fits well into sporting life, into business life, into private life, into anything. It just matches with my genes.”