17 December 2018

Annotated Game #204: Not all equivalent decisions are equal

The next round of the tournament started out very similarly to the previous one (Annotated Game #203), with even the same ECO opening code (B13), even though the continuation was somewhat different.  In this game, my opponent seemed to rush to exchange off his bishops for knights on both the queenside and kingside, which I felt was a long-term positional advantage for me.  Unlike my previous opponent, however, this time around my opponent had significantly less prudence and went for 13. g4? which had an immediate tactical refutation.

One of the themes I noted during analysis was the repeated need to decide between reasonable-looking moves that had different trade-offs in terms of their strategic impact.  As Black, moves 14 and 19 are examples of this, where I deliberately went for a safe continuation in the first instance, and faced the common "which rook to move?" problem in the latter case.  White's decision to make the second bishop for knight exchange on move 11 was more problematic positionally.  Other key decisions for him occurred on move 14 and move 20.  It's interesting to see how decisions that may seem largely equivalent - for example, recovering a pawn one way rather than another - are not really equal, once other factors are taken into consideration.

I give credit to my opponent for playing pretty accurately after suffering the tactical blow on move 13, so it was not a question of him simply collapsing afterwards.  In the end, I believe he missed a key defensive move due to an instinctual desire to avoid a queen exchange, after which I penetrated his king position and won soon afterwards.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "64"] {[%mdl 8256] B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack} 1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 {we're already out of book here, but this is not necessarily a bad treatment for White, who can either transpose or take the game in an independent direction.} d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bb5 a6 { there's no reason not to do this, as I prefer the results of an exchange on c6 for Black. White alternatively will just lose time with the bishop retreating it along the a6-f1 diagonal, or get it largely buried on b3.} 7. Bxc6+ bxc6 8. h3 {White is in a preventative mode, preventing ...Bg4.} (8. O-O Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 10. Re1 e6 11. Qd3 Bg6 12. Qd1 c5 13. Bg5 Be7 14. dxc5 O-O 15. b4 Qc7 16. a3 Rfd8 17. Ne2 Ne4 18. Bxe7 Qxe7 19. Nf4 Bf5 20. Ne5 Qg5 21. Qf3 Rac8 22. a4 f6 { Perez Pardo,J (2320)-Torres,P Las Palmas 1991 0-1 (36)}) 8... Bf5 {an easy decision, as there's no other good square for the bishop, and it should not be locked in by a premature ...e6.} 9. O-O e6 10. Bg5 h6 {after this move we now replicate what happened on the queenside with the bishop for knight exchange. However, this was not forced and Black now gets the advantage of the two bishops.} (10... Bd6 $5 {first would take away f4 as a retreat square for the Bg5 and nicely place Black's bishop.}) 11. Bxf6 Qxf6 {a rather rare square for the queen in the Caro-Kann, where it can exert signifcant pressure down the f-file and the long diagonal. The g6 square is also now available to it.} 12. Re1 Bd6 13. g4 $2 {on general principles this would be an unjustified weakening of the kingside, but there is also an immediate tactical refutation. The text move fatally undermines f3.} (13. Na4 $5 $15 {although White doesn't have a particularly good plan here, at least improving his worst piece (the default strategy when no other progress seems possible) would be useful. On a4, the knight usefully overlooks b6 and c5, with the latter a possible outpost. On c3, it wasn't usefully influencing any squares.}) 13... Bxc2 $1 $17 { this deflection tactic appears, as now the Nf3 is only defended by the queen, which is overburdened by having to protect the c2 pawn at the same time.} 14. Qe2 $6 {although White is doomed to lose a pawn regardless, this was the wrong choice of how to do it. Now I keep the advantage of the two bishops and the light-squared bishop is particularly useful, given the light-square weaknesses in White's camp.} O-O {here I went with a 'safety first' approach by getting my king castled, although it wasn't objectively necessary. It's still good enough for a significant advantage.} (14... h5 $5 {is Komodo's choice, as a way to immediately press the advantage on the kingside.} 15. Ne5 Bh7 16. f3 Qh4 $19) (14... Bh7 {is a more positional continuation that is higher on the prudence scale than advancing the h-pawn.}) 15. Rac1 $17 Bh7 16. Na4 Be4 { now the problem with White's knight move is that it gives up the central square to the bishop.} 17. Ne5 {the best try for White, although the best response is also obvious.} Bxe5 18. dxe5 Qxe5 {I am now two pawns up but only temporarily. However, White has to spend time regaining the material now.} 19. Nc5 (19. f3 $2 Qd4+ {forking the Na4.}) 19... Rad8 {I thought for a while here about how to activate my rooks, which is what I now have the time to do. The text move has the advantage of placing the rook behind the central passed d-pawn, making it a stronger threat. I wanted to leave the other rook to stay on the f-file or move to the e-file as needed.} (19... Rfc8 {is also a legitimate option. For example} 20. Nxe4 dxe4 21. Qxe4 Qxb2 22. Rc2 Qa3 $17) 20. Nxa6 $6 {regaining material but leaving my central pawns intact and strong. } (20. Nxe4 dxe4 21. Rxc6 f5 22. Rxa6 fxg4 23. Qxg4 Qxb2 24. Qxe6+ Kh8 25. Qb6 Qe5 $17) 20... Qf6 {removing the queen from the pin and allowing the bishop to come alive again.} 21. Rxc6 Bf3 $6 {this is one of those moves that looks dangerous for the opponent, but really doesn't threaten anything beyond the one-tempo attack on the queen, which is easily avoided. After that, it's unclear what the bishop is doing on f3. However, it does require White to find the one correct response, as other queen moves lose.} (21... h5 $142 22. Rc3 hxg4 23. Qxg4 d4 $17) 22. Qd2 $2 {my opponent evidently did not see the threat posed by the black queen on the kingside. It's likely that he was thinking primarily about avoiding a queen trade.} (22. Qe5 Qxe5 23. Rxe5 d4 24. Rc2 $15 {and White has some problems, but should be able to blockade the d-pawn.}) 22... Qh4 $19 23. Kh2 {this covers the h-pawn, but now the g-pawn is hanging due to the pin on the h-file. Black also has other threats available...} d4 { a free advance of the passed pawn, as the Rc6 is now exposed.} 24. Rc4 Bxg4 { White is now effectively lost. One of the other points of the d4 advance was to take away the e3 square from the Re1, so that further material loss and exposure of White's king is inevitable.} 25. Qf4 Qxh3+ 26. Kg1 Bf3 27. Qh2 Qxh2+ {this wins just as surely as other continuations, although the engine prefers to be fancier about it.} (27... Qg4+ 28. Qg3 Qh5 29. Qh2 Rd5 $19) 28. Kxh2 d3 29. Kg3 Be2 {I thought for a while here and played what I felt was a safe winning continuation.} (29... d2 {makes it even easier for Black, according to the engine.} 30. Rb1 Be2 $19) 30. f3 (30. Re4 Bh5 31. f3 $19) 30... d2 31. Kf2 dxe1=Q+ 32. Kxe1 Bxc4 0-1

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