14 June 2019

Video completed: "How to Take Your Time in Chess" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"How to Take Your Time in Chess" by Tatev Abrahamyan, the second in her new Chess.com video series under the heading "Why You Should Never Rush", isn't about the time on your clock, but rather the idea of not rushing your play in a position. Although she doesn't actually use the word, it's another way of looking at the need for patience - even when you have obvious threats you can make on the board.
  • During an attack: don't rush, because all pieces need to be involved. Launch a premature attack, you run out of pieces. Once all pieces are developed and ready, then look for breakthroughs.The first game example featured GM Gukesh Dommarju (the 12-year-old Indian) vs. IM Dinesh Sharma. As happened a couple of times in her first video, there was some too-rapid narration the first time she suggested to pause and find a move, but that improved afterwards. 
  • Don't rush executing a threat. This second example featured Aronian-Nakamura, from this year's St. Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament. White has a dominant position, but rushes with the threat of pushing an advanced passed pawn. (Again proving Nimzovich's dictum that "The threat is stronger than the execution.") The game is also a good example of the previous video's header ("Why You Should Always Ask What Your Opponent Is Up To"), as the main problem for White is Black's counter-threat on the king, that could have been blocked.
  • Pushing too much / too far creates long-term weaknesses. The final example is Giri - Nepomnniachtchi (Tata Steel 2019). Here, White (Giri) gets into trouble by pushing pawns and creating a series of weaknesses. Another reminder of the fact that pawn moves are ones you can never take back, and they always leave behind weaknesses.
One of the things I've appreciated about the chosen examples is that the problem moves often look very reasonable and normal, not like they should provoke punishment by the opponent. This helps reinforce the idea of always checking your moves and not relying on the assumption that everything is fine. Abrahamyan in her narration also consistently does a good job of pointing out why certain moves aren't made due to different tactical consequences.

Finally, it's worth noting that the running time of the videos in the series (15-20 mins) is good for absorbing meaningful content in a single sitting, without losing focus.

12 June 2019

New comment moderation settings and policy

Until now, I've allowed unmoderated comments on the blog, although a Google account was required to post. There's been an uptick in spam comments on the more popular posts, though, so I've switched to full moderation. However, I've also removed the Google account requirement, so it's less restrictive in that sense.

Basically I'll welcome (and respond to) any comments that aren't spam, trolling, or ass-hattery. It's always helpful to see other chessplayers' opinions on topics, whether talking about general concepts or more specific analysis (like laramonet's recent comments on a Symmetrical English variation that's worked well for him).

Video completed: Tatev Abrahamyan's "How to Think Like Your Opponent in Chess"


"How to Think Like Your Opponent in Chess": in the past, this - or more precisely, the lack of doing this - was a major hole in my thinking. This fact was exposed during the process of analyzing my own games, and led to developing a more structured thinking process, including explicitly recognizing the need to falsify your candidate moves.

In this Chess.com video, which is one of a new series (under the header "Why You Should Always Ask What Your Opponent Is Up To"), Tatev Abrahamyan first picks a game of Nimzovich's and looks at some key points. She emphasizes the fact that the process of thinking like your opponent - in other words, about what your opponent is planning to do - is not just about avoiding tactical blunders, but also about playing the most effective moves. In some cases, this will mean moving to prevent your opponent's idea first, rather than directly pursuing your own plans.

Her narration is on point, although occasionally a little too rapid. For instance, in the two places she suggests that you pause to think about what Nimzovich (Black) should do in the first game example, she then immediately tells you the move played before you can move to pause the video. In the second game example (see below), though, she gives enough time to pause if you are alert.

The second example is from IM Anna Zatonskih - GM Marie Sebag (2019 Cairns Cup). The turning point comes in a surprise tactic by White just out of the opening, a temporary knight sacrifice which wins a pawn and gives Zatonskih a positionally won game. It reinforces the idea of never assuming there are no tactics in a position, even if it looks "normal", which is another repeated personal flaw in my play that was revealed during previous game analysis.

The last example game in the video is a classic one between Alekhine and Nimzovich in a French Defense. Abrahamyan looks at a critical moment where Nimzovich should have prevented a key idea of Alekhine's and shares some specific ideas about minor piece positioning in the structure, along with a more general lesson about being able to take your time in the absence of forcing threats from your opponent. Alekhine as White establishes a complete bind and can then improve the position at his leisure. (This game is where the famous "Alekhine's Gun" formation appears.)

As with most good instructive material in chess, there's not just one lesson to be learned from the video. I found the interplay of ideas in the first Nimzovich game, particularly regarding when it is OK to move the g- and h-pawns in front of the king, and how to blockade your opponent (a classic Nimzovich theme), particularly valuable. In the last game, seeing how Alekhine applied the strategic bind and then exercised patience and seemingly small moves to win by strategic zugzwang was also enlightening.

07 June 2019

Annotated Game #211: Deceptive symmetry

Having lost my first two tournament games, I was focused on holding the line for this next game and not losing. I was therefore pleased to see my significantly higher-rated opponent head for a drawish-looking line of the Symmetrical English. That said, symmetry can sometimes be deceptive, since one side can often quickly change the character of the game in their favor.

Here my opponent varies a little, but we still end up with a symmetrical pawn structure on move 17. However, now Black's pieces are able to come alive, while I start to get myself into a cramped position; this has been a long-term tendency of mine, particularly as White. My opponent misses a chance for a clear (if small plus) by playing the wrong pawn recapture on move 20, but I then dig myself into a positional hole with my two knights on the a-file rim. Luckily I am able to recover and then find the correct blockading strategy, being happy to take a draw in the final equal position.

I think it's important to be able to recover from an 0-2 start and not get too down on yourself. I also think it's a mistake to be playing deliberately for a draw. Here that wasn't the plan from the start, even though the opening was itself drawsh. So although I wobbled a bit in my play, I was satisfied that I ultimately found the right path and played according to the needs of the position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A38"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "55"] {A38: Symmetrical English vs ...g6:4 Bg2 Bg7 5 Nf3 Nf6} 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. d3 d6 {this is a very even but unambitious line from Black.} 8. Bd2 a6 {first breaking of the symmetry.} 9. Ne1 {an uncommon move here, but with a similar idea found in other Symmetrical Variation lines. White is repositioning the knight to c2, in order to support an eventual b4 advance and to unleash the Bg2.} (9. Qc1 $5 {with the intent of exchanging the Bg7 is another plan.}) 9... e6 {taking away the d5 square from White's pieces.} 10. Nc2 Bd7 11. a3 {preparing b4.} (11. Rb1 {may be preferable, as the rook has better prospects eventually on the b-file, and to get away from the latent threat to it from the Bg7 on the long diagonal.}) 11... Rb8 12. b4 {I saw no reason to wait, having prepared sufficiently.} cxb4 (12... b6 $5) 13. axb4 {I now have a small positional advantage on the queenside, having resolved the tension and ending up with a spatial plus.} Ne8 {this opens up the diagonal for the Bg7 and pins the Nc3, but is rather awkward.} 14. Rb1 {played to immediately break the pin on the Nc3 and support the b-pawn. However, this releases the pressure on the a-file and allows Black to equalize with his next move.} (14. Qc1 $5 {is preferred by the engine, getting the queen in play and also supporting the activation of the Bd2, which will eventually have prospects for going to g5 or h6.} b5) (14. Ra3 {is also a good alternative, breaking the pin and keeping the rook on the a-file.}) 14... b5 $11 15. cxb5 {I thought for a while here, since the decision here will have a major strategic effect on the course of the game.} (15. c5 {would unbalance the position by giving me much better central control, but would give Black two connected passed queenside pawns, which I did not like.} dxc5 16. bxc5 Nc7 $11) 15... axb5 {with a near-symmetrical pawn structure, it's a very drawish position now.} 16. e3 {the idea being to keep a Black knight out of d4 once the Nc2 moves.} d5 17. d4 {an interesting example of how symmetry is not necessarily equal. This move gives up the c4 square as an outpost for Black.} ( 17. Ne2 $5 {maneuvering the knight to a better square would avoid the positional issues that quickly arise in the game.}) 17... Nd6 {my opponent is quick to take advantage of the weak c4 square and vastly improve the Ne8's position.} 18. Re1 {I'm starting to get my pieces jammed up now, it looks like. The idea here is to vacate the f1 square for the bishop, although it might have been better to leave it on g2, potentially supporting an e3-e4 pawn push.} (18. Ne1 $5 {would mirror image my opponent's knight maneuver (e1-d3-c5).}) 18... Nc4 19. Bf1 {continuing with the original idea, which is to do something useful with the bad light-square bishop. The piece exchange is fine on its own merits, but the pawn structure transformation will be in Black's favor.} (19. Ne2 $5) 19... Qe7 20. Bxc4 bxc4 $6 {this is not nearly as good for Black as the d-pawn capture, since I now have compensation in the form of a passed b-pawn.} (20... dxc4 21. Ne4 $15) 21. Na4 $6 {heading for c5. Here I was thinking rather narrowly and only about piece play on the queenside.} (21. b5 { should equalize again, but at the time I was afraid the pawn would be overextended. However, it's even more of a target on b4.} Na7 22. e4 $11 { undermining the central pawn chain.}) 21... Na7 $17 {now controlling the b5 square.} 22. Na3 {protecting the Na4 with the queen.} Rfc8 {this gives me a little breathing room. Perhaps my opponent was reluctant to give up bishop for knight.} (22... Bxa4 $5 23. Qxa4 Rb7 $17) 23. Nc5 {Black still has an advantage, since his pieces are cooperating much better together, but I now have a strongly posted knight.} Bc6 24. Bc3 {blockading the pawn on c4.} Qe8 25. Qd2 {reinforcing the b4 pawn. At this point my plan is to block all further progress for my opponent, rather than seek counterplay (which isn't really feasible).} Bh6 26. Ra1 $11 {continuing the blockading strategy, as now that b4 is secure I can reinforce the a-file. Komodo now evaluates the position as equal, albeit with a slight advantage for Black.} (26. Nxc4 $5 { is the computer line and a tactical way to draw.} dxc4 27. d5 exd5 28. Qd4 f6 29. Qxf6 Qf8 30. Qh8+ Kf7 31. Qf6+ Kg8) 26... Ra8 27. Ra2 Nb5 28. Nxb5 { and I took a draw here, with my opponent shorter on time than me. Neither of us can make progress.} 1/2-1/2

03 June 2019

Annotated Game #210: Patience you must have

This second-round tournament game is an excellent illustration of how a completely level position may still require patience and your full attention, in order to avoid going astray. Here, White chooses a non-critical version of the Classical Caro-Kann and by move 14 (after playing the classic ...c5 pawn break), I am in fact quite comfortable as Black.

However, succeeding in implementing the standard opening plan here doesn't bring me any grand success on the board, just easy equality. My attention then wanders and I lack focus and a deeper understanding of the position, going for an unimaginative (and ultimately losing) strategy of delivering an unnecessary check and then simply swapping pieces. My opponent does a great job of finding the refutation of this and a pretty mate at the end.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "65"] {[%mdl 8192] B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 {this is a move-order trick for Black, as now if White plays h4, Black can respond with ...Nh5.} 7. Bd3 Bxd3 8. Qxd3 e6 9. O-O Nbd7 10. Be3 {White has played a large number of different moves in this position. The text move is a safe but unambitious option.} Be7 { a standard move, but also played with the thought of keeping my castling options open.} 11. h3 $146 {while this is a database novelty in this position, Komodo likes it well enough. White doesn't have an obvious aggressive plan, so makes a moderately useful move while waiting to see where Black commits the king.} Qc7 {still keeping the options open while developing to a useful diagonal.} 12. c4 O-O {after my opponent's queenside expansion, now it definitely would not make sense to castle there.} 13. Rac1 Rfd8 {lining the rook up against the queen on the d-file.} 14. Qb3 c5 $11 {the classic pawn break in the Classical Caro-Kann. White's center is challenged, once the Black pieces are prepared.} 15. Rfd1 cxd4 16. Nxd4 a6 {a good example of prophylaxis, taking away the b5 square from White.} 17. Nf3 {the knight goes back home, not having a future on d4.} Nc5 {not a bad move, but not the engine's favorite choice. It considers the more long-term prophylactic ...h6 a better choice, which is probably the case; later on I have back-rank problems that contribute to the loss. It's not clear where Black's pieces are best placed here, so some patience is in order.} (17... Rac8 {would also be uncontroversially good, developing the rook.}) 18. Qc2 Rxd1+ 19. Rxd1 Rd8 20. Rxd8+ Qxd8 {In this level position, quiet maneuvering is called for.} 21. Ne5 Qa5 {here I started suffering from a lack of real planning and forethought, looking only at short-term tactical "threats" which are easily stifled by White. The Ne5 is hanging and so is the a-pawn, but this is not really a problem.} (21... Bd6 { is a good option, lining up on the h2-b8 diagonal.}) (21... Ncd7 $5 {now is much better than two moves from now.}) 22. a3 Qe1+ {This is still all right, but an old quote goes, "patzer sees check, patzer gives check."} (22... Qc7 { is the calm maneuver, keeping the game level.} 23. Nf3 Ncd7 $11) 23. Kh2 { here I got confused due to my lack of any real plan, and just looked at exchanging pieces without much thought. Now the knight retreat is unfortunately a mistake, due to my misplaced queen. I was still trying to justify its existence on the first rank, rather than evaluating objectively the needs of the position.} Ncd7 $2 {this was played without calculating the post-exchange consequences, in other words I did not falsify the move.} (23... Bd6 24. Nf3 Qa5 $11) 24. Nxd7 Nxd7 25. Qb3 $18 {simple but deadly, as the b-pawn lacks enough defenders and White can exploit that, plus the two hanging pieces on the 7th rank and my weak back rank.} Nc5 {now the desperation starts. } (25... b6 {might have been more resistant, or at least made White find a somewhat more difficult follow-up move to claim full advantage.} 26. Qa4 Ne5 27. Qxa6 h5 28. Qc8+ Kh7 $18) 26. Qb6 {this wasn't too hard for my opponent to find.} Nd3 27. Qxb7 Bf8 28. Qc8 {by this point I'm clearly lost, but it's still a bit early to resign.} Qa5 (28... h5 29. Qd8 Ne5 30. c5 $18) 29. b4 (29. c5 {makes it even easier for White} Ne5 30. c6 Nxc6 31. Qxc6 Qb5 $18) 29... Qxa3 (29... Qe5 {is the last straw} 30. Qxa6 h5 $18) 30. c5 Nxb4 {I actually put a lot of thought into this and figured it was the best chance for a swindle, but my opponent finishes the game masterfully.} 31. Bf4 Nd3 32. Bd6 Qxc5 33. Qxf8# 1-0

29 May 2019

Annotated Game #209: Missing the big idea

This next OTB tournament started off rather weakly - perhaps not a surprise, as it had been about two months since I had previously played seriously. The game has two notable lessons for me:
  • First, the opening mistake on move 9. It has been a tendency for me to want to "punish" opponents who deviate from book moves in the opening. In this game, I am too eager to give up the two bishops for an essentially meaningless doubling of Black's c-pawns. As a result, he has far better piece activity and I struggle to complete my development, getting unnecessarily cramped in the process.
  • Second, missing the key positional and tactical idea of pushing e3-e4. This possibility recurs a number of times and is symptomatic of a mental tendency to sometimes consider pawn structures as fixed and focus only on piece play. It becomes amusing how many times this move would have been the best, if only I had seen it.
Another useful lesson is to never give up. Despite some serious problems and pressure on my king, I was in fact given multiple ways by my higher-rated opponent to get back to at least equality. In other words, don't panic, and you may actually be able to save yourself when defending.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "66"] {[%mdl 8192] A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Bd6 8. d4 exd4 {here I thought for some time. The early capture on d4 gives White more options than the usual ...Bd7.} 9. Bxc6+ $6 $146 {unfortunately, this is not the best option, probably why it is not in the database. The idea was to inflict a permanent structural weakness on Black, in the form of doubled c-pawns, but as we'll see his piece activity and the two bishops are more important.} (9. cxd4 $5 {scores over 60 percent in the database. There is no need for White to deviate from the main ideas of the line.} O-O 10. O-O $14) 9... bxc6 10. Qxd4 $6 {I played this thinking the centralized queen would be useful and that the 4-3 kingside majority pawn structure would be a small advantage, with the two Black c-pawns bottled up by my single pawn.} (10. exd4 $5 {may be best at this point, but Black still will have the initiative, for example:} Ba6 11. Qa4 Bb5 12. Qb3 Qc8 13. Be3 Rb8 14. c4 Ba6 15. Qd3 Qe6 16. Rc1 Rb4 17. Nd2 $15) 10... O-O $17 {Komodo already assesses Black as significantly better here. Let's see why...} 11. O-O c5 {gaining influence over d4 with tempo.} 12. Qa4 Bd7 13. Qc2 Qf6 {now Black's advantage is more visibly clear. Both his bishops point at the kingside, along with the queen, and my Nf3 is now a target. Meanwhile, I'm underdeveloped, being well aware of the poor scope of the Bc1 and its future development problems.} 14. Re1 (14. e4 {is Komodo's recommendation, a somewhat drastic but necessary pawn sacrifice to get the bishop developed.} Rae8 15. e5 Bxe5 16. Bg5 $17) 14... Bg4 {it is the right idea to attack the Nf3, but this is not the best square.} (14... Bc6 $5 $17) 15. Nd2 $15 {now my defensive idea of redirecting the knight to f1 actually works.} Qh6 16. Nf1 Qf6 {White has a cramped position, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. That said, I've managed to weather the initial Black threats and would be at least close to equality here, if I had recognized the plan of activating the bishop via the e4 pawn advance. Another way of looking at this is to recognize the advantage of mobilizing the extra kingside pawn in the center.} 17. Rb1 {this is also not a bad choice, developing the rook on the open file and looking to free the c-pawn, which could not advance due to the hanging rook.} (17. e4 $5) 17... Rab8 (17... Qg6 18. Rb2 $15) 18. Bb2 $6 {this is strategically a bad choice and locks me into an inferior position.} (18. Rxb8 {in a cramped position, the rule is to exchange pieces, thereby freeing up extra space for the remaining ones. Black cannot in fact take advantage of his rook being on the b-file, something I was too worried about at the time.} Rxb8 19. e4 {again this idea} Be6 20. Ng3 {and Black has a slight edge at best.}) 18... c4 $17 {I in fact foresaw this move, which fixes the c-pawn and crams me even further, but lacked the vision to see the alternatives to avoid it. Now my opponent just squeezes my position.} 19. Ng3 Rfe8 (19... Qe5 20. f3 Bd7 21. Kh1 $17) 20. Qa4 {trying to generate some counterplay, but Black's a-pawn is under no real threat, since the simple ...Ra8 would then win the a2 pawn.} Bxg3 (20... Qg6 $5 21. e4 Bc5 $17) 21. hxg3 $15 {this exchange helped me, because of the exchanging rule while cramped, and also because Black no longer has the two bishops.} Bf5 {the obvious follow-up.} 22. Rbc1 {this is demonstrably inferior to the alternative (e4), but I still had a blind spot regarding the possibility of playing that move. Naturally my opponent ignores the hanging bishop and does not fall for the one-move trap of taking on b2.} (22. e4 { is again the best idea here.} Rxe4 23. Qxa7 Ree8 24. Rxe8+ Rxe8 25. Qa4 $15) 22... Bd3 $15 {here I was hoping that Black would go for the hanging Bb2, in which case I would win by taking the Re8. It's normally a bad sign when you start hoping at the chessboard. Instead, Black positioned his bishop on a dominating central square in my territory.} 23. Ba3 h5 {seeing some of the possible threats against my king, now I started panicking.} 24. Bc5 $2 { this is too slow and does not sufficiently address my opponent's threats.} (24. Qd7 $5 {is one active idea, although I still have problems.} Qe5 $17) (24. e4 { again is probably best, which is really the story of this game for White.} Bxe4 25. Qxc4 $11) 24... h4 $17 25. Bd4 {this was the original idea of the bishop maneuver, but by now I could see that it was not going to be enough to save me. } Qf5 $2 {this move is a reminder that one should never give up. Of course, the only good response to it is e4, a move which I was totally incapable of seeing at any point in this game.} (25... Qg6 26. e4 hxg3 27. fxg3 Qxg3 28. e5 $19) 26. gxh4 $4 {should have been the losing move.} (26. e4 $1 Qh5 (26... Bxe4 27. f3 $11) (26... Rxe4 27. Qxa7 $11) 27. gxh4 c5 28. Qa5 $11 {although this is not an easy idea to spot.}) 26... Qg4 $2 {but Black again tries to give me a way out.} (26... c5 27. e4 Bxe4 $19) (26... Re4 $19) 27. f3 $4 {I refuse to find the best move again.} (27. e4 $5 Rxe4 28. f3 Rxe1+ 29. Rxe1 Qxh4 30. Re8+ Kh7 31. Rxb8 Qe1+ 32. Kh2 Qh4+ 33. Kg1 Qe1+ 34. Kh2 Qh4+ 35. Kg1 $11) (27. Qa5 {is also possible and equal, the principal idea being a transfer to g5.}) 27... Qxh4 $2 (27... Qg3 {and Black has triumphed} 28. Qd7 Re6 $19) 28. e4 $17 { finally, the best move!!} Re6 {I was starting to get low on time here and continued panicking over my opponent's king threats, which are not insoluble.} 29. Bf2 {I played this with a sense of desperation, but it's in fact best.} Qh5 $6 (29... Qh6 $5) 30. Qxa7 $11 {I played this with a sense of desperation, to be active. It should in fact give me equality.} Rb2 31. Be3 $4 {now I cracked under the pressure rather than calmly defending. I was focused on preventing what I thought was an inevitable mate if the rook came to the h-file.} (31. Qxc7 {is really the only good move. I thought that the h-file attack was unstoppable, but there is a defensive maneuver allowing me to force a queen trade to my benefit.} Kh7 (31... Rh6 {during the game, I couldn't see past this threat.} 32. Qc8+ $1 Kh7 33. Qf5+ Qxf5 34. exf5 $14) 32. Qf4 $11 { threatening Qf5+, and now if} Rf6 33. Qh4 {and I still force the queen trade.}) 31... Rg6 {Black finally finishes me off, with g2 and f3 both poised to fall.} 32. Qa8+ Kh7 33. Bf2 Rh6 {now this truly is mate.} (33... Rh6 34. Qg8+ Kxg8 35. Bh4 Qxh4 36. Re2 Rxe2 37. a3 Qh1#) 0-1

10 May 2019

Annotated Game #208: Bishop versus Knight

This third-round Slow Chess League tournament game was quite instructive on positional chess. A small tactic on move 18, after a premature central pawn advance by my opponent, netted me a long-term pawn structure advantage. Later on I am also able to win a pawn using a somewhat unusual bishop skewer of two isolated pawns. However, I betray my lack of awareness of how to play bishop versus knight endgames by letting my opponent mobilize his knight and establish a blockade, so it ends in a draw. Seeing how the bishop could have been much more effective in dominating the knight was the main lesson from the analysis.

[Event "Slow Chess League 45/45"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2019.04.17"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "R2Kmo"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A17"] [WhiteElo "1674"] [BlackElo "1692"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 { the Nimzo-English} 4. Qc2 {almost always White's reply here.} d6 5. a3 { there doesn't seem to be a reason to wait for this move, forcing the exchange.} Bxc3 6. Qxc3 b6 7. g3 {I decide to oppose the light-squared bishop on the long diagonal.} (7. e3 {is the other main option.}) 7... Bb7 8. Bg2 Nbd7 9. O-O O-O 10. d3 {this pre-emptively takes away the e4 square from use by Black's minor pieces, notably the Nf6.} c5 11. b4 {b3 is another option, also with the idea of developing the bishop to b2, but I saw no reason not to gain the extra space with the pawn.} Rb8 {this struck me as unambitious, although it does protect the Bb7 from a potential discovered attack on the long diagonal. I have no good discovered attacks with the Nf3, however, so it is not necessary.} (11... Qe7 {is a common idea, as shown in this example game.} 12. Bb2 Rfc8 13. Rab1 d5 14. cxd5 Bxd5 15. Rfc1 h6 16. Qd2 Bb7 17. bxc5 Nxc5 18. Qf4 Nd5 19. Qd4 Nf6 20. Qh4 Ncd7 21. Rxc8+ Rxc8 22. Qa4 a6 23. h3 Qd6 24. Qb4 Qxb4 25. axb4 Ne8 26. Ne5 {Harikrishna,P (2612)-Zhao,J (2511) Cochin 2004 1-0 (50)}) 12. Bb2 Re8 {at this point I have more space, but Black is solid. The only weakness that currently appears in Black's camp is on d6 - although without a pawn on e5, he also has to keep an eye on the White Q+B battery on the a1-h8 diagonal, which is pinning the Nf6 against the mate threat on g7.} 13. Rfe1 {I didn't have an obvious plan to follow here, so just improved my pieces and figured I would stay patient, to see if Black introduced any weaknesses.} Nf8 {this didn't seem very effective as a maneuver, and I could have reacted in the center to it.} 14. Nd2 (14. d4 $5 {and now} Ne4 15. Qc2 {is fine for White, for example} f5 16. dxc5 bxc5 17. Red1 $14) 14... Bxg2 $11 15. Kxg2 Ng6 {the knight comes back out, but it's not doing anything more on g6 than it was on d7 - less, it seems.} 16. Ne4 {this finally provokes Black into playing} e5 {to block the threat on the long diagonal.} 17. f3 {the pawn now controls e4 and g4. I played it largely because I was concerned about a possible future push of Black's e-pawn. It's not necessary, though, and it would have been more productive to get the queen off the now-blocked long diagonal. The move also leaves a hole on e3.} (17. Qd2 $5) 17... d5 $6 {Black's first inaccuracy. This allows me to inflict some real, if not decisive, structural damage.} 18. Nxf6+ $14 gxf6 (18... Qxf6 $2 19. cxd5 $18 {winning a strong central protected passed pawn.}) 19. cxd5 Qxd5 20. bxc5 {I thought for a while here on how best to proceed. This isn't bad, but it's a rule of thumb that Class players often prematurely release the tension in a position.} (20. Rec1 {keeping the tension and pressure up looks better.}) 20... Rec8 {Black decides to keep the a+b pawns together and recapture with the rook, but this gives me a tempo to play with and I now head for some exchanges which I hoped would solidify my positional edge.} (20... bxc5 21. Bc1 Rb3 22. Qc2 $14) 21. Qd2 Rxc5 22. Rec1 Rbc8 23. Rxc5 Rxc5 24. Rc1 f5 {this significantly loosens Black's kingside some more.} (24... Rxc1 {was what I was expecting.} 25. Qxc1 (25. Bxc1 $5) 25... Ne7 26. Kf2 {with only a slight edge for White. I feel I would definitely have an easier time playing the ending, however, given Black's weak king position and my long-range bishop vs. Black's short-range knight.}) 25. Rxc5 Qxc5 26. Qc3 {this showed a lack of imagination on my part. Black could now exchange queens and put his pawns on dark squares in order to equalize in the endgame.} (26. a4 $14 {followed by d4 is Komodo's idea. These freeing moves would significantly increase the scope of my dark-squared bishop.}) 26... Qe3 $6 {occupying the hole on e3 and threatening the e2 pawn proved too tempting for my opponent. However, the queen is easily neutralized by the king, something which did not take me too long to find.} (26... Qxc3 27. Bxc3 f6 $11) 27. Kf1 $16 Kg7 (27... f4 28. g4 $16) 28. Bc1 {Black's queen finds herself unpleasantly boxed in and has to be exchanged under less favorable circumstances on c5, allowing my bishop to subsequently skewer Black's unprotected pawns.} (28. f4 {is even better, exploiting the pin on the long diagonal. This unfortunately did not occur to me during the game.}) 28... Qc5 29. Qxc5 bxc5 30. Be3 {a somewhat unusual skewer tactic, showing the weakness of the two isolated Black pawns.} a6 31. Bxc5 Kf6 32. e3 {by this point I thought that the extra pawn plus Black's structural weaknesses would be enough to win. However, my opponent played tenacious defense.} Ke6 33. d4 $6 (33. Ke2 $5 $16 {is necessary, mobilizing the king first in the endgame.}) 33... Kd5 { Black's king is now nicely centralized.} 34. Ke2 exd4 (34... f4 $5 $16) 35. Bxd4 Kc4 36. f4 $6 {this would have been a good idea earlier, but now it is an unnecessary pawn move that allows Black to equalize.} (36. Bg7 $5 {is Komodo's recommendation, putting the bishop outside of the Black king's sphere of influence. This looks like it loses the a-pawn, but White in fact does well out of it.} Kb3 37. h4 {the idea is to chase the knight away, which comes in time for the bishop to protect a3. Black's problem is that the knight on e7 will get pinned on the diagonal, and it has no other squares to go to.} Ne7 38. Bf8 Nc6 39. e4 {and now White starts rolling.}) 36... h5 (36... Ne7 37. Kf3 Kd3 38. a4 $11) 37. Kf3 (37. Bf6 {moving the bishop is still better, although now it doesn't dominate the knight as well, since it has the f8 square to go to.} Nf8 $14) 37... Kd3 $6 {now, if I had been willing to move the bishop, I could have kept the advantage.} (37... Ne7 38. a4 $14) 38. h3 $6 {this is the move that seals the draw result.} (38. Bc5 $5 {preventing the knight from becoming mobile, by covering e7 and f8, and also protecting a3.} Kc4 39. Bb4 $16) 38... Ne7 $11 39. g4 fxg4+ 40. hxg4 hxg4+ 41. Kxg4 Ke4 42. Kg5 {by this point I could see that a draw was likely, but thought I would try to put as much pressure as possible on my opponent.} f5 {White has a new backward pawn: e3} ( 42... Nd5 $5 $11) 43. Kf6 {the problem is that the f5 pawn is immune from my bishop, so Black should have an effective blockade here.} Nd5+ {The backward pawn on e3 becomes a target. Black forks: e3} 44. Ke6 Nc7+ {and I didn't see the point in continuing, so took the draw.} 1/2-1/2

06 May 2019

Practical thoughts from a champion on improving your chess

Jennifer Yu had the tournament of her career to recently become the US Women's Chess Champion for 2019. Her candid blog post at chess^summit about the process and how she went about it is worth reading in full, as it provides the perspective of a champion on how to have a successful breakthrough in chess performance - including the good, bad and occasionally ugly.

I'd like to draw attention to some specific things she mentions, which reinforce certain ideas about how you can work to improve your overall chess ability and maximize your performance in a given tournament.
  • She laments the fact that while she started out with a two hour a day goal for prep pre-tournament, that got whittled down to one hour with all the other demands on her time. But she still held the line on consistently training for that period, even if not at the level she ideally wanted to be at. Consistency in having a meaningful level of training time is going to be far better for both your skills and your learning, instead of odd spurts of unsustainable short-term activity.
  • Use of a physical chessboard to improve focus while studying. This is optional rather than mandatory, but I find it has a similar effect on my concentration when going through books. (Although there's no reason to stop looking at computers or using the diagrams in books to help visualize, if you don't have a set handy.)
  • Her warm-up tournament (the national scholastic championship) went OK, but not great. She diagnosed the specific reasons for that and saw how it could actually improve her experience at the US Championship, rather than getting down on herself about it. Each tournament result is its own thing, approach a new tournament with a fresh attitude.
  • Attitude played a significant rule, including an explicit strategic decision to play according to the positions she got, rather than trying to force wins. By being relaxed about the possibility of draws, she actually got far better results. I think that for Class players, trying to force your will on the chessboard is a common failing. So rather than simply looking to play well and understand the needs of the position, we sometimes only focus on what we want to do.
  • Another related decision was to trust herself and her judgment, rather than trying to play head games with her opponent, most notably in the crucial round 10 game with IM Anna Zatonskih. Go with what you know and you're good at, and you're on solid ground. 
  • Finally, she is self-aware about her performance, both positive and negative. It's important to recognize all of the various ways you could do better and mistakes to avoid in the future, but at the same time give yourself credit for when you do play strongly. This kind of double reinforcement I think is what really propels you forward along the path to chess mastery.

01 May 2019

Annotated Game #207: April Slow Chess League 45/45, Round 2

This second-round game looked reasonably simple but in fact had a lot of complexity to it. I play a novelty on move 10 that is good for no more than equality, but sets the character of the rest of the game as a struggle for White to realize the idea of a kingside attack. My opponent's biggest strategic mistake is to go after the poisoned b-pawn, although I don't choose the most effective follow-up and careful defense would be rewarded.

One of the lessons this game reinforces is the practical benefit of having the initiative, which forces your opponent to respond to your threats and narrows the range of their good responses. I would say that starting with move 17 I had the easier game in that respect, with potential threats on the h-file dominating our thinking. However, analysis shows that switching to a queenside focus would have been most helpful at some points, for example most critically on move 19. Overall, it was a very interesting game for me and valuable both to play and review.

[Event "Live Chess"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2019.04.11"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "SirIvanhoe"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "1669"] [BlackElo "1469"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 {keeping the game in English territory.} d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. O-O Nbd7 (5... b5 {is the other main choice here.}) 6. Na3 {I had to start thinking on my own here. Without Black having inserted ...b5, this is now a viable way to recover the pawn. White can also go for Qc2 immediately, with some move-order differences in the event Black plays something different, although the Na3/Qc2 combination is overwhelmingly played after Black's next.} Nb6 7. Qc2 g6 {opting for development rather than continuing to try to hold onto the c4 pawn.} 8. Nxc4 Nxc4 9. Qxc4 Be6 {harassing the queen.} 10. Qh4 $5 $146 {I foresaw being able to harass Black on the kingside in turn with my queen, so played this novelty.} (10. Qc2 {is the database move.}) 10... Bg7 11. d3 {not d4, which would make the pawn more of a target. The text move releases the Bc1 to head for h6, and also controls e4.} Bg4 {this loses some time, with the bishop moving twice. The intent seemed to be to exchange it for the Nf3 and so reduce my kingside attacking chances, but I am fine with having the two bishops after this.} 12. Bh6 (12. Bg5 {threatens to take the Nf6, which would then leave the Bg4 hanging, so Black's best would just be to move it back to e6.}) 12... O-O 13. Rfe1 {protecting the e2 pawn and unpinning the Nf3.} Bxf3 14. Bxf3 Bxh6 15. Qxh6 $11 {at this point the position is very equal and with most minor pieces exchanged off, I don't have much further scope to plan an attack.} Qb6 {although this isn't a bad move in itself, I was happy to see it appear on the board. I still am looking at a central/kingside strategy and this means that Black is focused on the queenside, moving his queen away from the potential action.} (15... Qd4 $5) 16. Kg2 {clearing the first rank for a rook to come to h1.} Rad8 17. h4 {the only logical way for White to try to make progress is to open the h-file. Black can defend, but now I have the initiative. My pieces can combine reasonably well to support my idea, which is obvious and relatively easy to play, while Black's pieces still need to get organized.} Rd4 {a somewhat awkward rook placement, but I saw the idea of it supporting ...Ng4 and further harassing my queen.} 18. Rh1 (18. h5 { immediately might be better, since Black can't stop the pawn push.}) 18... Qxb2 $2 {I had calculated that this pawn would be "poisoned" and was correct. Black grabs material while ignoring his inadequate kingside defenses.} (18... Qc5 $5 {would prevent h5.}) 19. h5 $6 {Here I thought for a while and played the wrong move. My other main candidate move was the best, although it's not a knockout:} (19. Rab1 $1 Qxa2 20. Rxb7 {in evaluating this position during calculation, I was overly concerned about Black's ability to make mischief on the 2nd rank, and did not see a way for White to make concrete progress. However, if Black hangs on to both the a- and e-pawns, he runs into trouble:} Re8 21. h5 Rd6 22. hxg6 fxg6 {and after} 23. Rc1 $16 {White has all the cards, despite temporarily being a pawn down. For example} a5 24. Rxc6 Rxc6 25. Bxc6 Qe6 26. Bf3 $16 {Black won't be able to hold everything, with the a-pawn being vulnerable.}) 19... Ng4 $6 {an interesting active defensive idea, but it doesn't work.} (19... Rd7 {is the cold-blooded defensive move that works best for Black. Now attacking the queen with Rab1 no longer regains the pawn and White doesn't have enough on the kingside.} 20. hxg6 fxg6 21. Rab1 Qe5 { and now White would have to shift fire to the queenside with Rh4-b4, with some compensation for the pawn but no kingside attack.}) 20. Qg5 {simplest and best. Now the Ng4 is hanging.} f6 {the queen is further harassed, but goes to a great square now.} 21. Qc5 $16 {forking a7 and e7.} Qb4 22. Qxa7 {this seemed the most straightforward way to an advantage.} (22. Qc1 $5 {is found by Komodo, which more subtly threatens penetration on the kingside while protecting d2 and threatening Rb1.}) 22... Ne5 23. hxg6 Nxg6 $2 {this recapture is what does Black in. In alternate variations, the knight could for example still have the option of exchanging on f3 and causing me more difficulties.} (23... hxg6 24. Rab1 Qd6 25. Rxb7 Re8 $16) 24. Rab1 Qd6 25. Rxb7 {now in addition to the pressure on the 7th rank against e7, the c6 pawn is weak and under pressure.} Nf4+ {a last desperate shot.} 26. gxf4 Qxf4 {with the idea of ...Qg5+, but there are multiple ways to combat this.} 27. Rh3 $18 {a simple defense that seals the win.} (27. e3 $1 Qg5+ 28. Kf1 $18) 27... Kh8 28. Rxe7 Rg8+ 29. Rg3 Rxg3+ 30. fxg3 Qg5 31. Qxd4 (31. Rxh7+ Kg8 32. Qf7#) 1-0

29 April 2019

Annotated Game #207: April Slow Chess League 45/45, Round 1

While I enjoy over-the-board (OTB) play and get more out of it, slow time control play online is a good substitute when I can't go to tournaments.  This month I completed the April 45/45 tournament at the Slow Chess League, playing three rounds out of four (one week was a bye for me). I played reasonably well and successfully adapted back to a faster time control than I've been playing in OTB tournaments, so I'll count it as a successful re-entry into online play.

This first round game I faced as Black the popular 1.c4 2.g3 setup in the English, which is playable against anything Black does. I don't think it's a real threat to my repertoire, but it was only the second time I'd played against it; the first time, my opponent did not opt for an exchange on d5. I found the resulting position a little awkward, having missed an opportunity to enter a more standard Slav setup on move 6. Black is stuck defending for a while and both of us missed a (very difficult to see) tactic for White on move 16 that Komodo pointed out in analysis. I finally found my way to equality on move 18 and was content with a draw afterwards, although I could have kept some pressure up with the ...e5 break in the center.

It wasn't a bad start to the tournament, and was a good re-introduction to the practical choices one needs to make in a tournament game.

[Event "SCL 2019/04 - 45/45"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2019.04.06"] [Round "?"] [White "valuableink"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "1599"] [BlackElo "1608"] [Annotator "Komodo 11.2 / ChessAdmin"] [PlyCount "45"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] [TimeControl "2700+45"] [WhiteClock "0:06:06"] [BlackClock "0:01:46"] {D13: Slav Defence: Exchange variation without ...Bf5 D13: Slav Defence: Exchange variation without ...Bf5} 1. c4 {[%emt 0:00:03]} c6 {[%emt 0:00:05]} 2. g3 {[%emt 0:00:36] a common setup in the English, which can be used against any Black move sequence.} d5 {[%emt 0:00:23] although White can exchange on d5, there doesn't seem to be a reason to delay this, unless you're playing the Modern Defense with ...g6.} 3. cxd5 {[%emt 0:00:07]} cxd5 {[%emt 0:00:02]} 4. Bg2 {[%emt 0:00:04]} Nf6 {[%emt 0:00:02]} (4... Nc6 $5 {is a less conventional approach that delays committing the kingside knight.} 5. d4 Bf5 {would allow Black to get the light-square bishop to its usual Slav posting on f5.}) 5. d4 { [%emt 0:00:05] now we have a Slav Exchange pawn structure, although White hasn't yet developed his knights.} Nc6 {[%emt 0:00:19] this is the most common move in the database, deferring development of the light-square bishop.} 6. Nc3 {[%emt 0:00:08]} e6 {[%emt 0:00:55] locking the light-square bishop to the queenside, but I felt this was the only solid choice.} (6... Bf5 {is more in keeping with Slav Defense ideas, but at the time I thought wasn't good due to} 7. Qb3 {which threatens both d5 and b7. However, now the d4 pawn hangs and White's threats turn out to be ghosts.} Nxd4 $1 {and the queen does not in fact have any good squares, after the knight move creates threats against White, notably the fork on c2.} (7... e6 {is also good for Black.} 8. Qxb7 $2 Nxd4 9. Kf1 $17) 8. Qa4+ (8. Qxb7 $2 Nc2+ $19) 8... Nc6 9. Nf3 Qd7 $15 { and White does not have enough for the pawn.}) 7. Bg5 {[%emt 0:00:54]} Be7 { [%emt 0:00:15] again, a solid choice.} (7... Qb6 $5 {is an aggressive response that scores well in the database (60 percent for Black). The main idea is} 8. Bxf6 Qxb2 {attacking the now-hanging Nc3} 9. Rc1 Bb4 $15) 8. Nf3 {[%emt 0:02: 46]} O-O {[%emt 0:01:45]} 9. O-O {[%emt 0:02:05]} h6 {[%emt 0:02:14] I decided to resolve the issue of the Bg5 before anything else. Anything in response except the capture on f6 effectively wastes time for White.} 10. Bxf6 {[%emt 0: 04:53]} Bxf6 $11 {[%emt 0:00:04] the position is now very equal, with a limited number of ideas on how to make progress.} 11. e3 {[%emt 0:00:32] taking care of d4.} Bd7 {[%emt 0:07:03] here is where I needed to decide on a plan. Komodo approves of the choice, which again is solid, but I would have considered the alternative bishop development on a6 as more active.} ({A sample game with the alternative:} 11... b6 12. Rc1 Ba6 13. Re1 Na5 14. e4 Nc4 15. Rc2 Rc8 16. Qc1 Bb7 17. exd5 exd5 18. Ne5 Ba8 19. b3 Nxe5 20. dxe5 Bg5 21. f4 Be7 22. Na4 Qd7 23. Ree2 Bc6 24. e6 fxe6 25. Bh3 Rf6 26. Bg4 d4 27. Bf3 Bxf3 28. Rxc8+ Rf8 29. Rxf8+ Bxf8 30. Rf2 Ba8 31. Qf1 d3 32. Rd2 b5 33. Rxd3 Qc6 34. Nc3 Bc5+ {0-1 (34) Ballesteros Gonzalez, D-Guerra Bastida,D (2290) Albacete 1992}) (11... b6 12. Qa4 Bb7 13. Rfc1 $11) 12. Rc1 {[%emt 0:06:42] my opponent does not neglect his rook development.} Qa5 {[%emt 0:10:35] here I was looking at improving the position of my queen and connecting the rooks on the back rank. It ends up being more of a target than a help on the queenside, however.} (12... Rc8 $5 {opposing rooks can't be wrong, following up with ...Be7 and repositioning the dark-square bishop.}) 13. Nd2 {[%emt 0:05:08] The idea is Nf3-d2-b3-c5} b5 $6 {[%emt 0:06:07] this dubious move is due to me getting lost in the thicket of variations on the queenside, and also wanting to justify the queen's position on a5.} (13... Qb6 14. Nb3 Rfd8 15. Nc5 Be8 $11 { is awkward-looking but gets me to the good defensive position I reach later.}) 14. Nb3 {[%emt 0:00:57]} Qb6 {[%emt 0:01:29]} 15. Nc5 $14 {[%emt 0:02:07] although I had seen this coming, I failed to deal with it properly.} Rfd8 $2 { [%emt 0:00:51] Komodo gives this a question mark because of the unforeseen tactical blow given in the next variation. Both my opponent and I had assumed that the d5 pawn was untouchable, which under normal circumstances would be reasonable.} (15... Be8 {I rejected this at the time because it shut in the Rf8.} 16. Ne2 $14) 16. Qb3 $6 {[%emt 0:05:50] this allows me to equalize.} (16. Bxd5 $1 {wins at least a pawn. This is initially a hard-to-see tactical idea because the pawn is protected by another pawn, which leads one to assume that it is not capturable. The combination also hinges on the future vulnerability of the Nc6 or a queen fork on g4, neither of which is easily visualized.} exd5 {is the critical path.} (16... Be8 $16) 17. Nxd5 Qb8 18. Nxd7 Qd6 (18... Rxd7 19. Nxf6+ gxf6 20. Qg4+ $1 (20. Rxc6 {also wins)}) 20... Kf8 21. Qxd7 $18) 19. N7xf6+ $18) 16... Rab8 {[%emt 0:04:38] this still allows the Bxd5 idea, but it no longer wins, since I could now threaten White's queen in turn with the Nc6.} (16... Be8 $5 $11 {immediately is still better.}) 17. a4 {[%emt 0:07:08]} (17. Bxd5 $5 Na5 18. Qb4 Be7 $14) 17... b4 $11 {[%emt 0:00:47] my opponent seemed surprised by this, probably expecting me to take on a4. Although the position is still equal, it is now Black that has more initiative, as White has run out of threats.} 18. Na2 $6 {[%emt 0:05:56] this buries the knight on an awkward square and the pressure on the b4 pawn is not worth it.} (18. Ne2 $5 $11) 18... Be8 $15 {[%emt 0:06:43] finally the bishop withdraws and is no longer subject to tactics from the Nc5.} 19. Qd3 {[%emt 0:03:51]} Be7 {[%emt 0:02:35] repositioning the bishop to a more productive square, as it was doing nothing useful on f6.} (19... e5 {is Komodo's idea. I saw the general idea of this, undermining the center, but rejected it as leaving me with an isolated d-pawn. Concrete analysis shows that Black should come out ahead, though, thanks to the underprotected White a-pawn.} 20. dxe5 Be7 21. Qb5 (21. Nb3 Nxe5 $17) 21... Qxb5 22. axb5 Rxb5 23. Nd3 Bd7 $17) 20. b3 {[%emt 0:06:07] protecting the a-pawn and covering the c4 square, so it can't be used as an outpost by one of my knights.} Na5 {[%emt 0:04:47] pressuring b3 and with the idea of exchanging off the Nc5, if desired. Essentially I thought it wasn't doing anything useful on c6, so this was at least an improvement.} 21. Rc2 {[%emt 0:03:33] preparing to double rooks on the c-file.} Nb7 {[%emt 0:03:28] at this point I didn't see how to make progress, so essentially bailed out into a drawish position.} ( 21... e5 $5 22. Rfc1 exd4 23. exd4 Bf6 $15 {would keep up some pressure on White.}) 22. Na6 $11 {[%emt 0:00:40] I saw this as a possibility, since I have no way of taking the knight there, but at the same time its placement on a6 means the knight has no real additional threats.} Rbc8 {[%emt 0:00:18]} 23. Rfc1 {[%emt 0:00:18] following an exchange of rooks, it becomes very drawish, so I agreed to my opponent's draw offer.} 1/2-1/2

02 April 2019

Training quote of the day #23

From Mark Dvoretsky's Recognizing Your Opponent's Resources:
Your opponent also has a right to exist - Savielly Tartakower remarked with his characteristic irony. Absorbed in our own thoughts, we sometimes forget this, for which we have to pay dearly. As Viktor Kortchnoi wrote, Well, if you do not check what your opponent is doing, you will end up complaining about bad luck every game. No chessplayer has managed to completely exclude this kind of mistake, but some make it less often and others more often. Many who are over-self-confident optimists make it with unenviable regularity.

31 March 2019

Training quote of the day #22

From the Chess.com article "Chess Plans, Losing Streaks and Petrosian Speaks" by IM Jeremy Silman:
Viktor Khenkin’s question:
There is a widely-held opinion that the only players that enjoy competitive longevity are those who base their play not on the calculation of concrete variations but on positional understanding. In short, their play is founded on general positional considerations. Such a method allows a player to expend less energy, and hence to withstand better the tension of a tournament game. Is this true?
GM Tigran Petrosian:
I do not share this point of view. Positional understanding is indeed a sign of the great practical strength of a player. But with the years this skill also becomes blunted. It must be constantly stimulated and modernized; in other words a player must work on chess art and analyze.
But on positional understanding alone you will not go far. Without sharp tactical vision there is no chance of success. But as a player grows older his calculating capacity is markedly reduced, and he has somehow to compensate for this deficiency. Why did Botvinnik retain for so long his great fighting ability? Because he was able to recognize this irreversible process earlier than others and to ‘reprogram’ himself. In what way? In the same way as I am doing now.
Although I have never been assigned to the category of ‘chess calculators,' in my youth I used to work out at the board an enormous amount of variations. I used to calculate them quite quickly and quite deeply. Today too I can calculate deeply and well, only not for five hours at a stretch. I can now switch on my ‘calculating apparatus’ at full power only once or twice during the course of a game. Therefore I try to choose my openings and build up my play so that there is no need to analyze variations move after move. But if at a critical moment such a necessity suddenly arises, I can cope with this no worse than I used to.

25 March 2019

Commentary: Dortmund 2017, round 1 (Kramnik - Fedoseev)

Continuing with the commentary theme of the Caro-Kann Exchange variation at the super-GM level, the below game is from the first round of Dortmund 2017, featuring Kramnik as White. He makes a non-standard choice of 6. Na3!? which leads to some unbalanced play and a clash of ideas in the middlegame. Black (Fedoseev) deliberately leaves his king in the center and weathers a White attack with some classic Caro-Kann themes, including the half-open e-file and sacrifice on e6. Black's cool nerves give him the victory in the end.

[Event "45. Sparkassen Chess-Meeting"] [Site "Dortmund"] [Date "2017.07.15"] [Round "1"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Fedoseev, Vladimir"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "2812"] [BlackElo "2726"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Qc7 {immediately seizing the b8-h2 diagonal. Remarkably, Black has a plus score in all variations after this in the database.} 6. Na3 {a rare continuation, but with precedent.} a6 { essentially forced, in order to keep White out of b5. One could argue that the time-wasting moves cancel each other out in terms of tempi, but I would say that ...a6 is more useful to Black than White's knight moves are for him.} 7. Nc2 {where else?} Nf6 8. h3 {now White considers it best to prevent a future pin on f3 after ...Bg4, as Be2 would be a time-wasting retreat. Ne2 has also been played here.} e6 {shutting in the Bc8, but now there's nowhere for it to go on the kingside.} 9. Nf3 b5 {making room for the bishop on the queenside.} 10. O-O Bb7 {while it doesn't look well-placed here, in fact the bishop is able to influence the e4 square to good effect.} 11. Re1 Bd6 {the most dynamic option for bishop development. Black reinforces his control of the b8-h2 diagonal and doesn't worry about Bg5, which under other circumstances would be annoying. However, there is a tactical reason why it's not best for White, as we'll see.} 12. Bg5 (12. a4 {played immediately is what the engines recommend.} bxa4 13. Rxa4 O-O 14. Qe2 Ne7 15. Bxa6 Qb6 16. Bb5 Rxa4 17. Bxa4 Ba6 18. Qd1 Ng6 $11 {with compensation for the pawn. White's Ba4 is out of the action and Black's minor pieces are all better than their counterparts, while Black also is much better positioned to take advantage of the open a-file.}) 12... Ne4 $1 13. a4 (13. Bxe4 dxe4 14. Rxe4 h6 15. Bd2 Na5 16. Re1 Nc4 $11 {and again Black has compensation for the pawn, based on his superior piece placement and scope. The two bishops in particular are very nice in this position.}) 13... bxa4 $5 ( 13... O-O {is a pawn sacrifice that the engines evaluate as dead even.} 14. axb5 axb5 15. Bxb5 Rxa1 16. Qxa1 h6 17. Be3 Ra8 18. Qc1 Na5 $11 {The two bishops and Black's dominating piece play provide full compensation for the pawn. However, I can understand how Fedoseev might not think that the best course in the long run, given White's extra passed b-pawn.}) 14. c4 {it appears here that Kramink didn't want to go down the road of capturing on e4 or a4, which did not promise more than equality. White also hopes to take advantage of Black's uncastled king position.} (14. Bxe4 dxe4 15. Rxe4 h6 16. Bc1 Ne7 17. Re1 O-O $11) (14. Rxa4 h6 15. Be3 O-O $11) 14... Nxg5 15. Nxg5 dxc4 {otherwise cxd5 is threatened, with a pin on the e-pawn.} (15... Be7 {is an interesting alternative.} 16. Qh5 Bxg5 17. cxd5 Ne7 18. Qxg5 Bxd5 {is evaluated as equal by Komodo, with White now choosing among various ways of recapturing a pawn. However, it's not much fun to play as Black, with your king in the center and your opponent having open lines and initiative.}) 16. Bxc4 {White has sacrificed a pawn for open lines and an attack. The half-open e-file and sacrificial possibilities on e6 are classic Caro-Kann themes for white.} Nd8 $5 {visually this seems rather strange, retreating the knight and leaving the king in the center, but perhaps gives better chances for Black than the alternative.} (16... O-O {is a rather difficult line for Black, with a narrow path to holding the game.} 17. Qh5 h6 18. Nxe6 fxe6 19. Rxe6 Bh2+ 20. Kh1 Rf7 21. Ne3 Nxd4 22. Rb6 Raf8 23. Rxh6 gxh6 24. Qg6+ {with a perpetual check}) 17. Ne3 {bringing the knight into the attack, although this does let Black exchange off a piece.} Bf4 (17... h6 18. Nf3 O-O $11 {might be a simpler approach.}) 18. Qh5 $2 {White apparently misses Black's available defensive resources. This however is the most natural-looking move, bringing the queen into the action.} (18. Qxa4+ {regains the pawn and is evaluated as equal, although a long dance of the pieces ensues.} Bc6 19. Nd5 Qd7 20. Qa5 Nb7 21. Qa2 Bxg5 {to prevent the knight sac on e6. So far it's all been normal moves, but more complicated calculation and evaluation would be necessary to see it through.} 22. Nb6 {White's only move that doesn't lose} Qxd4 23. Nxa8 O-O { and now for example} 24. Qxa6 Bh4 25. Qxc6 Bxf2+ 26. Kh1 Bxe1 27. Qxb7 Bg3 { looks like an eventualy draw, but it's an imbalanced (albeit evaluated as equal) position.}) 18... Bxe3 $1 {removal of the guard of the Bc4.} (18... Bxg5 $6 {is inferior, giving White a reasonable game after} 19. Qxg5 O-O) 19. Rxe3 Qxc4 20. Rxe6+ Kf8 {this move requires steady nerves, but is the best. White can no longer make progress.} (20... Nxe6 21. Qxf7+ Kd8 22. Nxe6+ Kc8 23. Qxg7 Re8 $17 {still ultimately in Black's favor, but White is a lot more active.}) 21. Re5 h6 {well calculated by Fedoseev, the only move that wins. Once the knight is pushed back and Black follows with ...g6, his king is safe.} 22. Rae1 g6 23. Qh4 Kg7 $19 24. Nxf7 {a last, desperate attempt on the king. White does not have enough material left to successfully attack, however.} Nxf7 25. Re6 { with the threat of Qf6+} g5 {another instance of cold-blooded calculation.} 26. Qh5 {the queen is now headed to g6.} Rhe8 27. Qg6+ Kf8 {leaving White with no more threats, as the Nf7 holds the position.} 28. f3 Qxd4+ 29. Kh1 Rac8 0-1

22 March 2019

Book completed: How Chessmasters Think


I recently completed How Chessmasters Think by IM Paul Schmidt, who was a strong Estonian player in the Paul Keres era and subsequently emigrated to the United States.  I ran across the book largely by accident a while ago and got it on Kindle, it being hard to find otherwise.  It's rarely referred to in chess improvement literature, but the subject matter seemed to be very relevant.

Rather than a tutorial on how chess players should think, the book is more of a descriptive exercise in how master-level players do think during a game, both on a theoretical and practical level.  The author presents a series of annotated games, but rather than talking about the ideas or giving analysis in the usual method, instead writes annotations based on an imagined thinking process for each player.  Essentially, he answers the question "why did the player choose this move" with a thought experiment for both sides of the board.  Periodically he will also introduce an objective voice (the "critic") when critical moves are overlooked by both players.

I found several advantages to the author's approach and learning benefits from the content.
  • Some clear and valuable explanations of specific strategic considerations in main line openings, especially relatively early choices, which all too often are skipped over.
  • Each of the chapters has a theme regarding chess situations and judgment which can be generalized, at least to some extent, in terms of facing similar future decisions.
  • The games themselves are varied and high-quality, with frequent appearances by world-class players such as Keres, Alekhine, and Euwe, along with games involving Botvinnik, Fine and Capablanca.  Some lesser master games are also included that are relevant and interesting, by people known to the author.
  • The combination of strategic and tactical considerations as part of each side's "thought process" emphasize the practical aspect of thought, rather than pure strategy or tactics, as is often presented.
A couple things were less helpful, from my perspective.
  • A few move typos are scattered throughout the book, in both the game score and given variations.  Most of the time it's clear what the move should be (for example Nc5 instead of Ne5), but in one or two spots it was really head-scratching.  I expect this was due to the Kindle OCR conversion process.
  • The author has the tendency to include 2-3 pages of variations of 8-10 moves and stream-of-consciousness thought in the early middlegame, which make it difficult to keep following the thread.  He admits late in the book that most chess masters will calculate 3-4 moves ahead in non-forcing situations, but that it is necessary to go further when necessary.  So the stream-of-consciousness over the length of a long variation sometimes comes across as a bit artificial.  On the positive side, the moves then play out as part of the game, which makes it much easier to understand what is actually going on.
  • While it's good to have to work things out for yourself, I found some annotations and explanations cut off a bit prematurely or were of the "...and wins" variety, when it wasn't immediately clear why it would win (eventually).  The author seems to have been assuming an advanced (around master-level) audience in those cases.
I would say that players around Class B and up would benefit from the book, which isn't terribly long (16 chapters / games).

18 February 2019

Commentary: Tata Steel 2019, Round 2 (Duda - Van Foreest)

Today's commentary game naturally follows from the earlier Tata Steel 2019 Round 1 game. Van Foreest (on the White side of a Caro-Kann Exchange) lost the earlier struggle against Anand, but then became a winner on the Black side of the same opening. This game is quite different, though, as White's early choice to vary his development scheme sends Black down a more classical path, instead of Anand's setup featuring an open g-file and opposite-side castling.

Some key takeaways from the game, for Caro-Kann players and in general:
  • The benefit to Black of exchanging light-square bishops
  • Conditions for being able to defend against White's ideas for pressure on the h-file
  • The key role of queenside counterplay (see moves 23-25) so as to not give White a free hand on the kingside
  • The recurrence of tactical ideas such as Ne4-d2, which eventually becomes decisive for Black
  • How either player could have chosen to go for a drawing line (perpetual) at different times

[Event "81st Tata Steel Masters 2019"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee"] [Date "2019.01.13"] [Round "2"] [White "Duda, Jan-Krzysztof"] [Black "Van Foreest, Jorden"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "2738"] [BlackElo "2612"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "100"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bf4 {an alternative try to the usual Bd3. White accelerates his seizure of the h2-b8 diagonal and does not let Black's queen get to c7.} Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 (5... Bf5 {is in alternative way to play, anticipating the Bd3 development by White and looking to exchange off bishops early. In the game, this happens much later and also results in a change of Black's kingside pawn structure.}) 6. Nd2 {the second most popular move in the database. White prepares to support Ngf3 after Black's next.} Bg4 7. Qb3 { a normal reaction by White, once the bishop ceases protecting the b7 pawn.} Qc8 {this is less committal than the alternative ...Na5.} 8. Ngf3 e6 9. Bd3 (9. Ne5 $5 {is an interesting idea here, but simply retreating the bishop to f5 seems to take any sting out of it.} Bf5 $11) 9... Bh5 {a relatively rare option, with ...Be7 being standard. The idea here is to retreat to g6 and exchange off the Bd3, which otherwise is well-positioned to target Black's kingside.} 10. O-O Bg6 11. Bxg6 {Komodo, in contrast to some other engines, assesses that it is better for White to not exchange on g6. For White, often the idea behind this exchange is to create a target for an h-pawn thrust, which is what in fact occurs later on.} hxg6 12. Rae1 {committing to a central/kingside strategy.} Be7 $11 {Taking stock of the position, Black has full equality. The light-squared bishop exchange has left Black solid on the kingside and White has no obvious advantage, although he can try for play on the h-file, as in the game. Duda's next move is a novelty in the database and was likely an attempt to introduce some uncertainty into the position, while again looking for chances on the h-file.} 13. g3 $146 {as we will see later, the idea of this move is to prepare the pawn thrust h2-h4.} (13. Ne5 {is a typical try by White that scores well in the database (67 percent), but should not objectively be a concern to Black. The database figures also seem to be skewed by lower-rated games.} Nxe5 14. dxe5 Nd7 {similar to the game continuation looks fine for Black.}) 13... O-O {no reason to postpone castling.} 14. Ne5 Nxe5 {Black chooses to remove the well-placed central knight immediately. Although not forced, this is an excellent defensive idea, as otherwise White typically starts developing tactical ideas on the e-file to target the e6 pawn, with a knight sacrifice a possibility later on g6 or f7.} 15. dxe5 Nd7 16. h4 { White follows up on his earlier idea of g3. Should Black be worried? As the defender in this type of position, the usual assessment is that after two minor piece exchanges, Black should be all right, since the sacrificial possibilities by White are limited. White will also need time to bring his other pieces to bear on the kingside.} Nc5 {puts the knight on its best square, kicking the queen and eyeing e4 and d3.} 17. Qc2 Qc6 {putting the queen on the long diagonal and improving its mobility. Now White's lack of a light-squared bishop to oppose it is highlighted.} (17... b5 {is what the engines like in this position, following up with ...Qb7 to put the queen on the long diagonal and give black the option of a minority attack on the queenside.}) 18. Re3 { this just ends up being awkward for White and wasting time. Presumably the idea was to eventually transfer the rook along the third rank.} (18. Nf3 $5) 18... Qa6 {pressuring the a-pawn and also placing itself on another useful diagonal.} 19. Qb1 {with this move, it's clear that White no longer has the initiative and must start responding to Black's threats.} Rac8 20. Kg2 { needed to clear the first rank for his rook to shift to h1.} b5 {now Van Foreest plays the pawn advance, gaining space and with the eventual idea of a minority attack along with the a-pawn.} 21. Bg5 Qb7 {although Black has been moving his queen often, each time it has been with a purpose and has improved his relative position. This time is no different, as the queen will still be well-placed on e7 after the exchange of bishops, and the a-pawn is now free to advance.} 22. Bxe7 Qxe7 23. Rh1 a5 24. Qd1 b4 {Black's counterplay on the queenside balances White's play on the kingside.} 25. Qg4 (25. h5 {would amount to the same thing after} bxc3) 25... bxc3 {active defense.} (25... Qb7 $5 {is another interesting way to defend.} 26. h5 d4+ 27. Rf3 bxc3 28. bxc3 dxc3 29. hxg6 fxg6 30. Qxg6 Rf5 $11 {and White has nothing better than a perpetual.}) 26. bxc3 Rb8 {Black again correctly emphasizes counterplay, threatening to go to b2 with his rook.} 27. h5 g5 {Van Foreest goes for the option that is equal, but allows him to keep going in hopes of a win. The correct decision, as it turns out.} (27... Rb2 28. hxg6 fxg6 29. Qxg6 Rxd2 30. Qh7+ Kf7 {is a perpetual for White.}) 28. h6 g6 {this defensive idea should be well known to Caro-Kann players, to prevent a breakthrough on the h-file.} 29. Nf3 {targeting the weak g5 pawn, but} Ne4 {holds everything together for Black. } 30. Re2 {covering the second rank against the threat of ...Rb2. However, this leaves the c-pawn hanging.} Nxc3 31. Rc2 Ne4 32. Nd4 {although Black is a pawn up, now White gets to have equivalent play for it, gaining the initiative in compensation. The main threat here is the knight fork on c6.} Rbc8 33. Nc6 Qa3 {preserving the a-pawn.} 34. Rhc1 Kh7 {another important defensive idea for Black, blockading the h-pawn to prevent a future sacrifice on h7. The h-pawn is now a long-term liability for White, especially in an endgame, when Black opening the h-file by capturing the pawn will no longer be of consequence. Black does have to be careful to manage potential threats from any occupation of the f6 square by White, however.} 35. Qe2 {now Black has to take care of his Ne4, which is out of squares after a White pawn advances to f3. Previously it could have gone to d2, with the tactical idea of Rxd2 followed by ...Qxc1. The Qe2 instead now covers the d2 square.} g4 {Black gives back the material so his pieces regain freedom of movement.} 36. Qxg4 Rc7 37. Qf4 {this appears to be a try by White to maintain winning chances.} (37. f3 {leads to lines where Black can win the a-pawn, but his queen is too exposed to White's rooks for it to matter, so essentially White can get a perpetual on the queen.} Nd2 38. Rc3 Qb2 (38... Qxa2 {doesn't gain Black anything either} 39. R3c2 Qa3 40. Rc3 Nb3 $11) 39. R3c2 Qa3 $11 {with a repetition of position to follow, whether Black takes the a2 pawn or not.}) 37... Rfc8 $15 {obvious and good. Now White has to be careful about the Nc6, which has only one viable square (d4), as well as his currently under-protected rooks.} 38. g4 $6 {White likely underestimated the consequences of Black's next move.} (38. Qg4 Qd3 $15) (38. Nd4 {bailing out with the knight is likely the best (and most practical) option.} g5 {now has much less sting, since the g4 square is available for the queen.} 39. Qg4 Rxc2 40. Rxc2 Rxc2 41. Nxc2 Qf8 $15) 38... g5 $1 39. Qh2 (39. Qf3 Qxf3+ 40. Kxf3 f6 41. exf6 Nxf6 {and the h-pawn will fall after} 42. Nd4 Rxc2 43. Rxc2 Rxc2 44. Nxc2 e5 {first preventing the knight's return to d4} 45. Ne3 Kxh6 $17 {and Black (at the GM level) should be able to convert the endgame with his extra passed d-pawn.}) 39... Nd2 $19 {using the same tactical idea with the knight move to d2 as before, but now threatening ... Qf3+. By this point, White is essentially lost.} 40. Rc3 (40. Qg3 {is objectively better, but still leads to a lost endgame, so White tries something else.} Qxg3+ 41. Kxg3 Kxh6 $19) 40... Qa4 {the only winning move, threatening the g4 pawn. It's not too hard to find, though.} 41. Qh5 {protecting the pawn, but now Black's queen dominates in the center.} Qe4+ 42. Kh3 (42. f3 Qe2+ 43. Kg3 Nf1+ $19) 42... d4 {passed pawns must be pushed! Now White's position collapses all over the board.} 43. Rg3 ( 43. Qxg5 $2 Rg8 $19) 43... Qf4 {threatening the f2 pawn as well as ...Ne4 with a double attack on the rooks.} 44. Rd1 Ne4 {an elegant finish.} (44... Rxc6 { is straightforward, but perhaps required a bit more calculation. Or Black just preferred winning with the text move.} 45. Rxd2 Rc3 (45... Qxd2 $2 46. Qxf7+ { with a perpetual.}) 46. Rb2 Rxg3+ 47. fxg3 Qf1+ 48. Rg2 Rc2 $19) 45. Rxd4 Nxg3 46. fxg3 (46. Rxf4 Nxh5 {and Black is a full rook up, with the Nc6 next to fall.}) 46... Qf1+ 47. Kh2 Rxc6 48. Qxg5 Rc2+ 49. Rd2 Rxd2+ 50. Qxd2 Rc1 0-1

01 February 2019

Exchange sacrifices (intentional and unintentional)

Unfortunately most of my exchange sacrifices to date have been unintentional ones.  In other words, my opponent is able to win the exchange (a rook for a bishop or knight) because of an oversight on my part, but then I fight on with some positional compensation.  In some cases I can even win (as in Annotated Game #161) by focusing on maximizing the effectiveness of my minor pieces and playing aggressively to target my opponent's weaknesses.  Of course, it's even better to focus on doing that before you're down material.

Deliberate positional exchange sacrifices are a characteristic of master-level games, where the compensation obtained is intentional, with long-term positional and dynamic benefits.  (If it's an exchange sacrifice that leads by force to a mate or material gain, then it's not a "positional" sacrifice and should be thought of more as a combination.)  Although there is always a certain element of guesswork to any sacrifice without forcing winning variations, it's an indication of mastery to be able to identify concrete gains on the board, as well to have an intuitive feel for when an exchange sacrifice is a good (perhaps best) option.  I think pawn sacrifices are a related concept, and I have had a similar experience with them in that regard, although recently I've started to deliberately incorporate sacrificial ideas with pawns into my thinking.

Perhaps the clearest definition and explanation (with well-chosen illustrative examples) that I've seen is "Positional Exchange Sacrifices" by IM David Brodsky over at chess^summit.  This is a topic that gets referred to a lot, but not many people take the time to address it in depth, so it's well worth checking out.

27 January 2019

Training quote of the day #21

The most intelligent inspection of any number of fine paintings will not make the observer a painter, nor will listening to a number of operas make the hearer a musician, but good judges of music and painting may be so formed.  Chess differs from these.  The intelligent perusal of fine games cannot fail to make the reader a better player and a better judge of the play of others.
-- Emanuel Lasker, World Champion 1894-1921
(Cited in The Art of Planning in Chess: Move by Move by GM Neil McDonald) 

Commentary: Tata Steel 2019, Round 1 (Van Foreest - Anand)

As mentioned in my previous game post, I'll again start working in commentary on master-level games to my rotation of training analysis. I think it's useful to alternate that with analysis of your own games, at least to some extent.  Different lessons can be learned, in part because the overall quality of play tends to be (much) higher.  I've found that with master games, often it's analyzing why they didn't play a particular line that is illuminating, in addition to critical turning points in games.

The below game is from round 1 of this year's (still currently ongoing) Tata Steel tournament. I selected it because Anand adopts an aggressive setup as Black in the Caro-Kann Exchange Variation that is deliberately designed to cause interesting dynamic and structural imbalances.  Essentially Black wants to exchange bishops on f5 and thereby open the g-file, while castling queenside.  I find Black's typical ideas to be more straightforward and understandable, although not necessarily easy to execute.  The dark-square weakness and White's space on the queenside serve to counterbalance things and engines give White a small plus out of the opening.  However, in the middlegame White runs out of productive ideas, then critically weakens his own dark squares, after which Black finds a threat using his advanced doubled f-pawn that White cannot handle.  Anand's finish is quite strong and worthy of remembering.

[Event "81st Tata Steel Masters 2019"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee"] [Date "2019.01.12"] [Round "1"] [White "Van Foreest, Jorden"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "2612"] [BlackElo "2773"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "56"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 {the Exchange Variation has been making a comeback at high levels.} Nf6 (4... Nc6 {is the main line, forcing White to play c3 in response.}) 5. c3 {White plays it anyway, which eventually leads to a transposition back to the main line, at least for Black.} Qc7 {placing the queen on c7 this early used to be a quirky sideline. It's now more mainstream, I'm sure in large part due to its practical success. The main idea is straightforward, to take over the b8-h2 diagonal and prevent White from playing Bf4. As the queen wants to go here in most lines anyway, playing it early and preventing White's bishop from seizing the diagonal makes a lot of sense.} 6. h3 {this is seldom played. The evident idea is to take away the use of the g4 square from Black, for either the knight or bishop.} g6 {a new move in this position according to the database, but not a new idea in the Exchange Variation. Black looks like he is fianchettoing his bishop, but in fact the main idea is to play play ...Bf5 and then open the g-file.} 7. Nf3 Bf5 8. Ne5 { White holds off on the bishop exchange and places his knight on the e5 outpost, ready to take back on d3. This also potentially opens up f3 for his queen.} Nc6 {although this position isn't in the database, for Black it's a standard setup in the Exchange Variation. In this game, White is further behind in development than normal, with only two pieces out to Black's four.} 9. Bf4 { now White has essentially caught up, as Black will have to move the queen again either immediately or after an exchange on e5.} Qb6 (9... Nxe5 {it might seem under general principles that exchanging off White's central knight is a good proposition. However, leaving the a4-e8 diagonal open results in a small plus for White. For example, this continuation leaves Black's king in the center:} 10. Bxf5 Nd3+ 11. Bxd3 Qxf4 12. Bb5+ Nd7 13. Bxd7+ Kxd7 14. O-O $14) ( 9... Bxd3 {engines like this move, but it betrays the original idea of the variation.} 10. Nxd3 Qb6 11. O-O {and White has an easy game, while Black is solid but without real prospects.}) 10. Bxf5 gxf5 {this is what Anand was going for with the variation.} 11. Nd3 {this avoids a possible exchange on e5 and protects b2, but is still a backwards move of the same piece in the opening. Moreover, exchanging on e5 or taking on b2 for Black does not look dangerous.} (11. Nd2 Nxe5 (11... Qxb2 $6 {going pawn hunting will leave Black dangerously behind in development.} 12. Rb1 Qxa2 13. O-O Qa6 14. Ra1 Qb5 15. Qf3 $16 {with Rfb1 a threat.}) 12. dxe5 Nd7 13. O-O Rg8 14. Nb3 $14) 11... e6 { the standard consolidating move for Black in this structure.} 12. Nd2 {getting the final minor piece out.} Rg8 {by this point Black has achieved a dynamic equality. He has some longer-term structural weaknesses (including the h7 pawn and dark-square holes) but in return he has dynamic piece play and the half-open g-file.} 13. O-O O-O-O {the only real place to put the Black king, also developing the queenside rook.} 14. a4 {now that Black has committed with his king, White grabs some space on the queenside. This is not dangerous for Black, though, as a4-a5 is not yet possible.} Ne4 {improving this piece considerably, as the most it was doing on f6 was guarding h5. With Black's king tucked away on the queenside, though, that is not critical.} 15. Rc1 (15. Qh5 Rg7 $11) (15. f3 Ng3 16. Rf2 Be7 $11) 15... Bd6 {a case where exchanging minor pieces is clearly indicated for Black. White's dark-square bishop would otherwise help dominate the dark squares, while the Black counterpart has nowhere else as useful to go.} 16. Bxd6 Nxd6 17. b4 {this type of position is important for Caro-Kann players to understand. White's pawn thrusts on the queenside look scary, but Anand deals with them effectively.} Kb8 {taking the king off the c-file and removing it from potential tactics involving the rook opposite it. Also vacates the c8 square for another piece. This is a good example of a move that "doesn't do anything" immediate but is valuable in the long run, with White not having a concrete threat in the meantime.} 18. Qe2 ( 18. a5 Qc7 19. Nc5 Ne4 $11) 18... Qc7 {proactively retreating the queen. It was doing no good on b6 anyway, now it can move along the 7th rank and also is well-positioned on the b8-h2 diagonal.} 19. Qe3 {White with this move basically admits he has nothing on the queenside and tries to generate some action in the center.} Ne7 {improving his weakest piece. On c6 the knight was shut down by White's pawns.} 20. f3 $6 {perhaps attempting to be prophylactic and shut Black's knight out of e4. However, now White has a more serious dark-square weakness, absent his bishop, and it affects the space in front of his king, with g3 and e3 now becoming more vulnerable.} (20. Kh1 {would step away from the g-file and keep the balance.}) 20... Ng6 {Black's knight immediately gets into play. The threat is now f5-f4, as we shall see.} 21. Ne5 $2 {White must have miscalculated the impact of Black's next move.} (21. Kh1 { as in the previous note is more prudent, but Black still gets an edge.} f4 { the pawn is tactically protected, due to a "removal of the guard" being available if White takes with the knight.} 22. Qe1 (22. Nxf4 $2 Nf5 $1 { chasing away the queen and the Nf4's only protection.}) 22... Nf5 23. Rf2 { and White's pieces are awkwardly tied up.}) 21... f4 22. Qe1 Nf5 23. Nxg6 { this just clears the way for Black on the g-file, but White appears to be losing in all variations.} (23. Rf2 {would be analagous to the above variation, but now White has a lot more problems. The Ne5 is vulnerable to ...f6, among other things.} Ngh4 $1 {and White has no good response to Black's threats, including piling up on the g-file and playing ...Ne3.} 24. Nf1 (24. c4 { doesn't gain White anything after} Rc8 $19) (24. Ng4 h5 25. Nf6 Rg6 26. Qe5 Ne3 {and White loses material.}) 24... f6 25. Ng4 h5 26. Ngh2 Rg6 $19 {it's looking grim for White on the g-file and Black also has the ...e5 pawn lever coming.}) 23... Rxg6 24. Rf2 Rdg8 {simple and effective.} 25. c4 (25. Qe5 { exchanging queens won't help White.} Qxe5 26. dxe5 Nh4 $19 {and the g-pawn falls.}) 25... Ne3 {Black correctly ignores the attempt at counterplay on the c-file.} 26. cxd5 Nxg2 {no need to wait for the capture, as White's queen is now also en prise.} 27. Qe5 Qxe5 28. dxe5 Ne1+ {with the fork ...Nd3 to follow. A strong finish to the game by Anand.} 0-1

22 January 2019

Training quote of the day #20

Gukesh is unusual in that he doesn't obsess about his results. He plays every game to win. He tries to be flexible in his opening choices and he studies the classics. He is level-headed enough to know that this aggressive maximal approach is going to lead to losses every so often and he can shrug them off.
...His favourite player is the late Bobby Fischer...In his best games, Gukesh concocts a similar blend of classic positional build-ups coupled with sharp tactics. 
(From the article "Dommaraju Gukesh's journey to becoming India's youngest grandmaster" in the Business Standard)

21 January 2019

Training quote of the day #19

From GM Lev Polugaevsky's Grandmaster Performance:
Some 30 years ago, when I was still a boy, I was given some advice by one of the oldest Soviet chess masters, one of Alexander Alekhine's fellow players back in the 1909 St Petersburg Tournament, Pyotr Romanovsky.  "If you want to play well," he said, "in the first instance study games.  Your own and other peoples'.  Examine them from the viewpoint of the middlegame and the endgame, and only then from the viewpoint of the opening.  This is more important than studying textbooks."
Perhaps such advice is not indisputable, perhaps it will not appeal to everyone, but I accepted and have followed this recommendation all my life.  Of course, on becoming a master, and then a grandmaster, I had to make a detailed acquaintance with opening monographs and with endgame guides, but nevertheless the analysis of games still remains for me the most important thing.


Annotated Game #206: Don't forget your own preparation

In this last-round tournament game, my problems (as Black, in a main line Slav) can be initially traced to forgetting my own preparation.  On move 7 I start believing (incorrectly) that my opponent has played a significant deviation from theory (and therefore could be "punished" for it).  So on move 8 I make a dubious choice.  The line isn't necessarily losing - in the notes you can see that GM Bent Larsen even played it (although he lost that game...) - but it gives my opponent a free positional plus, in a rather imbalanced position (White king in the center, but with a defensive pawn mass and half-open g-file to compensate).  Unfortunately ratings fear and loathing also seemed to play a part in my decision-making process, to no good end.

Despite the favorable position, my opponent shortly gives back the advantage with the loosening 13. f4?! and I aggressively follow up, achieving a tactically winning position by move 19.  At this point a calculation error on my part leads to a "safe" choice, which instead of consolidating the winning advantage takes me into a rook and minor piece endgame, only giving me a pawn for my troubles.  My opponent plays well after this and my own game deteriorates rapidly, in part no doubt due to the psychological letdown, but also due to my failure to recognize the importance of rook activity (the key to success in rook endgames).

Looking back on this tournament, it was generally a disappointment, despite it being the first one where I defeated a Master (and even if only due to a tactical oversight, in Annotated Game #199).  My performance continued to plateau in the middle of the Class B rating range and the quality of my play was generally not satisfactory, being too variable.  Essentially I was both unable to properly convert advantages (as in this game) and made too many poor decisions that overlooked the strength of my opponents' replies.

I'll continue the fundamental practice of looking deeper into my own games for lessons, but I also plan to resume providing Commentary games at the Master level, based on matches of particular interest and relevance.  The ongoing 2019 Tata Steel tournament has provided some excellent recent examples, plus I have a number of other ones I've been saving for personal analysis over the past year or two.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "85"] {[%mdl 8256] D16: Slav Defence: 5 a4: Lines with 5...Bg4 and 5...Na6} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Na6 {the relatively rare Lasker Variation in the mainline Slav. Its main benefit is that it avoids a lot of theory.} 6. e4 Bg4 7. Be3 {normally the c4 pawn is immediately recaptured here, but the move order is not in fact important. However, I erroneously thought my opponent was deviating, contributing to the poor decision on move 8.} e6 8. Bxc4 Bb4 $6 {here I forget my opening preparation and play the wrong piece to b4, being excessively optimistic about my prospects, with vague notions of following up with ...Qa5. I have to think that the ratings difference contributed to this faulty mindset. Now White gets an immediate advantage, with the Na6 out of play and better central control.} (8... Nb4 {is standard and the main idea behind Black's 5th move.}) 9. Qd3 Bxf3 {the best reaction, although the doubled pawns aren't really detrimental to White, who can also think about using the half-open g-file.} 10. gxf3 {simply looking at the state of piece development shows White's advantage, with Black's minor pieces scattered and not cooperating well.} Qa5 (10... Nc7 11. Rg1 Nh5 12. Ke2 g6 13. d5 Bd6 14. dxc6 bxc6 15. Qd4 O-O 16. Rgd1 Bxh2 17. Qxd8 Rfxd8 18. Rxd8+ Rxd8 19. Bxa7 Be5 20. a5 Nf4+ 21. Kf1 Rd2 22. Nd1 Na8 23. Be3 Rd7 24. a6 Kf8 25. Nc3 {Polugaevsky,L (2625)-Larsen,B (2620) Riga 1979 1-0 (39)}) 11. Rg1 g6 {I thought for a while here and decided that blunting White's pressure on the g-file first was important.} ({The immediate} 11... O-O {is favored by Komodo.} ) 12. Ke2 {a natural move, connecting the rooks. White's king is also currently well-protected by his pawn mass.} (12. Kf1 $5 O-O $14 13. Ne2 { would alternatively allow White to bring the knight into action.}) 12... O-O 13. f4 $6 {over-ambitious, as it drops White's king safety and allows my queen to get in the game, instead of languishing on a5.} (13. Na2 $5) 13... Qh5+ $15 {immediately taking advantage of the open h5-d1 diagonal.} 14. Kd2 (14. Kf1 Rad8 15. e5 $15) 14... Nc5 {I thought for some time here as well, deciding to take advantage of the tactical possibilities offered by White's K+Q lined up on the d-file.} (14... Qxh2 $6 {is too greedy, opening up Black's kingside to the White rooks.} 15. e5 Nd5 16. Rh1 Qg2 17. Qe2 $14 {with the threat of Rag1 coming.}) (14... Rad8 {is more direct.}) 15. dxc5 {this is in fact the best choice.} (15. Qe2 $2 Ncxe4+ 16. Kc2 Qxe2+ 17. Bxe2 Nd6 $19 {is probably the simplest path to victory, with Black now a pawn up and White's structure shattered heading into the endgame.}) 15... Rad8 16. Bd4 Bxc5 17. Ne2 $2 { a reasonable-looking defensive move, but it should lose.} (17. Bxf6 {would hold out} Rxd3+ 18. Bxd3 Bxf2 19. Rgf1 Qxh2 20. Ne2 $11 {and the engine considers the position equal. Black no longer can make progress against White's king and my opponent has equivalent material. I'd still prefer playing my position, though.}) 17... Bxd4 $19 18. Nxd4 c5 19. Rg5 Rxd4 $2 {I thought that this lead to a "safe" win, but it is in fact a major calculation error. Any Black queen move that threatens f4 wins, as it would result in a fork of the Kd2 and Rg5.} (19... Qxh2 {is the most straightforward.} 20. Rxc5 Qxf4+ 21. Qe3 (21. Kc2 Qxf2+ $19) (21. Ke1 Nxe4 $19) 21... Nxe4+ 22. Ke2 Qxe3+ 23. Kxe3 Nxc5 $19 {is probably the simplest winning continuation.}) (19... Qh4 20. Rxc5 Qxf4+ {etc.}) 20. Qxd4 cxd4 21. Rxh5 Nxh5 $17 {so instead of winning major material, I'm a just pawn up in a R+B vs. R+N endgame.} 22. f5 e5 {reinforcing d4.} (22... Kg7 {is a safer choice, getting off the g8-h2 diagonal.}) 23. Bd5 Nf4 {this visually looks good, centralizing the knight, but is inaccurate. Either activating the rook - rook activity being paramount in endgames - or breaking up White's pawn formation would be better.} (23... Rd8 $5 24. fxg6 hxg6 25. Rc1 Rd7 $17) (23... Rc8 {is also good.}) (23... gxf5 24. Rg1+ Kh8 25. exf5 Nf6 $17) 24. Rc1 (24. fxg6 hxg6 25. Rc1 Nxd5 26. exd5 Rd8 27. Rc7 Rxd5 28. b4 $15 (28. Rxb7 $6 Ra5)) 24... Nxd5 {betraying a lack of imagination. Better would be to undermine the bishop's pawn support first.} (24... gxf5 $5) 25. exd5 $15 {now we have a pure rook endgame and White's rook is better, giving him some compensation for the pawn.} Rd8 26. f6 {I missed this idea and started to feel a lot of pressure. This was unnecessary, however, as I could have immediately acted to free the king with an h-pawn move.} Kf8 $2 {Black is ruining his position, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} (26... h5 27. Rc7 {at the time, this looked too scary, but it works out in the end for Black. } Rxd5 28. Rc8+ Kh7 29. Rc7 Rd6 30. Rxf7+ Kh6 {and the f6 pawn is doomed.}) 27. Rc7 $18 {White is now winning.} Ke8 {I understood at this point I was in big trouble.} 28. Re7+ {the correct continuation.} (28. Rxb7 $2 {is what I was hoping for.} Rd7 29. Rb8+ Rd8 30. Rxd8+ Kxd8 31. Kd3 $16) 28... Kf8 29. Rxb7 a6 30. d6 $1 {a great move, using my back-rank problems to freeze the Rd8.} Ke8 { everything loses at this point.} 31. Re7+ Kf8 32. Ra7 {still winning, but not optimal.} (32. d7 $18 {would clinch things for White now, as I'm frozen and White can march his king forward.}) 32... Ke8 33. Rxa6 $6 Kd7 $2 (33... Rb8 { again, the principle of rook activity dominates.} 34. Kc2 Kd7 $14) 34. b4 $18 { now White is back on track.} Ke6 35. b5 Rxd6 $2 {desperation.} (35... Rb8 36. Kd3 $18) 36. b6 Kxf6 37. a5 e4 38. Ra7 Rd5 39. b7 Rb5 40. Ra6+ Kg5 (40... Kg7 41. Rb6 Rxa5 42. b8=Q e3+ 43. fxe3 Ra2+ 44. Kd3 Ra3+ 45. Kxd4 Ra4+ 46. Kd3 Ra3+ 47. Ke2 Ra2+ 48. Kf3 Ra5 49. Qd8 Rf5+ 50. Kg3 Kh6 51. Kg4 Kg7 52. Rb8 h5+ 53. Kg3 h4+ 54. Kg4 Rh5 55. Qd4+ Re5 56. Qxe5+ f6 57. Qe7+ Kh6 58. Rh8#) 41. Rb6 e3+ 42. fxe3 dxe3+ 43. Kxe3 (43. Kxe3 Re5+ 44. Kd4 $18) 1-0