18 October 2019

Annotated Game #224: Play on both sides of the board in the Dutch

This final-round game in the Stonewall Dutch features highly entertaining, if not particularly accurate, play. The main battleground is the kingside and the f-file, largely due to White's strategic choices. I do quite well out of this as Black and by move 18 have a decisive advantage built up on the board. This is also the point where I start missing chances to dominate on the queenside as well, focusing solely on kingside play.

The Dutch (in its various forms) often possesses this strategic tension, in which Black needs to properly evaluate if/when to switch to queenside play, or (in the Stonewall especially) when to dissolve the central pawn structure to obtain an advantage (see move 24). These kinds of decisions I expect will become easier with more experience; the below was only my third tournament game with a Stonewall.

In the game, I come late to the party on the queenside and take a kind of caveman approach to it, which results in my opponent getting a dangerous, then what should be a winning, attack on the kingside. Nevertheless, I don't give up, find a key defensive exchange sacrifice, distract my opponent with active defense, and at the end of a long, exhausting battle play a queen fork that ends the game.

I'll follow up in a later post with some reflections on the overall lessons learned from this tournament and the previous one, which when combined led me to break through the Class A ratings barrier.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A85"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "82"] {[%mdl 8192] A85: Dutch Defence: 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. e3 f5 {this move-order is known as the 'Slav Stonewall'} 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. Ne5 {the second most popular move here, after b3. White immediately occupies the hole on e5.} Ne4 (8... Bxe5 $5 {is an interesting option for Black that takes the game in a very different strategic direction.}) 9. f4 {White chooses a near-symmetrical structure, reinforcing e5.} (9. f3 $5 { has scored well for White, but on a very small sample (9) of lower-rated games. After the piece exchanges, a draw seems most likely.} Nxc3 10. bxc3 Bxe5 11. dxe5 Qc7 12. f4 Rd8 13. Qf3 Qa5 14. Bb2 Nd7 15. cxd5 cxd5 16. Rac1 Nc5 17. Bb1 Bd7 18. c4 Bc6 19. Qe2 Ne4 20. Bd4 Rac8 21. Qb2 {1/2-1/2 (21) Neunhoeffer,H (2281)-Ungerer,M (2144) Germany 2009}) 9... Nd7 10. Rf3 {White goes for an aggressive plan with the rook lift. This mirrors Black's usual strategic options in the Stonewall, since that is essentially what White is playing on his side as well.} (10. Nxe4 fxe4 11. Be2 Nxe5 12. fxe5 Rxf1+ 13. Qxf1 Be7 14. Bd2 Bd7 15. Bh5 g6 16. Bg4 Qf8 17. Qd1 Qh6 18. Qb3 b5 19. cxd5 cxd5 20. Rc1 Qf8 21. Rc7 Qd8 22. Ba5 a6 23. a3 Rc8 24. Qc3 Rxc7 {Adamski,J (2470)-Sydor,A (2395) Krakow 1978 1/2-1/2}) (10. Bd2 Ndf6 11. c5 Bc7 12. b4 Bd7 13. a4 b6 14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Bc4 bxc5 16. bxc5 Nd5 17. Rb1 Bxe5 18. fxe5 Rb8 19. Rxb8 Qxb8 20. Bxd5 cxd5 21. Qc2 Qc8 22. Rb1 Qa6 23. a5 Bb5 24. Rb2 g5 {Izijk,J (2027)-Ramirez Gonzalez,M (2188) Aruba 2017 0-1 (35)}) 10... Nxe5 $146 {I judged that it would be best to eliminate White's strong knight, a choice validated by Komodo. The arrival of a pawn on e5 is somewhat cramping, but gives White fewer attacking chances.} (10... Ndf6 {had been universally played in the database prior to this.}) 11. fxe5 Be7 $11 12. Rh3 {continuing with the rook lift idea, focusing on pressure down the h-file.} Bd7 {time to activate the Stonewall bishop, or at least get it out of the way of Black's major pieces.} 13. Bxe4 { exchanging the centralized knight. This has the result of increasing the relative strength of my light-square bishop, however, as well as opening the f-file.} fxe4 $15 {Black has the pair of bishops, observes Komodo via the Fritz interface, along with a small positional plus.} 14. Qh5 {I'd had to calculate this far on move 12, given the threat on the h-file, but it is now easily refuted.} h6 $17 {under normal circumstances in the Stonewall this might be a weakening concession, but after the elimination of the Ne5 White has no minor pieces available to threaten g6 or sacrifice on h6. Black's control of the dark squares and g5 in particular means that a g-pawn thrust by White would also not work. My opponent is therefore lacking a good plan to make progress.} 15. Bd2 {activating his own 'Stonewall bishop'} Rf5 {although this harrasses the queen, the main point is to clear f8 for another heavy piece.} 16. Qe2 Bg5 {although e3 is well protected, the pressure is still annoying for White, and the bishop further blocks any ideas of a g-pawn thrust. More immediately, the move also clears the e7 square for my queen.} 17. Be1 $6 {White is having trouble activating his dark-square bishop. This maneuver only highlights Black's relative greater piece mobility.} (17. Qd1 $5) 17... Qe7 $17 18. Qg4 $2 {still dreaming of a kingside attack, it seems.} (18. Bf2) 18... Raf8 $19 {now the rooks have a stranglehold on the f-file and a mate in one is threatened on f1.} 19. Bh4 Qf7 $6 {in the Dutch, the Black player should be flexible in terms of kingside and queenside play. Here I make the same error on my opponent and fixate on the kingside, when my queen could make a decisive foray on the opposite wing.} (19... Qb4 $1 20. Rb1 Qxb2 {this is possible due to the back rank mate threat} (20... Bxh4 {is also sufficient for a major advantage.} 21. Qxh4 Qxc4 22. Qe1 c5 $19) 21. Qxf5 Qxc3 22. Qg4 Bxe3+ 23. Kh1 Qd3 $19) 20. Qe2 $17 Bxh4 21. Rxh4 Rf2 22. Qe1 $6 {a more practical-looking defense than the one given by the engine.} (22. Rf4 Rxf4 23. exf4 Qxf4 $17) 22... Qe7 {I thought for a while and played this somewhat less effective move. The idea was to hit the Rh4, but I did not have much of a follow up to it.} ( 22... Qf5 {this is more patient and threatens ...Qg5.} 23. Rf4 Rxf4 24. exf4 Qxf4 $19) 23. Rg4 {again, a reasonable-looking defense.} (23. Rf4 R8xf4 24. exf4 Rxb2 $17) 23... Rxb2 {an "obvious" move.} (23... Qb4 $5 24. Rb1 Qxc4 $19) 24. Ne2 {this is the main problem with Black's previous. Now the Rb2 is screened from the kingside action and White's knight can come into play.} Qa3 { this is too basic of an approach, simply targeting the a-pawn. I felt this at the time, but for whatever reason could not come up with something better.} ( 24... dxc4 $5 {having opted for queenside play, Black should logically follow up. I was illogically resistant to breaking up the Stonewall pawn formation, however. Knowing when to do this to your advantage is a key skill when playing the opening.} 25. Ng3 Qb4 26. Qxb4 Rxb4 27. Nxe4 Kh7 $19) (24... Qb4) 25. Nf4 { White is now successfully reorganizing his pieces for play on the kingside, which I have significantly weakened.} Rxa2 $2 {not a good decision, because now the opponent is right back in the game, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} (25... dxc4 {still preserves a Black advantage.} 26. Nh5 Rf7 27. Nf6+ Kh8 28. Nxe4 $17) 26. Rxa2 $14 {now we see that I have exchanged an active, dominant rook for White's previously inactive one, shifting the strategic balance. The extra pawn is not worth it.} Qxa2 27. h4 dxc4 $4 { throws away the game, notes the engine. An example of a good idea, but played too late.} (27... Rf7 {I had to think about defense first. On the 7th rank the rook covers both g7 and d7, which will come under pressure.}) 28. Qg3 $18 { now this comes with tempo, due to the attack on g7, and is crushing.} Rf7 ( 28... g5 {hardly improves anything} 29. Nh5 Kf7 30. hxg5 hxg5 31. Rxg5 $18) 29. Nh5 {White adds more attackers than Black can defenders.} Kf8 {the only way to keep playing.} 30. Rxg7 Qb1+ 31. Kh2 Qf1 {this maneuver added a defender on the f-file. I felt this was the best practical chance for me.} 32. Rg8+ Ke7 33. Nf6 c3 {for the moment, White has no immediate kill, so I decide to try to generate some counterplay, as a distraction if nothing else.} 34. Rg7 {my opponent thought for some time here. Black's formation is not easy to crack.} ( 34. Rh8 {is the non-obvious best move for Komodo. The point is that when Black sacrifices the exchange on f6 (as occurs in the game), White is better positioned with the rook.} Rxf6 35. exf6+ Qxf6 36. Rh7+ $18) 34... Be8 { this is what I had calculated and it appeared to frustrate my opponent.} 35. Rg8 Bd7 36. Rb8 $2 (36. Qg6 {in addition to the Rh8 idea, this would have kept the winning pressure on, although the path is complicated. For example} Qf5 37. Qxh6 c2 38. Rg7 c1=Q 39. Qh8 Qxf6 40. exf6+ Kxf6 41. Qh6+ Ke7 42. Qg5+ Kd6 43. Rxf7 $18) 36... Rxf6 $14 {another surprise for my opponent. This defensive exchange sacrifice is Black's only move to stay in the game.} 37. exf6+ Qxf6 38. Rxb7 c2 $16 {although White still has a slight plus in the endgame here, largely due to the active rook placement, it must have been very disappointing for him after having such a crushing attack going. Now he is forced to play some defense himself against the advanced passed c-pawn.} 39. Qe1 e5 40. Qc3 { I was happy to see this.} (40. d5 {is what I was concerned about as a response. } cxd5 41. Rc7 $16) 40... exd4 $11 {the engine evaluates this as equal. I had seen that there was a tactical trick lurking, however, and my opponent incorrectly goes for the "obvious move" of recapturing on d4.} 41. exd4 $4 { this now opens the c1-h6 diagonal and allows a queen fork of White's king and the c-pawn's queening square.} (41. Qxc2 $11) 41... Qf4+ 0-1

17 October 2019

Book completed: Grandmaster Performance by Lyev Polugayevsky


I recently completed Grandmaster Performance by GM Lyev Polugayevsky (alternate spelling Lev Polugaevsky). Note: I have a hardcover of the original Pergamon Press edition (above left), although the currently available edition with Ishi Press (above right) has a similar cover design.

As with previously completed annotated games collections such as Bronstein's Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 and Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse, I used it primarily for single-session reviews of each game, typically taking 15-20 minutes to go through it. I find this to be the ideal amount of time for maintaining focus and being able to absorb the lessons of each game, before moving on to something different. to do this, the games need to be instructive, informative and judiciously well-annotated. Grandmaster Performance fit the bill very well, in all respects.

Contents:

From the author - a preface from which I got Training quote of the day #19

Problems from the first move - this chapter focused on games where opening preparation was a deciding factor.

In search of the truth - featuring attacking games by the author. The chapter title comes from Polugayevsky's preference for objectively sound attacks, rather than attacking for its own sake.

From defence to attack - featuring games where the author is on the defensive, then finds resources to turn the tables on his opponent.

The touchstone of mastery - games where the author won due to strategically outplaying his opponent.

Finale of the chess symphony - includes endgames of particular interest to the author. Most of these games are still fully annotated, although there is one endgame fragment presented in the chapter.

Psychology of the chess struggle - Polugayevsky presents a few key games from his chess career and the considerations that went into his strategic choices in each case, predicated on his own state of mind and his opponents' capabilities and styles.

Grandmaster Performance is elegantly written (and translated) and has an excellent balance in the annotations between explaining moves, providing variations, and "color commentary" by the author. Each chapter holds together thematically, but when going through complete games one learns much more than just a single lesson. Throughout the book, and especially in the last chapter, one also gets a good sense of the practical considerations used by a strong, competitive player in making decisions, as well as the errors that inevitably occur. For improving players, seeing and absorbing this kind of candid, high-level commentary on thought process and decisionmaking is undoubtedly beneficial. It is also psychologically helpful to understand that chess is not a perfect game, even at the grandmaster level, and success comes from finding ways to win, including when under pressure and on the defensive.

11 October 2019

Annotated Game #223: Don't be afraid of queen endings

This fifth round tournament game continued the upwards trajectory of my quality of play...through the first 2/3 of it, I would say. The opening phase was reasonable, if not ambitious, and I successfully worked towards building an increasingly solid strategic game versus my opponent's isolated queen pawn (IQP) position. Some possible tweaks along the way are useful to see for White, but by move 18 I had acquired a small but stable advantage. My opponent then played actively and well in response, but missed a "small tactic" on move 23 that could have given me a more significant positional advantage if I had gone directly for an endgame transition, likely ending up with R+N on both sides.

Instead, I ended up with a trickier Q+N endgame that was evaluated by the engine as completely equal. I then passed up what I correctly evaluated as an easy drawing line on move 32, in favor of a riskier line that would at best also draw. Psychologically, this type of unjustifiably risky behavior is a common phenomenon, after a player previously evaluates they have superiority; the mind does not want to admit that the advantage has dissipated. The technical mis-evaluation of this situation is also an excellent teaching point, as Black's active queen and knight combination became much more of a potential threat once the queen penetrates to the second rank. Even then, though, my own active Q+N combination could have saved the day, had I calculated correctly. Remembering your own active resources in a queen ending means that you shouldn't have to fear going into them, just be careful of handing your opponent too much activity.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "78"] {[%mdl 8192] A13: English Opening: 1...e6} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 c5 4. e3 { restraining, if not technically preventing, d5-d4.} Nc6 {with Black piling in on d4, I exchange pawns and advance my own d-pawn to prevent him from establishing a strong point there.} 5. cxd5 exd5 6. d4 Nf6 7. Bb2 { interestingly, all of the (limited number) of master-level players in the database went with Be2 here. The course of the below game is very similar (see the position on move 10), but White follows a different plan:} (7. Be2 Bg4 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Bb2 O-O 10. O-O Rc8 11. Nc3 a6 12. Rc1 Ba7 13. Nd4 Bd7 14. Nxc6 Bxc6 15. Nb1 Re8 16. Bd4 Bb8 17. Nd2 Qd6 18. f4 Qe6 19. a4 Bd6 20. Bd3 Bd7 21. Nf3 Ne4 22. Ne5 Rxc1 23. Qxc1 Rc8 24. Qd1 Bxe5 25. Bxe5 Nc5 26. Bc2 f6 27. Bd4 Be8 28. Bxc5 Rxc5 29. Qd3 g6 30. b4 Rc7 31. Bb3 Bf7 32. Rd1 Qb6 33. Qd4 Qxd4 34. Rxd4 Rc3 35. Bxd5 Bxd5 36. Rxd5 Rxe3 37. Rd6 Kf7 38. Rb6 Re7 39. g4 f5 40. gxf5 gxf5 41. Kf2 Ke8 42. Kg3 Rg7+ 43. Kh4 Rg4+ 44. Kh5 Rxf4 45. a5 Rf1 46. Rxb7 f4 47. Kg4 h5+ 48. Kxh5 Rg1 49. b5 axb5 50. a6 Rg2 51. a7 Rxh2+ 52. Kg4 Ra2 53. Kxf4 Kd8 54. Ke4 {1-0 (54) Sulskis,S (2507)-Rogule,L (2320) Liepaja 2018}) 7... Bg4 8. Be2 Rc8 {Black can get a check in on the a5-e1 diagonal after some exchanges, but it's useful to see how even giving up castling is still fine for White. Black still needs to take some time to develop his own kingside, so White does not lose time in a comparative sense.} (8... Bxf3 9. Bxf3 cxd4 10. Bxd4 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 Qa5+ 12. Ke2 Rc8 13. Rd1 Be7 14. a3 O-O 15. Ra2 Rfd8 16. b4 Qc7 17. g3 a5 18. bxa5 Qxa5 19. Kf1 Bc5 20. Qd2 Qa6+ 21. Qe2 Qe6 22. Rad2 Rd6 23. Kg2 {Katishonok,N (2265)-Berzinsh,R (2395) Riga 1993 1/ 2-1/2 (44)}) (8... cxd4 9. Nxd4 Bb4+ 10. Kf1 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Bxe2+ 12. Qxe2 O-O 13. g3 Ne4 14. Kg2 Rc8 15. Rd1 b6 16. a3 Bc5 17. Bb2 Qg5 18. h4 Qf5 19. Nd2 Rfe8 20. Rac1 Nxd2 21. Rxd2 Qe4+ 22. Qf3 Rcd8 23. Rcd1 {Voskanyan,V (2213)-Li, Y (1866) Montreal 2016 1-0}) 9. O-O Bd6 {this bishop development should be a trigger for taking on c5, as occurs for example in analagous QGD positions with the colors reversed. Taking earlier, on the other hand, would save Black a tempo with the bishop.} 10. a3 $146 {this is unnecessary.} (10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. Nc3 O-O 12. Rc1 $11) 10... O-O (10... cxd4 11. Nxd4 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 $11) 11. dxc5 Bxc5 {Black has a very active position} 12. b4 {this was the idea behind the earlier a3, but if you compare the variations, above White has the knight and rook developed and can use them to pressure the Bc5.} Be7 {this turns out to be a wasted move, although my opponent was probably worried about the d-pawn and wanted to overprotect it.} (12... Bd6 13. Nbd2 $11) 13. Nd4 {a somewhat premature way to offer another piece exchange. White would do better by further development with Nbd2, perhaps after playing h3.} Bxe2 14. Qxe2 Bd6 15. Nd2 {finally getting the knight out. I chose this square over c3 for it, as I felt that it would be more effective in fighting for d4 (going to f3 for example) and not block the Bb2 on the long diagonal.} a6 {a little passive.} ( 15... Re8 $5) 16. h3 {this is similarly slow. I should get the Ra1 into the action.} (16. Nxc6 Rxc6 17. Rac1 $14) 16... Bb8 {now I'm able to resume progress.} (16... Nxd4 17. Bxd4 Qe7 18. Rac1 $14) 17. Nxc6 $14 Rxc6 18. Rac1 { although White has only a slight plus here, strategically I'm very comfortable. The d4 square in front of Black's isolated queen pawn is controlled and I have better prospects on the c-file. Black can't afford to exchange rooks on c6, for example, if he ends up with a backward pawn on the file that I can pressure.} Qd6 {protecting the Rc6 from an unfavorable exchange and also threatening a cheapo mate on h2, which I need to defend against.} 19. Nf3 (19. g3 $5 {is preferred by the engine and is a simpler way to blunt Black's threat. Without a light-square bishop, Black has no effective way of exploiting the weakened kingside squares.} Qe6 20. Rxc6 Qxc6 21. Rc1 Qe6 22. Kg2 $14) 19... Re8 20. Rxc6 Qxc6 21. Rc1 Qd6 {although this is no longer a mate threat, it's still annoying to have to watch for a check on h2.} 22. Qc2 {repositioning the queen away from the pinned e-pawn and giving her a great diagonal (b1-h7), while consolidating control of the c-file.} Ne4 {a more aggressive posting for the knight, traditional in IQP positions. However, a small tactic now lets me improve my position.} 23. Be5 {This apparently caught my opponent by surprise. Black cannot take twice on e5 because of the back-rank mate threat.} Qe7 24. Bxb8 $16 {with each minor piece exchange, Black's IQP becomes weaker, as I still have a lock on d4.} Rxb8 25. Nd4 {good but not best. With d4 under control, I should have immediately followed up to exploit my control of the c-file.} (25. Qc7 Qxc7 26. Rxc7 Nd6 27. Nd4 $16 {is a much better version of the idea.}) 25... g6 $14 {this covers f5, limiting the effectiveness of the Nd4, and also eliminates back-rank mate threats, so Black is now in better shape.} 26. Ne2 {time to reposition the knight.} Rd8 27. Qc7 {this is no longer very effective.} (27. Qb2 $5) 27... Rd7 28. Qb8+ Rd8 (28... Kg7 29. Rc8 $11) 29. Rc8 {this was the original idea behind Qc7, but is good only for equality.} (29. Qf4 $5 {with the idea of switching the rook to the d-file offered better chances for pressure.}) 29... Rxc8 $11 30. Qxc8+ Kg7 31. Nf4 { here I considered just going for the draw, which is easily done. Instead I over-evaluate my chances and pick a much riskier line which the engine evaluates as equal.} (31. Qc2) 31... Qe5 32. Qxb7 {I thought for a long time here. Black now penetrates with his queen and I have to watch out for problems on f2, due to the well-placed Ne4.} Qb2 {now things are much more complicated for the defense.} 33. Kh2 {this is still good enough for a draw.} (33. Ne6+ { I also considered and would draw.} Kf6 34. Nf4 {now I have the Nxd5 threat.} Qxf2+ 35. Kh2 Qg3+ 36. Kh1 $11) 33... Qxf2 34. Qxd5 $4 {I thought for a while here as well and simply did not visualize the resulting sequence properly.} ( 34. Qe7 {other queen moves can draw as well. In this line, the e3 pawn is now protected after the Ne4 moves, which is key.} Qg3+ 35. Kh1 Nf2+ (35... Qe1+ { is only good enough for a perpetual.} 36. Kh2 Qg3+ 37. Kh1 Qe1+ 38. Kh2 Qg3+ $11) 36. Kg1 $11) 34... Qg3+ $19 35. Kh1 Qe1+ {my opponent takes one more checking sequence to figure out how to win.} 36. Kh2 Qg3+ 37. Kh1 Nf2+ $1 38. Kg1 Qxe3 {now nothing can save White.} 39. g3 {one last attempt to confuse the matter.} Ng4+ (39... Ng4+ 40. Kh1 Qe1+ 41. Kg2 Qf2+ 42. Kh1 Qf1#) 0-1

01 October 2019

RandomJeff's 30-day slow chess challenge

Slow Chess League (SCL) member RandomJeff is making a concerted effort to get back into chess and has a 30-day challenge (30 slow chess games in 30 days) going on multiple platforms, including Chess.com and ICC. ("Slow chess" in this case means at a 45 45 or 90 30 time control).

You can see his progress on his blog at the below link, and also challenge him to a game:

https://www.chess.com/blog/RandomJeff

Details on the challenge at SCL: https://slowchessleague.org/2019/09/29/scl-30-day-challenge/


30 September 2019

Annotated Game #222: How it's supposed to work

For this fourth-round tournament game, it's useful to review how I got here:
While none of the above were clean games, the good news is that the quality of play was trending up, not to mention that I had actually managed to score 2/3. In this next game, by contrast, it went exactly "how it's supposed to work": start with a solid Caro-Kann Classical, win a pawn in the middlegame, snuff out White's limited compensation, and go on to win a rook and pawn ending.

Of course this kind of one-line game narrative never tells the whole story. Analyzing your own games uncovers the multiple layers involved, humbles you with hidden mistakes, and teaches broader lessons just as much with your victories as with defeats. Some key points here are:
  • I get at least a psychological advantage in the opening by causing a transposition from a queen pawn's opening to the Caro-Kann, which my opponent was not expecting to have to play. These sorts of opportunities are what opening preparation and repertoire choice are all about.
  • The different choices for Black on moves 11-12 on what to do with the dark-square bishop have a large strategic effect on the course of the middlegame.
  • 15...Qc7 is much better than the awkward ...Qe7.
  • The tactic on move 19 (a double attack by the queen, forking White's king and pawn) was not forced, but it was the psychologically easiest line for my opponent to play and what I was expecting. My opponent's other choice would have caused a lot of problems for me in defending.
  • I should be more aware of indirect means of accomplishing goals, for example undermining White's Nd6 rather than somewhat stereotypically attacking it head-on.
  • Although the pawn-down rook endgame wasn't necessarily lost for White, I had the energy to keep the pressure on and calculate reasonably well, instead of letting it drift into a draw. Rather than be stressed about winning when you have an advantage, I think it's much more productive to treat it as an opportunity to make your opponent suffer to the best of your ability. From personal experience, that's certainly how it feels on the other end, and sustained pressure is likely to eventually cause a breakdown in play, regardless of whatever the engine evaluation says.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B19"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "106"] {[%mdl 8192] B19: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 main line} 1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 { this is normally how White enters the Veresov Attack.} c6 (2... Nf6 3. Bg5 { is what White was aiming for.}) 3. e4 {White abandons a queen pawn opening to transpose into a main line Caro-Kann. A small psychological victory already.} ( 3. Bg5 {has much less bite now, especially since Black can answer} h6 {and now} 4. Bh4 (4. Bf4 Nf6) 4... Qb6 {followed by ...Bf5 will result in a favorable type of Slav setup for Black.}) 3... dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 { My opponent is evidently familiar with how to play this line, even if it was not his preference from the start.} h6 7. h5 Bh7 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Nf6 10. Nf3 e6 11. Bf4 Bb4+ (11... Qa5+ {is a much more popular version of the idea of exploiting the a5-e1 diagonal and provoking a White response, either c2-c3 or retreating the bishop.}) (11... Bd6 $5 {is the most played move in the database, directly challenging White's bishop.}) 12. c3 Bd6 {now White has the extra move c2-c3, but Black's argument is that the weakening of the queenside squares is worth the tempo.} (12... Be7 {is a less confrontational way to play. Here's a top-level example:} 13. O-O-O O-O 14. Ne4 Nxe4 15. Qxe4 Nd7 16. g4 Nf6 17. Qe2 Qa5 18. g5 Nd5 19. Bd2 Bxg5 20. Nxg5 hxg5 21. h6 g6 22. Qe5 f6 23. Qxe6+ Kh8 24. c4 Qxa2 25. cxd5 cxd5 26. Qe7 Rac8+ 27. Bc3 {Anand,V (2803) -Vallejo Pons,F (2684) Leon 2008 1/2-1/2}) 13. Be5 {my opponent decides to maintain control over e5, at the cost of exchanging the remaining bishops.} Bxe5 14. Nxe5 Nbd7 $146 (14... O-O 15. O-O-O Nbd7 16. f4 Qa5 17. Kb1 Rad8 18. Ne4 Nxe4 19. Qxe4 Qd5 20. Qxd5 exd5 21. Nxd7 Rxd7 22. Rde1 Rc8 23. Rh3 Kf8 24. Rhe3 Rdd8 25. Kc2 Re8 26. Re5 f6 27. Rxe8+ Rxe8 28. Rxe8+ Kxe8 {1/2-1/2 (28) Negi,P (2529)-Zenklusen,R (2392) Biel 2007}) 15. f4 Qe7 {this somewhat awkward move was intended to maintain flexibility in castling, leaving open the possibility of O-O-O by protecting the f7 pawn.} (15... Qc7 $5 {puts the queen on a better diagonal (b8-h2), keeps open the idea of going to b6 or a5, and supports a possible ...c5 break.}) 16. O-O {That doesn't look like a safe castle, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. White is under no immediate threat, but this decision at least makes it easy for me to decide to castle kingside as well.} (16. O-O-O {and White's king is more secure than on the much airier kingside.}) 16... O-O $11 17. Qf3 Nd5 {deliberately intended to provoke White's next.} (17... Nxe5 {is a more straightforward way to proceed.} 18. fxe5 (18. dxe5 Nd5 {and now the knight is secure in its central post due to the same tactic as appears in the game, namely} 19. c4 $2 Qc5+ $17) 18... Nh7 {this looks awkward but g5 will be a nice post for the knight. Compare this position with the below variation after a similar fxe5 and it's clear that this is the better path.}) 18. c4 {the "obvious move".} Nxe5 (18... N5f6 $11 {with no psychological investment in having just moved the knight, the engine evaluates the retreat as objectively best. White has no further threats and Black's pieces are actively defending.}) 19. dxe5 $6 {my opponent appeared to miss my next move.} (19. fxe5 {would lead to a small plus for White, with pressure on the kingside and some careful defending required for Black.} Nb6 20. Ne4 Rad8 21. Qg4 Nxc4 22. Rf3 Kh8 23. b3 Nb6 24. Nf6 Qb4 25. Rd1 Rg8 26. Nxg8 Kxg8 $14) 19... Qc5+ 20. Kh2 Qxc4 $17 {White has some compensation for the pawn, in terms of better placed and more active pieces. The advanced kingside pawns also give him some hope of pressure on my king position, although I dont believe there is enough material left on the board to make that a real threat.} 21. b3 Qc3 {I am happy to swap queens and head for the endgame with a 3-2 queenside pawn majority. White cannot really avoid it, either, now that my queen has penetrated and has the support of the Nd5.} 22. Ne4 Qxf3 23. Rxf3 Rad8 {this is fine, but I end up not handling the resulting dyanmics on the d-file as best as I could.} (23... b6 $5 {might be easier to play here, in anticipation of White's next move, since now it's easier to start mobilizing the pawns after ...c5. In the game, I get hung up on the d-file.}) 24. Nd6 {this was annoying, but the knight is not a real danger for Black.} Rd7 (24... b6 {again would be simpler.}) 25. Ne4 {guarding the c5 square, but I was happy to see it retreat. I also will take control of c5 momentarily.} (25. a3 f6 26. Raf1 b6 $17) 25... b6 26. Rc1 c5 27. Rcf1 { this looks somewhat menacing, but White has no real prospects on the f-file.} ( 27. Rd1 $5) 27... Ne7 28. Nd6 {back to plugging the d-file again.} Nc8 { this is OK, but is too literal an interpretation of the need to challenge the Nd6.} (28... Nc6 {would instead look to undermine it.} 29. Re1 f6 30. Rfe3 Nb4 31. R1e2 Nd5 32. Rf3 fxe5 33. fxe5 Rxf3 34. gxf3 Nf4 $19) 29. Rd3 Rfd8 30. Rfd1 Nxd6 31. exd6 {in reaching this position, I felt that I had not played optimally and made things harder for myself (which is true). With what appeared to be a static situation on the d-file, I decided to try to mobilize the queenside pawns.} b5 (31... f6 $5 {with the idea of ...Kf7 might be better preparation.}) 32. g4 {White correctly gets his pawns into play as well.} c4 33. bxc4 bxc4 34. Rd4 Kf8 {this was an uninspired waiting move.} (34... c3 $5 { causes White more problems.} 35. R4d3 c2 36. Rc1 Rxd6 37. Rxd6 Rxd6 38. Rxc2 Ra6 {is an improved version of the game, with White's king further away from the action. White's rook cannot profitably take advantage of the 7th/8th rank weakness, either, for example} 39. Rc8+ Kh7 40. Rc7 Rxa2+ 41. Kg3 f6 $19) 35. Kg3 c3 36. Rc4 Rxd6 37. Rxd6 Rxd6 38. Rxc3 Ke7 $15 {this is starting to look much more like a draw, since with the rooks on the board it will be difficult to realize the value of the extra kingside pawn.} 39. g5 f6 {this is fine, although it may be better to take away squares from White's rook first.} (39... Kd7 $15) (39... hxg5 $6 {should be avoided, as it gives White the possibility of creating a h-file passed pawn and also boxes in Black's king.} 40. fxg5 $11) 40. Ra3 $6 {this puts White's rook in front of his own pawn and limits its scope. Rook activity is the most important principle in rook endgames.} (40. Rc7+ Rd7 41. gxf6+ gxf6 42. Rc8 $11) 40... a6 $15 41. Ra5 $6 (41. g6) 41... fxg5 42. fxg5 hxg5 (42... Rd5 {is much more effective. Black should not worry about swapping the a-pawn for a White kingside pawn and making the e-pawn mobile.} 43. Rxa6 Rxg5+ 44. Kh4 e5 $17) 43. Rxg5 $15 Kf6 44. Rg6+ Kf7 {Here I felt like I should be able to win with the proper effort, although Komodo shows only a small edge to Black. It will be harder for White to cover his own pawns while stopping the progress of the e-pawn.} 45. Rg4 {best, making the rook mobile again.} Rd5 46. Kh4 e5 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 47. Rg6 { this makes it easier for me, as the e-pawn becomes significantly stronger the further it moves down the board.} (47. Rg5) 47... e4 $17 48. Rxa6 $2 {my opponent miscalculates the strength of the e-pawn and his ability to stop it.} (48. Kg3 e3 49. Kf3 $17) 48... e3 $19 {this wins by force.} 49. Ra7+ (49. Kg3 Re5 $19) 49... Kf6 50. Kg3 Re5 51. Ra6+ Kf5 52. Ra4 e2 53. Rf4+ Ke6 0-1

26 September 2019

Annotated Game #221: The saving exchange sacrifice

This third-round tournament game features a saving exchange sacrifice by White (me) after a missed tactic by Black. Unlike the second-round game (Annotated Game #220), this one is not nearly as much of a swindle, although under a strict definition it might fall into that category. Some other familiar recent themes crop up as well:
  • Inferior opening play that results in increasingly difficult or simply bad choices while under pressure.
  • Tactical recovery after an opportunity is spotted. In this case, it is the theme of an exchange sacrifice against a castled king position, doubling the pawns and opening up the defenses. More typically this is seen in the Sicilian, when Black sacrifices a rook for a knight on c3 after White has castled queenside. This game is the mirror image of that.
  • An "obvious move" being in fact a mistake, in this case leading directly to the loss.
  • Consciously choosing to win safely and simply, rather than trying to win by finding the "best" line. You don't get extra credit in a tournament for winning faster or more brilliantly.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "45"] {[%mdl 8192] A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. e3 c6 {indicating that Black is heading for a Semi-Slav setup.} 5. b3 Bd6 6. Bb2 Nbd7 7. Be2 a6 (7... Qe7 8. Qc2 O-O 9. O-O Ba3 10. Bxa3 Qxa3 11. d4 Qe7 12. e4 dxe4 13. Nxe4 c5 14. Rad1 cxd4 15. Nxd4 Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Qc5 17. Nb5 Nf6 18. Qe3 Qxe3 19. fxe3 Bd7 20. Nd6 b6 21. Bf3 Rab8 22. Rd2 {Koneru,H (2614)-Ruan,L (2479) Rostov on Don 2011 1-0 (49)}) 8. O-O {this is playable, but d4 likely has to be played anyway, so perhaps now would be a better time.} (8. d4 b5 9. O-O O-O 10. Qc2 Bb7 11. c5 Bc7 12. b4 e5 13. a4 Ng4 14. h3 Nh6 15. axb5 axb5 16. Rxa8 Bxa8 17. dxe5 Nxe5 18. Nxe5 Bxe5 19. Bd3 f5 20. Ne2 Qf6 21. Bd4 Bb7 22. Qb2 Nf7 {Darban,M (2300)-Eren,A (2064) Istanbul 2017 1-0 (38)}) 8... e5 9. cxd5 (9. d4 $5 e4 10. Nd2 $11 {White has more play here than in the actual game.}) 9... cxd5 10. d4 $146 {after Black's natural follow-up move, he then has a strong center, a space advantage, and most of the play in the position.} (10. d3 {is no better.} O-O 11. Rc1 Qe7 12. Qc2 b5 13. a4 b4 14. Na2 Bb7 15. d4 e4 16. Ne5 Rac8 17. Qd2 a5 18. Nxd7 Nxd7 19. Rxc8 Bxc8 20. Rc1 f5 21. g3 g5 22. f4 exf3 23. Bxf3 Nf6 24. Qd3 Bd7 {Taimanov,M (2407)-Marchio,E (2272) Germany 2003 0-1 (54)}) (10. b4 $5 {is Komodo's suggestion for a pawn sacrifice, although it can be safely ignored by Black.} O-O (10... Bxb4 11. Qb3 Qa5 12. d4 e4 13. Ne5 $11) 11. b5 e4 12. Nd4 $11) 10... e4 11. Nd2 Qe7 12. Kh1 {not a horrible move, but White is already having problems finding any good moves. I was fearful of potential tactics involving ...Bxh2+ and decided to move the king as a precaution.} (12. a4 $5 {restraining ...b5, which would allow Black to develop the Bc8 and Nd7.} O-O 13. Re1 $11) 12... O-O 13. f3 $2 {in some cases, this is a useful freeing move by White. However, I have not done the necessary preparation for it, namely protecting e3.} exf3 $17 14. Bxf3 Qxe3 15. Nxd5 {This was my original idea behind initiating the sequence, regaining the pawn and freeing my pieces up for more activity. However, it has a major flaw.} Nxd5 16. Bxd5 Nf6 $2 {my opponent misses the available tactic and instead presents me with a welcome opportunity to sacrifice the exchange for counterplay.} (16... Qh6 {threatening h2 should put Black comfortably ahead.} 17. g3 Nf6 {now the Bd5 and the g3 pawn (due to the pin on the h-pawn) are both hanging.} 18. Rxf6 Qxf6 $19) 17. Rxf6 $11 gxf6 18. Ne4 {a strong follow-up, forking d6 and f6. In calculating it, I also noticed the fact that the Black queen has very few squares left. My opponent now plays the "obvious move", removing the Bd6 from threat and protecting f6, which however loses.} Be7 $4 (18... Qf4 {defends and keeps things relatively equal, although I still prefer to play White.} 19. Qg1 Be7 20. Rf1 Qh6 21. Ng3) 19. Bc1 $18 {a backwards bishop move that returns it to its original square, making it more difficult to see/visualize. Our natural mental assumption is that pieces move forward and don't un-develop themselves.} Qxe4 20. Bxe4 {with a queen for a rook and Black's open king position, the win is essentially trivial from here.} f5 21. Bd3 {a simple way to continue winning. I thought for a bit before retreating the bishop, since there are some tactical possibilities available. However, it did not seem worth the effort to calculate multiple sacrificial lines to try to 'win better'.} (21. Qf3 $5 {is the computer line.} fxe4 22. Qg3+ Bg4 (22... Kh8 23. Qe5+ f6 24. Qxe7 $18) 23. Qxg4+ Kh8 $18) 21... Be6 22. Qf3 Rad8 23. Bh6 {with either further material loss or mate coming, Black resigned.} 1-0

25 September 2019

Training quote of the day #27: Simon Webb

From Chess for Tigers by IM Simon Webb.
...This comes back to the question of what constitutes the 'best move' for you or me. The best move for a grandmaster is not necessarily the best move for you or me. If you want to win your won games you should allow for your own limitations by playing moves which you know are good rather than moves which you think ought to be tremendous.

24 September 2019

ESPN article on chess training

From ESPN's "Why grandmasters like Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana lose weight playing chess"

This is an interesting article on the modern approach to chess training, which at the professional level means maximizing your energy level for playing. This in turn means keeping yourself in good physical shape. While it's necessary for professional players to maximize their performance, it's of course also a good idea for improving amateurs, and I would even attribute the majority of my own progress in gaining practical strength at the chessboard in recent years to better energy management.

Of course this isn't strictly a modern idea, although the science behind personal performance enhancement is now better known and more advanced. Viktor Korchnoi made a habit of long-distance walking over a lifetime. Bobby Fischer did the same and had an even broader and more strenuous training program. These are just two prominent examples.

It would be a mistake to equate chessplaying with weight loss, of course, although it's not surprising to see how extended periods of mental strain and the associated constant physical stress, especially during long matches at the top level, bring about that result. While younger players might be able to shrug off this type of strain relatively easily in a physical sense, I think that it's better to cultivate mental calmness and focus, which can mitigate the constant anxiety and stress-related pressure. Regular physical training does in fact help with this, through its effect on the brain's neurology, and other forms of mental preparation can also contribute to better results.

23 September 2019

Annotated Game #220: Second chances in the Dutch

The theme of this game, as well as being an example of the (desperate) second chances the Dutch can sometimes offer, could also be "Why You Should Never Give Up in Chess". This was my second tournament game with the Stonewall, coming about a year after Annotated Game #175. As can be seen, I'm still feeling my way forward in understanding the needs of the position and best locations for the pieces. White's 12. Ne5 highlights the weaknesses and awkward development that Black has at this point. However, analysis also shows the resilience of the Stonewall, as it is hard for White to make measurable progress even with a noticeable positional plus. The equalizing idea of the ...e5 pawn break (not played in the game until later) is particularly noteworthy.

On move 22, I start a rather rapid downward slide, with White establishing a positional bind on the queenside. Due to blunders on move 25 and 28, by move 30 my opponent is a piece up in a far superior position. I could have given up, but instead decided to play on and try to exhaust all opportunities for complicating the game and giving White a chance to go wrong. Essentially Black has to go "all in" on creating possible central and kingside threats. Move 35 is the last shot at this, which in fact worked in a spectacular way, as my opponent overlooked in the ensuing sequence an exchange sacrifice deflecting his queen away from protecting his king. From that point, the win was technical.

This game helps illustrate some of the psychological and cognitive factors behind winning and losing moves. My two blunders occurred under pressure and involved missing longer-range bishop moves / square coverage, the first being a backwards bishop move. My opponent's game-ending mistake occurred in a complex position where the "obvious" move seemed good enough and the alternatives were more difficult to calculate.

On the positive side, when I committed to staying in the game on move 30, I was then able to focus on possible tactical resources and accurately calculate them. This often happens in a game when you accept that you are objectively lost, which paradoxically releases psychological pressure, as the worst case scenario has already happened. With nothing left to lose, more energy can be directed into trying to fight back than in worrying about potentially losing. I think part of the process of improvement is fostering the ability to have that kind of worry-free focus before you actually get into a lost position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A84"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "102"] {[%mdl 8256] A84: Dutch Defence: 2 c4 Miscellaneous} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nf3 f5 5. Bf4 Nf6 6. e3 Nbd7 {covering the e5 square immediately. More popular is an immediate bishop development to d6 or e7.} 7. Be2 Be7 {in the usual Modern Stonewall, this bishop goes to d6. With White's bishop on f4, it can sometimes be helpful for Black to defer challenging it there and use the old Stonewall setup with the bishop on e7.} 8. h3 {done to provide the Bf4 with a retreat square, but it seems a little slow to me.} O-O 9. O-O h6 $146 { I was thinking that this has the benefit of controlling g5 and avoiding awkward things like Ng5, threatening e6. Black however should do more with his pieces first, with the thematic ...Ne4 probably best here. Once that is done, g5 is more than adequately controlled with the bishop on e7.} (9... Ne4 10. Qc2 g5 11. Bh2 Rf7 12. Nxe4 dxe4 13. Nd2 Rg7 14. Rad1 Qe8 15. Nb3 h5 16. d5 cxd5 17. cxd5 e5 18. d6 Bf6 19. g4 Bd8 20. Rd5 hxg4 21. hxg4 Qg6 22. gxf5 Qxf5 23. Nc5 Rh7 24. Qxe4 Qh3 25. Qh1 Nxc5 26. Rxc5 Be6 27. Rxe5 Bf6 28. Rb5 Rd8 29. Bf3 Rdd7 30. b3 a6 31. Rc5 Bg4 32. Bxg4 Qxg4+ 33. Qg2 Qe2 34. Rf5 Bd8 35. Bg3 Rhf7 36. Rxf7 Rxf7 37. Qe4 Kf8 38. Rc1 Kg7 39. Rc8 Bf6 40. Kg2 g4 41. Rc4 {1-0 (41) Ogaard,L (2435)-Ivkov,B (2515) Buenos Aires 1978}) 10. c5 {this looks aggressive, but the additional pawn move gives me more time to activate my pieces, which I now do. The hole on d6 appears worrying, but White can't take advantage of it yet.} (10. Rc1 Ne4 $14) 10... Ne4 {now the knight also helps cover d6.} 11. Qc2 (11. Nxe4 fxe4 12. Ne5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bf6 $14) 11... Kh8 { this move shows that I am over-focused on potential play down the g-file. In a number of variations this is useful, but here I am still somewhat under-developed.} (11... Bf6 $5 {with the idea of following up with ...Qe7 or . ..Qe8 and ...e5 would be a classic thematic idea. The e5 square, seemingly so strong, is challenged directly.}) 12. Ne5 $16 {this move is all the stronger because of the hole on g6, another drawback to the early ...h6 advance, which makes the next move forced.} Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bf6 14. Bh2 {the correct decision, one which White has prepared for. The White bishop is much more valuable on the h2-b8 diagonal than its Black counterpart.} Bd7 {Black's position is now starting to look a little sad. The Stonewall bishop is not necessarily doomed to irrelevance, but in this position that seems to be its fate. Normally there would be the prospect of it going to h5 or possibly g6 in order to be effective, but that does not look likely here. My other pieces are not well coordinated either.} (14... Ng5 $5 {with the idea of potentially rerouting the knight to f7, either to shore up Black's center or to support an ...e5 pawn break, is an interesting idea.}) 15. b4 Qe8 {improving the prospect for the queen, which can now either support an e-pawn push or get to f7/g6/h5.} 16. a4 {this ignores Black's possible pawn lever in the center. Of course, I ignore it too.} (16. Nxe4 fxe4 17. Bd6 Be7 $16) 16... Rg8 $6 {continuing to over-focus on g-file play.} (16... e5 $5 {is the key to the position, opening the center and activating Black's pieces.} 17. Nxe4 (17. Bxe5 Bxe5 18. Nxe4 fxe4 19. dxe5 Qxe5) 17... fxe4 18. Qc3 exd4 19. exd4 Qg6 $11) 17. f3 Ng5 18. b5 {this makes White even more vulnerable to a counter-blow in the center, but we both remain unaware of this.} (18. Kh1 Nf7 19. f4 $16) 18... Nf7 (18... e5 $5 { is the best option Black has, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} 19. f4 exf4 20. Bxf4 Ne6 $11) 19. bxc6 $14 bxc6 {this opens the b-file, but covers the b5 square, so I preferred it to the bishop recapture.} 20. Bd3 (20. f4 g5 21. Bh5 Bc8 $14) 20... e5 $14 {long-delayed, but still best. In this position it's easier to see as a possibility, since there are very few other options for Black.} 21. Ne2 {reinforcing d4. Exchanging on e5 would let me release my pieces' energy.} exd4 22. exd4 $14 Qe3+ $2 {with this I start losing my way again. There is a nice little tactic present, taking advantage of the e3 hole in a much better way.} (22... Bxd4+ 23. Nxd4 Qe3+ 24. Kh1 Qxd4 25. Bxf5 Bxf5 26. Qxf5 $14) 23. Kh1 $16 g6 24. Rab1 Qe8 25. Ba6 {at this point I thought I was getting into serious trouble on the queenside, which started a bit of panicking.} (25. a5 $16 {followed by a6 would put even more of a squeeze on.}) 25... f4 $4 {the engine deservedly gives a double question mark here. Rather than play something reasonable, I hallucinate and think that the h7-b1 diagonal is now vulnerable. Of course, the Ba6 can always just come back to cover it. An example of trouble seeing a 'backwards' piece move.} (25... Bc8 { doesn't really help in the end, though, as after} 26. Bd3 $16 {White can just reset, having good targets across the board.}) 26. Bxf4 {now White is up a full pawn and has a much freer hand on the kingside and center. Things look bad.} (26. Nxf4 {might be the shorter path} Bf5 27. Bd3 Bxd3 28. Qxd3 Nd8 $18) 26... Ng5 {a desperate bid for piece activity.} (26... Bf5 {is what the engine thinks is still best, at least exchanging off my least active minor piece.} 27. Bd3 Bxd3 28. Qxd3 Qd7 $18) 27. Qd2 Rg7 28. Bb7 {increasing the bind and driving the rook away.} Bf5 $4 {but even a better move would not have saved the game, consoles Komodo.} (28... Rd8 29. Bc7 {and White wins the exchange.} Bf5 30. Bxd8 Bxd8 $18) 29. Bxa8 $18 Bxb1 30. Rxb1 {only now did I see that ... Qxa8 fails to Rb8+! as the rook is protected by the Bf4.} Qe6 {here I'm down a piece and a pawn for no compensation.} 31. Bb7 Re7 {might as well try to make a threat} 32. Ba6 Qf5 (32... Nxf3 {while clever, does not save the day:} 33. Qd3 Nh4 34. Bd6 $18) 33. Rb8+ Kh7 34. Bd3 Qe6 35. Bd6 Nxf3 $5 {one last shot at complicating the position and generating threats. The point is that White is vulnerable on h3 if the Nf3 is taken by the g-pawn.} 36. Bxg6+ (36. Qf4 { secures the win in probably the simplest way. Now the Nf3 (by the queen) and Re7 are both hanging.} Nh4 37. Bxe7 Qxe7 38. Rc8 $18) (36. gxf3 Qxh3+ 37. Kg1 Bg5) 36... Kg7 (36... Kxg6 $4 37. Nf4+ {at least I managed to avoid yet another ?? blunder.}) 37. gxf3 $4 {and now Black has the winning advantage.} ( 37. Bxe7 {is best, but requires some calculation and a temporary queen sacrifice.} Nxd2 38. Bf8+ Kxg6 39. Nf4+ Kf5 40. Nxe6 Kxe6 $18) 37... Qxh3+ $19 38. Kg1 Rxe2 $1 {this is what my opponent had missed, diverting the queen from protecting d4. Black has only a queen and bishop left, but it's enough to create a mate threat.} 39. Qxe2 Bxd4+ 40. Qf2 {forced} Bxf2+ 41. Kxf2 Kxg6 { the resulting endgame is non-trivial to play out, but the mobility advantage the Black queen has, coupled with White's exposed king, is enough to ensure the result.} 42. Rb4 h5 {taking away the g4 square from the rook.} 43. Bg3 Qf5 44. Bd6 {my opponent doesn't seem to have any other ideas left.} Qc2+ 45. Kg3 Qc1 {threatening ...Qe1+ forking the Rb4.} 46. Rf4 Qg1+ 47. Kh3 Kg5 (47... d4 { is the most direct route to a win.} 48. Rf8 Qh1+ 49. Kg3 Qe1+ 50. Kg2 d3 $19) 48. Rf7 Qf1+ 49. Kh2 Kg6 {playing it safe.} 50. Rf4 (50. Rxa7 Qf2+ 51. Kh1 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Qf2+ $19) 50... d4 $1 {a nice small deflection tactic to end things.} 51. Be5 (51. Rxd4 Qf2+) 51... Qe2+ {with more material loss coming, my opponent resigned.} (51... Qe2+ 52. Kh3 Qxe5 53. Re4 Qxe4 54. fxe4 d3 55. Kg3 d2 56. Kf2 d1=Q 57. Ke3 Kf6 58. Kf4 Qd2+ 59. Kf3 Kg5 60. e5 h4 61. e6 h3 62. Ke4 h2 63. Kf3 h1=Q+ 64. Kg3 Qhg2#) 0-1

16 September 2019

Annotated Game #219: The usual start to a tournament

This first-round game is from the second breakthrough tournament I had to reach the Class A level. It got off to what is unfortunately something of a usual start for me, with below-average play leading to a relatively quick end. It's tempting to ascribe these kinds of first-round losses to needing to "warm up" or "shake off the rust" or other similar excuse, and I do think there is some truth to that. However, that makes it all the more important to take lessons away from these games, so that your "default" level of play can improve, even when your brain is not at peak performance.

In this game, there are several key moments and ideas to point to:
  • The choice of 4. d3. Here I was mashing together different lines of the English from my preparation (5. Rb1 is actually not bad...in a different variation) and while the opening isn't the main point of failure of the game, it gave Black a freer hand than was needed. It also led to...
  • A failure to play e3, which is typical in this types of positions, restraining Black's idea of a ...f4 push. Around moves 3-4 could have been a good time to do it, but as late as move 12 it would have given me at least a slight plus, by neutralizing Black's pawn play on the kingside.
  • Failure to find the necessary defensive thread while under pressure. I at least understood that a focus on defense was necessary once Black played 12...f4, and was following the correct path with 16. Bf3. However, on move 18 I did not calculate correctly. Seeing in analysis how the king can be a defender (18. Kg2!), especially when the opposition lacks the minor pieces to dominate squares or sacrifice to open up the position, was enlightening.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A27"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "40"] {[%mdl 8192] A27: English Opening: Three Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 f5 4. d3 {this scores poorly in the database, around 40 percent. Better to challenge the center immediately with d4. It is still the second most popular move played, however, probably due to the reversed Sicilian type positions that arise.} Nf6 5. Rb1 $146 {not in the database at all! The idea is to get an accelerated version of the queenside b-pawn push going.} (5. g3 { is more consistent with White's previous move.}) 5... Be7 {a safe choice.} ( 5... e4 6. dxe4 fxe4 7. Nd4 $11) 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 d6 {we're now back in the database. Both White and Black have achieved standard-looking setups, although my path was a little wobbly.} 8. b4 {time to get the b-pawn rolling.} Qe8 { making space for the knight.} 9. b5 {it's not necessary to push this immediately. The threat remains and another move to build up pressure like Nd5 may be better. O-O also helps development.} Nd8 $11 {around here I was feeling good about my game, having pushed Black's knight around, but the engine is more objective. The position is equal, with White's queenside space advantage being offset by Black's coming play in the center and kingside.} 10. O-O Ne6 { understandably wanting to get the knight back into action.} (10... a6 $5 { is what the engines prefer, putting some pressure on White's advanced b-pawn.}) 11. a4 Qh5 {Black signals that he will ignore the queenside in favor of going all in on the kingside.} 12. Ba3 {likewise, I continue to focus on queenside development.} (12. e3 $5 {would be a wise investment, to restrain Black's f-pawn.} a6 13. Nd2 $14) 12... f4 {now Black's pressure on the kingside makes itself felt, before I can push things further on the queenside.} 13. Nd5 { this knight jump to d5 is thematic, but here it is made under less favorable circumstances.} (13. e3 fxg3 14. fxg3 $11 (14. hxg3 $2 Ng4 $19)) 13... Nxd5 14. cxd5 Ng5 15. Nxg5 {getting rid of Black's excellent attacking knight is almost forced.} Bxg5 16. Bf3 {the best defensive move, which should let me push Black's queen away or further exchange down material.} Bg4 17. Bxg4 Qxg4 { this should be equal, but there is only one good defensive move and I fail to find it.} 18. f3 $2 {this was based on a miscalculation. When making pawn moves, it's important to understand the weakened squares they leave behind, in this case e3.} (18. Kg2 $5 {the king "steps up in the pocket" and covers both h3 and f3 effectively. With Black not having a light-square bishop, this is possible.} fxg3 19. Rb4 (19. hxg3 {also works, but is trickier for White.} Bh4 20. Qe1 Qd4 (20... Qxa4 21. Qb4 $11) 21. Qd1 Qxd5+ 22. e4 $11 {taking the Bh4 will leave White's king open to checks from the queen and rook.}) 19... Rf4 20. f3 Qd7 (20... Qh5 21. hxg3 $14) 21. hxg3 $11) 18... Qh3 $17 19. Rf2 fxg3 { only now did I realize that the skewer tactic on e3 existed, I had mentally visualized the pawn on f4 in the way of the Bg5 until then.} 20. hxg3 $4 { loses immediately. I was too rattled to put up further resistance, however, thinking I was already lost. The main problem is that I lose far more than the exchange after Black's pin of the Rf2, due to the g3 pawn hanging.} (20. Rg2 { is the only move.} gxh2+ 21. Kh1 Bf4 22. Bc1 {keeps White in the game, although not happily.}) 20... Be3 $19 (20... Be3 21. Qf1 Qxg3+ 22. Qg2 Bxf2+ 23. Kh1 Qxg2+ 24. Kxg2 Bb6 $19) 0-1

06 September 2019

Training quote of the day #26: Boris Gulko

From Lessons with a Grandmaster, by GM Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Snead.
I like challenges, I like to struggle and fight against the best. That's very exciting to me. Also, I grew up (as did my generation in the USSR) believing that generally, reputations were not to be trusted. Of course, it is hard to be a fake in chess (compared to politics) because if you are weak you will simply lose. Perhaps some of this general belief persisted in the world of chess. The idea of not trusting reputations contrasted sharply with what I experienced when I first came to the United States. I found chess players to be much more polite; e.g. offering a draw to a higher rated player in better positions. We would never do that; we would want to beat them, even make them suffer.

04 September 2019

Video completed: "Why You Should Always Think Before Taking a Draw" by Tatev Abrahamyan


"Why You Should Always Think Before Taking a Draw" is the fifth video in the new Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. It is shorter than the others, at around 7 minutes, which I think is appropriate for the topic. An opening quote summarizes its main idea nicely, in the context of thinking about what to do when a higher-rated player makes a draw offer, although I believe it applies to our general approach to the game as improving players:
We want to be able to play objective chess, rather than emotional chess...and be able to play the position, not so much our opponent.
In the first game example, taken from the Bundesliga where White has a 300-point rating deficit, White took a draw when there was essentially zero risk of losing and he had all the winning chances.  "Playing with zero risk against a strong player, it's something we have to do all the time [meaning every time]. We owe it to our position to actually play the game out." The second game is similar, with the Black player down 300+ points, but after the coming forced sequence being up a pawn and having all the better chances.

The third example acknowledges the role that time pressure can play in accepting a draw, but Abrahamyan argues that if you can play "easy" moves until a time control, you can then do deeper calculation once you have more time. In other words, don't try to calculate all the way to a win if that's not possible, rather take obvious (but with a tactics check!) ways to at least preserve your existing advantage. In this particular game, Black's king position was weak and White had some easy follow-up attacking moves that would not have let Black get any counterplay.

In each case, a contributing factor is the "visual" evaluation of the board, in which superficially the side offering a draw seems like they may have some counterchances or threats. The third game was a good example of this, in which Black had a passed pawn on d4. However, when concrete analysis shows there is no actual opportunity for your opponent to implement a threat, it is worth playing on. In this particular case, White could keep making threats against Black's permanently weak king. In another example from the first game, White could at any time just force a draw via perpetual check, so that provided a sufficient safety net to play for a win.

In addition to being simply good, objective chess, the principle of playing out a favorable position I think is one of the practical keys to advancing your chess strength (and rating). It helps build mental toughness - remember Fischer's motto "No draws!" - and there's also the simple fact that "you can't win if you don't play." Unfortunately time pressure does sometimes interfere with an objectively best decision, along with emotional pressure - but the latter is something which you put on yourself and is subjective, not objective.

I would therefore suggest mentally rejecting the idea of a draw - including offering one yourself - if the decision would be made on a purely emotional basis. I remember having to repeatedly fight down the impulse to hope/wish for a draw in my best game ever, and was very glad that I did so. Yes, losing is then a possibility, but once you accept that fact for each and every game, it makes it mentally easier to give yourself the chance to win more often.

29 August 2019

Avoiding and overcoming negative game trends

One thing that happens when you keep analyzing your own games is that you start seeing meta-patterns across games. One of the earlier examples for me was the realization that I did not have a real thinking process in place, and as a result was doing especially poorly at discovering the best candidate moves for both myself and my opponent.

During the last set of annotated games (#216-218), the idea that stood out to me - not for the first time - is the idea of negative game trends and how to overcome them. It has been an all-too-common pattern to see: making a series of sub-optimal moves in the opening and early middlegame, based on an incorrect evaluation or shallow understanding of position's requirements. Overconfidence often can play a part, by encouraging you to not "switch on" and apply a full thinking process until too late in the game, typically resulting in assumptions about your position's safety that are quickly proven wrong.

It's interesting to see how this phenomenon works in practice. Analysis shows how an initial less-than-optimal decision may only result in a slightly less positive evaluation of a position. However, from there it becomes a slippery slope, since it is hard strategically to recover from implementing the 'wrong' idea on the board of what the position truly demands from you. Mathematically, this manifests itself in a reduction in the range of different moves that will keep you in the game (equal or better). This means that the necessary good moves inevitably become harder and sometimes nearly impossible to find for a human. As with other pitfalls of computer analysis, it's misleading to think that an unchanged top-line engine evaluation means that you are in fact playing optimally.

I think one of the practical elements of chess strength is an ability to persevere long enough to break a game's negative trend, including finding the optimal moment for starting counterplay. GM Alex Yermolinsky's The Road to Chess Improvement has a whole section on trend-breaking tools, which shows that this is a challenge at all levels. Personally, in analysis it's been evident time and again how I've missed chances to strike back and equalize, or even win, after being under pressure for a number of moves. One of the elements of my breakthrough in this particular tournament was the ability to find that chance and seize it, most cleanly in Annotated Game #216. As with anything else in chess, however, it's a work in progress.

21 August 2019

Annotated Game #218: The saving backwards move

This game falls into the category of a cringeworthy win. In the last round of the tournament, I faced someone of comparable strength, after having performed well in the previous three rounds. The course of the game I believe is explained more by psychological and "visual" factors than anything else. The one concrete takeaway from the analysis was the reason behind my error on move 11, which is a valuable teaching point in this variation of the Classical Caro-Kann.

In any event, after this White quickly assumes a dominant-looking position on the kingside, which I compound by an unwillingness to violate standard principles and give up the right to castle, which would have yielded an acceptable game. White makes an "obvious move" (the perils of which I've posted about before) on move 16 and I should have been able to effectively respond and turn the tables on him. However, I find only the second-best move and then fail to identify the right strategy, which would be to sacrifice the f- and g-pawns in return for real counterplay for my rooks and against White's airy king position. Instead, I unnecessarily sacrifice a bishop in return for some temporary, if awkward-looking, threats. My opponent, instead of pressing his advantage immediately, starts focusing on my psuedo-threats, however. This mistake leads to the opportunity for a backwards bishop move that forks king and queen and immediately wins. These types of backwards moves have a higher chance of being overlooked in calculation, since they appear to be considered less natural to the brain's board vision, unless you enforce a disciplined thinking process about considering candidate moves.

Although it wasn't really skill that decided this game, I will give some credit at least to the positive value of not giving up and the idea of seeking to pose problems for your opponent, who is thereby given the chance to go astray.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B19"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "52"] {[%mdl 8192] B19: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 main line} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nf6 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bc4 e6 { as well as providing an outlet for the bishop, this also anticipates Ne5 and a threat to f7.} 10. Qe2 Be7 11. Ne5 $146 {although a novelty, it's the logical continuation for White after Bc4 and Qe2. Typically there are sacrificial ideas on f7/e6.} Nd5 {in an analagous position in the 8. Ne5 line, before Black has played ...Be7, this is the main defensive move, and is necessary to block a sacrifice on e6. However, here it's not needed, as the e-file is already blocked and there are no tactics for White.} (11... O-O $11 {Komodo prefers the plan of immediate castling, followed by ...Nbd7, to exchange off the Ne5.}) 12. Qg4 {this is the problem with the knight move, although Black is still OK.} Bf6 $6 {I thought this was a logical move to protect g7 and also get the bishop to a slightly better square.} (12... Rg8 $5 {giving up the right to castle kingside seems unnatural, but Black defends easily here. We will see later how the weak g-pawn becomes a real problem.} 13. Qf3 Rf8 { and it is slightly awkward for Black, but there are no weak points.}) 13. O-O ( 13. Bd3 {is a better try for an advantage, as the bishop is not doing anything on c4.} Bxd3 14. Nxd3 $14) 13... Nd7 {developing and challenging e5.} (13... Bxc2 {is possible here, but I was wary of pawn snatching in the opening while behind in development.}) 14. Re1 Nxe5 (14... Bxe5 $5 15. dxe5 g5 $14 {this solves the g-pawn problem by force, although leaving some holes behind.}) 15. dxe5 $14 Bg5 {now the bishop is boxed in and the g-pawn is a critical weakness. } 16. f4 $2 {this was the obvious next move to both my opponent and myself, forcing the bishop back. It visually looks solid, but in fact it leaves behind a tactical weakness.} (16. Bxd5 {preserves an advantage for White.} cxd5 17. Bxg5 hxg5 (17... Qxg5 18. Qa4+ $16) 18. c4 dxc4 19. Rad1 Qe7 20. Qxc4 O-O $14) 16... Qa5 {this is a good response, although I missed the following tactic.} ( 16... Nxf4 $1 17. Kh2 (17. Bxf4 $2 Qd4+ {picking up the now under-defended bishop.}) 17... Nd5 $17) 17. Kf1 O-O-O $2 {this was done out of desperation for counterplay, as I thought my position was collapsing anyway. The bishop sacrifice is unnecessary, however.} (17... Be7 {Komodo cold-bloodedly accepts the loss of the g-pawn.} 18. Qxg7 O-O-O 19. Qxf7 {White is now two pawns up, but at the same time his king is far more exposed, with the f- and g-files now open for Black's rooks to operate and the White queen having limited squares.} Kd7 $17) 18. fxg5 $18 Nb4 {this was my idea, which at least poses an awkward threat of Nxc2. White could easily just ignore it, however.} 19. Bb3 {this doesn't in fact help White, which gave me some psychological momentum, in that his own string of threats had been broken.} (19. g6 {seems to be the most forcing continuation.} Nxc2 20. Bf4 $18 {now that White has protected the Rf1 sufficiently, and with the Bh7 hanging, Black has no good choices.}) 19... Bxc2 20. Qc4 $4 {missing the backwards bishop move. White evidently wanted to protect the Bb3, given that the a-pawn is currently pinned against the rook.} ( 20. Bf4 {again would have protected the rooks sufficiently.}) 20... Bd3+ $19 { after this the win is technical.} 21. Re2 Bxc4 22. Bxc4 Rd1+ 23. Kf2 Nd3+ 24. Kf3 Nxc1 25. Rc2 Qxe5 26. Ne2 Qf5+ {continuing to gobble up material, although there was a short mate available. In any case, my opponent resigned.} (26... Rf1+ 27. Kg4 Qxg5+ 28. Kh3 Rh1#) 0-1

04 August 2019

Annotated Game #217: Recovering in the middlegame

After my first-round victory against an Expert (Annotated Game #216), I had a short draw against an equally-rated player. My rule these days is not to take draws unless the position is in fact drawn with no real play left. Although it was still technically the middlegame, I would say it met the criteria and the engine assessment corroborates that, so I don't feel bad about the result. It also let me conserve energy for this next game, which was again against someone 300+ rating points higher.

The story of the opening into the early middlegame is unfortunately a familiar one. In an English vs. Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) structure, I do fine for the first 10 moves of "book" and then flounder in an unfamiliar position. One of the insights I've had is that this is in fact a completely normal phenomenon. The point being, learn the ideas of the position through game analysis afterwards, so the next time it will be familiar. I believe this is one of the most powerful ways of improving your game on a practical level. It also means that frequent tournament/serious chess and post-game analysis is necessary.

Unlike in a number of previous games, I manage to recover after the rather silly 10. Na4?! and break the trend giving Black the initiative. It's interesting to see how early trends in a game often take psychological hold and a small but real advantage for one side just keeps getting (unnecessarily) larger. Here, Black has pressure in a complex position through move 13, then allows me in the next several moves to simplify and improve the relative position of my pieces. By move 17 I feel much better about the position and by move 22 things are completely level.

However, that doesn't mean that there were no more opportunities to go wrong. My opponent kept trying to create chances for me to degrade my position, for example on moves 37 and 41. The latter one is instructive, as one typical Class player error is to always take an even material exchange, in the belief that it will lead to a quicker draw. That's not what the position demanded, though, and the draw was sealed soon afterwards.

One GM comment I recall reading a while back noted that against lower-rated players, masters can often get significantly behind coming out of the opening, but then draw or win in the end after their opponents make a key error, typically close to or in the endgame. This seemed to be my opponent's thinking as well, which I can't fault him for. One of the differences in this game is that after recovering in the middlegame, I did not let up in my focus and calculation, assuming that it would be drawn; games don't magically end themselves (or if they do, it's likely because of a blunder on your part). So although my level of play in the first part was sub-par, it was good to see that I had what it took to go the full distance in the game.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Expert"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "83"] {A13: English Opening: 1...e6} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 {going for a QGD setup} 3. b3 Nf6 4. Bb2 Be7 5. e3 O-O 6. Be2 c5 7. O-O Nc6 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nc3 {the most common move in the position, according to the database, but not particularly well scoring (44 percent).} (9. d4 {stakes more of a claim in the center.}) (9. a3 $5 {goes for more of a Hedgehog type structure and scores 55 percent in the database.}) 9... Bf6 10. Na4 $6 {this is just a fancy way of misplacing the knight. The idea was to reposition it on c4 after a bishop exchange on b2.} ( 10. Qc1 {scores the best in the database, at 56 percent.} Nxc3 11. Bxc3 Bxc3 12. Qxc3 Qe7 13. Rfc1 b6 14. d4 Bb7 15. dxc5 Rfc8 16. b4 bxc5 17. bxc5 a5 18. a3 Rc7 19. Rab1 Rac8 20. Rxb7 Rxb7 21. Ba6 Rcb8 22. Bxb7 Qxb7 23. Nd4 a4 24. h3 g6 25. Qc4 Nxd4 26. exd4 Qc6 27. Rd1 Rd8 28. f3 h5 29. Rb1 Kh7 30. Rb4 Ra8 31. Qe2 Rd8 32. Qe4 Qc7 33. Rb7 Qg3 34. Rxf7+ Kg8 35. Qxe6 {1-0 (35) Lagarde,M (2586)-Skuhala,L (2059) chess.com INT 2018}) (10. Rc1 {seems natural as well, here's a high-level example:} b6 11. Qc2 Bb7 12. Rfd1 Rc8 13. Qb1 Nxc3 14. dxc3 Qc7 15. Nd2 Ne5 16. f4 Qc6 17. e4 Ng6 18. g3 c4 19. Nxc4 Rfd8 20. Bf3 b5 21. Ne3 Qb6 22. Kf2 e5 23. Rxd8+ Rxd8 24. Rd1 exf4 25. Rxd8+ Qxd8 26. Nd5 Be5 27. Qd3 fxg3+ 28. hxg3 Qg5 29. Be2 h5 30. Qe3 Qxe3+ 31. Kxe3 Bxd5 32. exd5 b4 33. Bxh5 bxc3 34. Bc1 Bxg3 35. Kd3 Nf4+ 36. Bxf4 Bxf4 37. Kxc3 g6 38. Be2 Kf8 39. b4 Ke7 40. a4 Kd6 41. Kc4 f5 42. Bd3 Be3 43. a5 Ke5 44. Bc2 Bf2 45. Bd3 Be3 46. Bc2 g5 47. d6 g4 48. d7 Bg5 49. b5 g3 50. b6 axb6 51. a6 g2 52. a7 g1=Q 53. a8=Q Qc5+ 54. Kb3 Qb5+ 55. Ka2 Qxd7 56. Qf3 Qa7+ 57. Kb3 Qf7+ 58. Kb2 Qe6 59. Qc3+ Kd6 60. Qd3+ Ke5 61. Qc3+ Kf4 62. Qd2+ Kg4 63. Qd1+ Kh4 64. Qh1+ Kg3 65. Qg1+ Kf4 66. Qc1+ Kg4 67. Qg1+ Kf4 68. Qc1+ {1/2-1/2 (68) Svidler,P (2754) -Naiditsch,A (2689) Moscow 2009}) 10... b6 {simply reinforcing the c5 pawn and allowing development of the bishop on b7.} (10... Bxb2 11. Nxb2 b6 12. d4 Nc3 13. Qd2 Nxe2+ 14. Qxe2 cxd4 15. Nxd4 Nxd4 16. exd4 Bb7 17. Qe3 Qd5 18. f3 Rfd8 19. Rfd1 Rac8 20. Rac1 Qa5 21. Nc4 Qb4 22. a3 Qe7 23. b4 Rc7 24. Ne5 Rdc8 25. Qd2 {Brozhik,V (2189)-Karnaukh,A (2253) Kiev 2003 0-1 (51)}) (10... Bxb2 11. Nxb2 b6 12. Na4 $11) 11. d4 (11. Nc3 {simply retreating the knight is probably easiest in response, although it's harder for humans to re-evaluate and simply admit a mistaken idea over the board.}) (11. Qb1 {is a related idea.}) 11... cxd4 12. Nxd4 Bb7 $15 {by this point Black's pieces are working well together, he has centralized knights and both bishops on the long diagonals. Mine are not as effective, with the misplaced Na4 and a potentially under-protected Bb2 needing to be watched carefully.} 13. Rc1 {a straightforward move, which Black could have responded to more effectively.} (13. Bf3 Ne5 {didn't appeal to me.}) 13... Rc8 {this was a relief, as I'm now able to reorganize my pieces and make exchanges.} (13... Bxd4 14. exd4 {saddles White with an isolated queen pawn, with Black already dominating the square in front of it.} Qg5 (14... Rc8 { is also good for an edge}) 15. g3 $15) 14. Nxc6 $11 Bxc6 15. Nc3 {finally getting the knight back into play.} (15. Ba6 $5) 15... Bxc3 16. Bxc3 Nxc3 17. Rxc3 Qg5 {I think my opponent was counting on this to sustain his advantage, but the threat is easily blocked. With the reduced material on the board and symmetric pawn structure, I have no problems.} 18. g3 Qf6 19. Qc1 {the obvious way to protect the rook, although Komodo is a bit more creative.} (19. Qa1 $5 { with a latent positional threat of exchanging on f6, also allowing the Rf1 to come to c1.}) 19... Bb7 20. Rxc8 Rxc8 21. Qd2 Qe5 {Black may still have hopes of taking advantage of the light-square weaknesses around my king, so I shut that down.} (21... Rd8 22. Qc2 $11) 22. f3 {now Black is blunted on the light squares.} Qc5 {immediately pressuring the weakened e3 square, but Black has no other way of increasing it.} 23. Kg2 {I played the king here rather than f2 in anticipation of Black pressure on the h-file with the queen.} g5 {the only way to try and make progress for Black is to advance the kingside pawns.} 24. g4 h6 25. Rf2 {my concern was Black playing ...Qc2 and after an exchange, getting his rook on the second rank.} Kf8 26. Qd7 {penetrating into my opponent's side of the board for the first time. There are no real threats, but there is an annoyance factor.} Qd5 {I'm happy to exchange queens. My opponent apparently thought that he could outplay me in the endgame, despite the equal position.} 27. Qxd5 Bxd5 28. e4 {further blunting Black's bishop.} Bb7 29. Bc4 {with my bishop finally in play and the situation on the board simplified, I felt confident that I would hold the draw.} Rd8 30. Rc2 {my strategy now is simply a preventative one, to prevent any Black breakthroughs.} Ke7 31. Kf2 Rc8 32. Rd2 a6 {preparing b5. This would certainly drive my bishop back, but its Black counterpart on b7 would also have nowhere to go.} 33. Ke3 {centralizing the king and protecting the Rd2.} e5 {although it doesn't change the engine evaluation, this move by my opponent sealed the draw for me, I felt. Black no longer has any hope of engineering a breakthrough on the kingside.} 34. Bd3 Rc5 35. Rc2 Kd6 36. Rxc5 {choosing to transition to a drawn bishop ending.} Kxc5 37. a3 {perhaps Black was hoping I would let his king penetrate on the queenside.} a5 38. Bc4 f6 39. Kd3 {keeping the Black king under watch and also protecting the Bc4, allowing the b-pawn to move if needed.} b5 40. Be6 Bc6 41. Ke3 {as long as the entry squares on the fourth rank are covered, Black cannot make progress.} b4 {hoping for a pawn exchange.} 42. a4 {now the board is completely sealed and my opponent offered a draw.} (42. axb4+ $2 Kxb4 $17) 1/2-1/2

29 July 2019

On improving to the master level

An honest answer to the question:
If you happened to be at around 2000ish for a while, what do you think helped you improve past that to 2200? After being stuck for a while at 2000 I took a break for a year and I am contemplating whether to start playing in tournaments again.
Can be found here, from a newly minted master: 
The short answer: play frequent tournament games, and pay close attention to which structures and strategies work best for you. Also, don't rush when you have an advantage.

24 July 2019

Training quote of the day #25: Artur Yusupov

GM Artur Yusupov, in Training for the Tournament Player:
What enables a chessplayer to be successful? In response to this question two essential factors are usually singled out: talent and hard work. But it is not sufficient just to be talented and hard-working. Physical condition, competitive character and the ability to concentrate during play are also very important. No less important is the ability to choose correctly the direction that such work should take and to be able to reach the required standard. Needless to say, this task is far from easy...
Of course, in order to be able to choose a direction leading to self-improvement it is necessary to have a critical understanding of one's game. The authors are totally convinced that the serious study of one's own games is an essential requirement for any chessplayer who wishes to improve. Therefore the theme 'analysing one's own games' occupies a central place. 

23 July 2019

Video completed: "Why You Should Never Give Up in Chess" by Tatev Abrahamyan


"Why You Should Never Give Up in Chess" is the fourth video in the new Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. Like the others, it is around 15 minutes and presents its main theme using some narrated game examples. She states in the intro that the point is not to play on when mate is inevitably coming (which seems to be the fashion these days in OTB tournaments at the Class level) or if you are losing all your pieces. Instead, it's to take advantage of the fact that winning a supposedly won game is not automatic. She reminds the viewer of all the times that you may have thrown away a win after you thought it was a done deal, which I think is something relatable for many of us, and an excellent motivator on the flip side for playing on.

The first of the games is Frank Marshall - Georg Marco, in which the American chess legend manages to work some endgame wizardry versus his opponent, who had an advanced, unstoppable passed pawn. Marshall plays actively to complicate the position and obtains chances when his opponent loses focus on his winning idea, forcing through the passed pawn. Although the pawn does queen, Marshall now has a brilliant tactical resource available, coordinating his rook and knight to win it. While the position is probably drawn afterwards, the psychological blow is too much for Black and he goes on to lose. This illustrates how continuing to fight back, even if objectively losing, can still give you the opportunity for real chances and change your opponent's mindset from winning to losing.

The second game, IM Anita Gara - GM Irina Krush, highlights the tricky nature of rook endgames, which means you should not give up in them. The video picks up the action on move 103 (!) with White in a winning position, having an advanced (7th rank) rook pawn that is passed, with Black's king and rook on the other side of the board. This turns into a RvP endgame that Black manages to hold, once White makes a crucial error. Exhaustion is naturally a factor, as is Krush's knowledge of tricky endgame principles.

Abrahamyan mentions in passing GM Sam Shankland - GM Anish Giri, which is infamous for Shankland resigning in a drawn position, then moves on to the final game, GM Alexander Beliavsky - GM Larry Christiansen. White is up a pawn with an excellent position, so Black has to (in Abrahamyan's words) resort to desperate measures. As in the previous game, a stalemate motif is used by the losing side, except in this case Christiansen finds it from an unexpected middlegame position.

This is another good entry in the video series, both for the psychological and the technical ideas behind using every resource on the board you may have, in order to give yourself chances to save a losing game. The flip side of that coin is the idea is of giving your opponent the most chances to go wrong.

22 July 2019

Annotated Game #216: Starting the breakthrough

This first-round tournament game, a win as Black against an Expert, started my breakthrough in performance from Class B to Class A (see "The Long Journey to Class A"). I had to get up on a Saturday morning and force myself to drive to the tournament, which afterwards I was glad I did. I'd been playing pretty regularly for the previous four months (one tournament / month) but had rather meh results. I was not looking forward to another mediocre tournament. However, diligence appeared to pay off and my game was elevated enough to produce better results over the board.

We reach an interesting and unbalanced position in the main line Slav (with the 5...Na6!? Lasker variation) by move 10, with my opponent deliberately inviting doubled f-pawns in exchange for potential play down the g-file. At 300+ rating points above me, I could tell he was clearly looking to create winning chances in an imbalanced position. The next several moves were critical and both of us missed chances to improve on the game score. A key idea was fighting against White's idea of f4-f5 to crack open my position, which at first didn't work. After my dubious 16th move then it did, as analysis shows, however neither I nor my opponent saw this.

By move 19 I've sufficiently protected the critical f5 square and the strategic nature of the game shifts, as White runs out of ideas and I take over the initiative. I exercise the simplest (and most effective) plan of building pressure down the d-file, which was largely risk-free, although there are some interesting possibilities in the variations. I was particularly pleased to see my two knights clearly better than my opponents' two bishops, which is a rarity in the Slav.

The winning blow comes as my opponent, under pressure, tries to cover his weak f-pawn, but fails to see a naked knight sacrifice that delivers check, picking up the exchange and a dominating position for Black. After that the win was just technical, although White held out until mate; as I mentioned in an earlier post, this seems to be much more the norm these days. It was slightly ridiculous, although there was perhaps a glimmer of hope on his part that I'd overlook a mate.

While it was not a clean game, I felt reasonably good about it afterwards, both in (finally) finding a way to stymie my opponent's pressure, and then in seeing the winning tactic (25...Nc3!!) - the double exclamation points being awarded by Komodo via the Fritz interface. It's nice to see the engine give positive feedback, now and again.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "82"] {[%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 {the Lasker Variation of the main line Slav. Rare to see in tournament practice, but easy to learn.} 6. e4 { the most aggressive response.} Bg4 {along with the queen knight's placement on a6, the bishop being played to g4 rather than f5 is the major alternative feature to the usual Black setup in the Slav. Here it's of necessity, given the pawn on e4.} 7. Bxc4 e6 8. Bg5 {there are only two games in my database with this move. The obvious threat is e4-e5 now that the Nf6 is now pinned.} Be7 $146 {the natural move, to unpin the knight, but Komodo prefers a more active approach.} (8... Bxf3 9. Qxf3 (9. gxf3 Nb4 $5 10. e5 {and now} h6 { threatens the bishop and allows Black to break the pin one way or another.}) 9... Qxd4 $11) (8... Qa5 $5 {was played in the only master-level game.} 9. e5 Ne4 10. Bxa6 bxa6 11. Qd3 Nxg5 12. Nxg5 Bf5 13. Qf3 Rc8 14. Nxf7 Kxf7 15. g4 g6 16. gxf5 gxf5 17. Rg1 Ke7 18. Kf1 Qb4 19. Rg3 Kd7 20. d5 Kc7 21. dxe6 Qc4+ 22. Kg1 Qxe6 23. Ne2 Qxe5 24. Rd1 Qe4 25. Nd4 Qxf3 26. Rxf3 Rg8+ 27. Kf1 Rg6 28. Nxf5 Rb8 29. b3 Rb4 30. Ne3 Bd6 31. Rf7+ Kb8 32. Nc4 Bc7 33. Rdd7 {1-0 (33) Rodewis,T (2268)-Mudelsee,M (2295) Germany 2002}) (8... Nb4 {is also possible, a standard theme in this variation, since per above e5 can be met by ...h6.}) 9. Qd2 {reinforcing the bishop's position and clearing the way for a possible queenside castling. This is also a clear invitation to take on f3, which I decided to do after some thought, as there is nothing better.} Bxf3 10. gxf3 { now White has the pair of bishops and a half-open g-file to use, in compensation for his ruined kingside pawn structure. My opponent was evidently interested in taking an aggressive posture.} Nb4 {getting the knight on the rim into play. The whole point of its development to a6 is for it to hop into b4 when a good opportunity presents itself.} 11. Be3 {removing the bishop from a square where it is underprotected, as well as shoring up d4.} a5 {the engines tend not to like this move in the Lasker Variation, although it seems logical to me to reinforce the b4 outpost in a more permanent way. One drawback is that ...Qa5 is no longer possible. Another is that supporting ... b5 with the a-pawn is also ruled out.} (11... O-O $5 {Komodo has no fear of castling into an attack. I did not want to do it at this point, though, believing that it would give White a too obvious and easy plan to follow.} 12. O-O-O Kh8 13. Rhg1 a6 {with the idea of ...b5 to follow is an alternate way to play.}) 12. Rg1 {the obvious place for the rook.} g6 {after some thought, I decided that the dark-square holes created would be offset by the peace of mind of not having to constantly worry about defending down the g-file.} (12... Nh5 {I also considered playing immediately here, since the knight can't be effectively challenged by White and it helps cover f4.}) 13. f4 $6 $11 { this is not helpful for White's attacking potential, since it blocks the c1-h6 diagonal and renders my dark-square weakness less accessible to my opponent.} Nh5 {I thought for a while here and was focused primarily on blunting White's pressure. Now if f4-f5, for example, I was considering ...Ng7 in response. However, the knight is generally better on f6 and its placement on h5 causes potential problems later.} (13... Qc7 {is a more useful developing move, clearing d8 for the rook and getting on a more productive diagonal.}) (13... O-O $5 {makes more sense now, even if White has some temporary pressure. The f-pawn advance does not prove truly threatening.} 14. f5 $6 exf5 15. exf5 Nfd5 {blocking the a2-g8 diagonal. Black will now be happy with any of the exchanges White could make.}) 14. O-O-O {not a surprise, since there's no better place for his king to go, and it brings the other rook into play.} (14. f5 $6 {is in fact premature.} exf5 (14... Ng7 $2 {at this point is bad for Black after} 15. fxe6 fxe6 $16 {since White's pawn structure is significantly better and my knight is in an awkward spot. White possesses a significant space advantage, while Black is cramped and the pieces are not cooperating well.}) 15. exf5 Ng7 {now the knight move is good again.} 16. fxg6 hxg6 (16... fxg6 $2 {leaves Black's king position too airy.}) 17. O-O-O Kf8 $11) 14... Qc7 {getting my queen away from the d-file pressure and preparing queenside castling.} 15. Kb1 {an normal precautionary move. At the time, I felt that it helped ease the pressure on me.} (15. f5 $5 {I was still worried about.} exf5 { the only good move} 16. exf5 Bf6 $14) 15... O-O-O {at this point I felt like the immediate danger had passed, and I could now start looking for counterplay. } 16. Qe2 (16. Be2 Nf6 $11) 16... Bd6 $6 {an example of where move sequence matters. I should have gotten the king to a less exposed square first.} (16... Kb8 $5 $11 {would be the simplest way to equalize.}) (16... Nxf4 {snatches a pawn but gives White good play for it.} 17. Qf3 g5 18. e5 f6 $11) 17. e5 $16 { I had expected this after calculating the previous move. My thinking was that the pawn advance should result in closing off White's dynamic prospects with his central pawns.} Be7 (17... Bf8 {I had also considered, but in the end I thought that being able to move along the d8-h4 diagonal was more valuable. The problem with the text move, which I did recognize at the time, was that the bishop on e7 screens the f7 pawn from the Qc7's protection. This fact could have been used much more effectively by my opponent.} 18. f5 Ng7 19. fxe6 fxe6 $16) 18. Rc1 $6 {missing the chance to break through.} (18. f5 $1 { superficially this looks like it just loses a pawn, which is probably why neither my opponent nor I seriously considered it.} exf5 {forced if I want to capture, otherwise the Nh5 hangs. I had not bothered to look at this line, just assuming that gxf5 would be possible. Now the f7 pawn is hanging and White is looking dangerous in the center, especially with what will be a protected passed pawn on e5.} 19. f4 ({or} 19. Bxf7 $16) 19... f6 20. Qf2 fxe5 21. dxe5 c5 $16) 18... Kb8 {this would be a good and standard sidestep for the king, except that the f5 idea is still possible.} (18... Ng7 {is now in fact best, as it adds a defender to f5.}) 19. Rgd1 (19. f5 $5 {again would give White an advantage.}) 19... Ng7 $11 {now I am truly out of trouble. Strategically, White has run out of ideas and the center is locked, so Black has a more comfortable game going forward. The backwards d-pawn, for example, is now an obvious weakness.} 20. f3 (20. Na2 $5 {would seek to exchange knights, a net benefit to White due to the relatively better activity of the Nb4.}) 20... Rd7 $15 {with the idea of doubling rooks on the d-file. My opponent now struggles to come up with useful moves.} 21. Ne4 {a better place than c3 for the knight.} Nf5 {targeting the backward pawn on d4, from a nice outpost on f5.} (21... Rhd8 $5 {I considered, but it would have allowed White to remove the d4 pawn weakness, which I preferred to keep on the board.} 22. Nc5 Bxc5 23. dxc5 Nd5 $15) 22. Bf2 $6 (22. Nc5 $5 {would disrupt my plans along the d-file, one way or another, although I still have an edge.}) 22... Rhd8 $17 23. Nc5 {this comes too late now, although I miss the best tactical continuation.} Bxc5 (23... Rxd4 $1 {successfully snatches the pawn, something I didn't consider at the board.} 24. Ne4 (24. Bxd4 $2 Nxd4 {and now the Nc5 is hanging, which is the main idea of the tactical sequence. White can give back the exchange or do a desperado move with the knight, but Black has a major advantage both ways.} 25. Rxd4 (25. Nxe6 Nxe2 $19) 25... Rxd4 26. Ne4 Nd5 $19) 24... R4d7 $17) 24. dxc5 Nd5 {threatening the f4 pawn. Strategically, it's also interesting to see the two Black knights versus the two White bishops. The knights can be exchanged, but not challenged by pawns, which makes life more difficult for White.} (24... Rxd1 {Komodo prefers exchanging off a pair of rooks first, to reduce White's ability to fight down the d-file. However, the subsequent winning tactic in the game would then not have been possible.} 25. Rxd1 Nd5 $17) 25. Qe4 $2 {protecting the pawn, but now the Rd1 is underprotected. I realized this and was able to take advantage of it immediately.} (25. Qe1 $11 {is the engine line, which for a human would be unlikely, seemingly just abandoning the f-pawn.} Nxf4 26. Rd6 {this is the idea, an unnatural-looking exchange sacrifice.} Nxd6 $2 {now leads to mate.} ( 26... Nd5 $11) 27. cxd6 Qc8 28. Bb6) (25. Bg3 $17 {is what I had expected.}) 25... Nc3+ $3 $19 {Komodo (via the Fritz interface) actually awarded this the two exclams, so I'll leave it in there. It's unusual to see a naked piece sacrifice like this, meaning that no initial capture is involved. This makes it harder to see as a candidate move during calculation.} 26. bxc3 Rxd1 $19 { now I'm an exchange up with no compensation for White. The open d-file means that my rook is quite valuable, as well.} 27. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 28. Kc2 Qd8 29. Bd4 { I saw this idea during calculation, but the rook retains mobility on the first rank and White's weak kingside pawns come back to haunt him.} Rh1 30. Qd3 Nxd4+ {I chose to reduce material and eliminate the two bishops factor, which I assessed would be better for my rook.} 31. cxd4 Rxh2+ 32. Kb3 Qh4 {now the queen can take advantage of the first and second rank weaknesses as well.} 33. Ba6 {hoping in desperation that I'll take the bishop and White can steal a perpetual check.} Qf2 (33... Qe1 {is the quicker win.} 34. Qe2 Rxe2 35. Bxe2 Qxe2 36. Kc3 h5 37. d5 cxd5 38. f5 gxf5 39. f4 Qa2 40. Kd3 d4 41. Kxd4 Qb3 42. c6 h4 43. cxb7 Kxb7 44. Kc5 Qb4#) (33... bxa6 34. Qxa6 Qd8 $19 {is still winning for Black, but would allow White to be more annoying with his queen.}) 34. Qb1 {hoping I'll miss a mate threat on b7.} Qxf3+ {at this point I was in "safe win" mode and did not feel like burning a lot of brain cells to try and calculate all the way to mate.} (34... Qxd4 35. Bc4 Qd2 36. Be2 Qb4+ 37. Kc2 Rxe2+ 38. Kd3 Rd2+ 39. Ke3 Qd4#) 35. Kc4 Qe2+ {picking up the bishop and squelching any chance of White getting a swindle.} 36. Kc3 Qxa6 37. Qb6 Rh3+ { at this point I saw the inevitable mate, so didn't exchange into the (totally won) endgame.} 38. Kd2 Qd3+ 39. Ke1 Re3+ 40. Kf2 Re2+ 41. Kf1 Qd1# 0-1