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)