29 December 2019

Annotated Game #232: Deja vu, only better

This third-round tournament game started very similarly to the second round one (Annotated Game #231), only my opponent - significantly higher rated - made fewer opening inaccuracies and the quality of the game was better on both sides. It's unusual to get two Whites in a row and I hadn't expected it. I was nonetheless able to immediately apply some lessons from the previous game, also an English vs. Slav setup. I had a clearer understanding of the needs of the position, for example using the superior d3/Nbd2 development instead of Nc3, and then correctly found the plan to push the e-pawn, thanks to the lesson learned from way back in Annotated Game #2.

One consistent problem I have is in identifying my opponent's resources before I make my move, which here led to problems after 15...Nc5 (forcing a bishop for knight exchange) and especially after the blunder on move 20, which simply drops a pawn. I still had a good strategic bind on the position, however, and concentrated on making the best of it, rather than beating myself up for the lost material and opportunity. The rest of the game is a good illustration of how some relatively subtle inaccuracies can be exploited by active piece play, and the power of an advanced passed pawn in cracking your opponent's position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "59"] 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Bf5 {facing another Slav setup.} 5. O-O e6 6. b3 Be7 7. Bb2 O-O 8. d3 {here it is evident that b2 is a much better square for developing the knight than c3} Nbd7 9. Nbd2 h6 {making a retreat square for the bishop on h7} 10. Rc1 Re8 {a reasonable idea, positioning the rook for the longer-term idea of e6-e5 and also vacating f8 for possible occupation by a minor piece.} 11. Re1 {a reasonable waiting move, developing and opposing the rook on the e-file.} (11. Rc2 {is most played here. The idea is to follow up with Qa1 to form a battery on the long diagonal, with Rfc1 also then possible.}) 11... Kh8 $146 {this appears to be just a waste of a tempo. Now I can play e2-e4 and force things in the center, since the bishop on f5 is attacked, giving Black fewer options.} ({Relevant:} 11... Bh7 12. Qc2 Bf8 13. e4 dxe4 14. Nxe4 Nxe4 15. dxe4 Nc5 16. b4 Nd7 17. c5 a5 18. a3 axb4 19. axb4 Qc7 20. Re3 Ra2 21. Bf1 b6 22. Qb3 Raa8 23. cxb6 Qxb6 24. Rc4 Reb8 25. Qd1 Rb7 26. Rd3 Nf6 27. Bxf6 gxf6 28. Qc1 Ra2 29. Rd2 Rxd2 30. Qxd2 Rb8 31. e5 f5 32. Qc1 Rd8 33. Bg2 Rd5 34. h4 c5 35. bxc5 Rxc5 36. Rxc5 Qxc5 37. Qxc5 Bxc5 38. h5 f6 39. exf6 Bd6 40. Nd2 Kf7 41. Nc4 {Aghayev,N (2342)-Mammadova,N (2230) Baku 2016 1/2-1/2}) 12. e4 {a lesson learned from Annotated Game #2: don't be afraid to play e4 in the English!} (12. cxd5 $5 {first, opening the c-file, also looks good.}) 12... dxe4 13. dxe4 $14 Bh7 {the problem with this retreat is that it takes a better square away from the Nf6 for its own retreat.} (13... Bg6) 14. e5 $16 {the key idea. Black is forced to undevelop the knight and White establishes control of the center.} Ng8 15. a3 $6 {too passive. I was looking to prevent ...Bb4, but this is not in fact necessary.} (15. Ne4 $1 Bxe4 (15... Bb4 $6 16. Nd6 $18) 16. Rxe4 Nc5 17. Rd4 $16) 15... Nc5 {Black's best reaction, targeting the d3 square and a potential triple fork.} 16. Bf1 { essentially forced, to exchange the knight landing on d3. The one positive for White here is that the bishop was not doing a lot of good on the long diagonal anyway, so the exchange of minor pieces is not bad in itself.} Nd3 17. Bxd3 Bxd3 (17... Qxd3 $5 {my opponent was apparently reluctant to expose his queen in this manner, although I have no way of targeting it.}) 18. Nd4 $14 {Komodo shows a small advantage to White here. After N2f3, my forces are still better deployed than Black's.} Bh7 $6 {this appears to be a reasonable precaution, but again loses a tempo for Black and allows me to increase the bind on the dark squares.} (18... Bc5 $5 {would activate the bishop.} 19. Ne4 Bxe4 20. Rxe4 $14) 19. c5 $16 {now the Be7 has nowhere useful to go and I can think about landing a knight on d6.} Bf8 20. Nc4 $2 {this was just a blunder, with me being too eager to play to my advantage.} (20. b4 $16) 20... Bxc5 $11 21. b4 { after a blunder, one can either beat oneself up for the rest of the game or proceed as best as possible. After a short period of self-recrimination, I continued to try to press my opponent.} Be7 $6 {Black is still OK after this, but this gives me some ideas to play with on the kingside.} (21... Bf8 { is a better defensive move, leaving the 7th rank open and reinforcing g7.}) 22. Qf3 {targeting the weak f7 square.} Rf8 23. Red1 {played with the game continuation in mind, specifically the move 25-26 variation, which requires a rook on the c-file for the tactic to work.} (23. Rcd1 $5) 23... Qc7 $2 { this allows me to get in the desired Nd6, finally.} (23... Qd5) 24. Nd6 $14 Bxd6 {this gives me a strong passed d-pawn, which becomes decisive.} (24... Bg6 {defending f7 seems better, although Black is still under a lot of pressure.}) 25. exd6 $16 Qd7 (25... Qxd6 $2 26. Nxc6 $1 $18 {and nothing works for Black now, for example} Qc7 27. Ne5 Qe7 28. Rd7) 26. Nb3 {preparing to go to a5 or c5 } Qd8 {anticipating Nc5} 27. Na5 {I thought for a while on the alternative squares and decided that this was a simpler approach, increasing pressure on both b7 and c6.} (27. Nc5 {is preferred by the engine, but is more complicated. } b6 28. Nb7 Qd7 {and now} 29. b5 {is necessary. The winning idea in this variation is the two connected passed pawns on the 6th, which are worth giving up the knight.}) 27... Qb6 {covers both squares, but the queen is now exposed and the d-pawn free to advance.} (27... Rb8 28. Be5 f6 (28... Qd7 29. b5) 29. Bd4 $18) 28. Bd4 Qb5 29. d7 {neither rook can go to d8 without further material loss.} Nf6 {Black's weak kingside and White's domination of the d8 queening square now decide.} (29... Bf5 {is an interesting try.} 30. Rc5 Qa6 31. b5 Qxa5 32. bxc6 $18) 30. Bxf6 1-0

27 December 2019

Video completed - Greatest Games You've Never Seen: A Brilliant Miniature

The "Greatest Games You've Never Seen: A Brilliant Miniature" Chess.com video by Tatev Abrahamyan features Leko-Acs (2002) and is in fact an excellent lesson in attacking and defending the king position, not just a curiosity as a miniature at the GM level. Black comes up with an original knight sacrifice on f3, in front of White's bare king, and White simply cannot rally enough of his forces to avoid mate afterwards. It is devilishly hard to see the full attack through to victory, but Abrahamyan does an excellent job of breaking down the various elements of play and why both White and Black avoided certain moves or ideas. Well worth the 13 minutes for both attackers and defenders looking for ideas.

25 December 2019

How [LogoCzar] became a National Master

Six months ago, I was a blitz specialist and a relatively poor standard player. I consistently practiced chess for years without actively playing in USCF tournaments, allowing me to reach a 2500+ blitz rating on chess.com (typical for FMs) but because I wasn't regularly playing slow games or practicing my calculation, my USCF rating was only in the expert range. After the disaster of a tournament at the National Open, I realized that I couldn't rely only on training that improved my understanding of chess and intuition (especially since it is harder to improve your intuition as an adult), I also had to work on my calculation and my logical thought process.

17 December 2019

Annotated Game #231: Remember to pry open the king position

This second-round tournament game was instructive in terms of both missed and second chances. My opponent adopts a popular Slav Defense formation against my English with a double fianchetto, but neglects his kingside development. One important rule, emphasized for example in Mastering Opening Strategy, is for the side with better development to do whatever it takes to pry open the opponent's king position, if they have neglected castling and you have a development lead. The key opportunity was on move 12, which I did not even consider during the game. I then commit a major strategic error on move 14 by locking the center to Black's benefit, given his space advantage. My opponent gives me a second chance by withdrawing his forces (14...Nb8?) and I immediately take advantage of this by blowing open the center. The remainder of the game is quite tactical, which goes to show how a "positional" flank opening can turn active very quickly.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "65"] 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Bf5 {Black continues to ignore the offer of the c-pawn and plays in the Slav Defense style.} 5. O-O Nbd7 ({Relevant:} 5... e6 6. Qb3 Qb6 7. d3 Nbd7 8. cxd5 Qxb3 9. axb3 exd5 10. Bd2 Bg4 11. Bc3 Bxf3 12. Bxf3 Bd6 13. b4 O-O 14. Nd2 a6 15. Nb3 Rab8 16. Rfe1 Rfd8 17. Rad1 Ne8 18. e4 Nc7 19. e5 Bf8 20. d4 Nb6 21. Kg2 Na4 22. Ra1 Nxc3 23. bxc3 f6 24. exf6 gxf6 25. Be2 Re8 26. Bd3 Rxe1 27. Rxe1 Re8 28. Rd1 Re7 29. f4 Ne8 30. Kf3 Nd6 31. g4 Nb5 32. Bxb5 cxb5 33. h4 Rc7 34. Rd3 b6 35. g5 {Grischuk,A (2766) -Aronian,L (2767) Saint Louis 2018 1-0 (122)}) 6. b3 {it's not hard to see the benefits of having a bishop on the long diagonal. This also protects c4.} h6 { with Black's last two moves - and his next one - I felt he was neglecting his kingside development. The h-pawn advance provides a retreat for the bishop on h7, but at the same time weakens the pawn shield.} 7. Bb2 Qc7 8. Nc3 {White has a number of reasonable moves here. In these structures, though, the knight may be better placed on a different square. Here it blocks the Bb2 and the squares it influences are all under Black control.} (8. cxd5 $5 {is Komodo's favorite. After a d-pawn advance, White can play for Nbd2 and Rc1 and have a comfortable game.}) (8. d3 {is another standard idea, also giving White the option of advancing with e4 and getting more influence in the center.}) 8... e5 $146 {now it's clearly best to take on d5, as otherwise Black gets a strong, mobile pawn center.} ({Predecessor:} 8... dxc4 9. bxc4 e5 10. d4 exd4 11. Nxd4 Bg6 12. e4 Bc5 13. e5 Nxe5 14. Re1 O-O 15. Ndb5 Bxf2+ 16. Kxf2 Neg4+ 17. Kg1 cxb5 18. Nxb5 Qxc4 19. Qe2 Bd3 20. Qd2 Qxb5 21. h3 Qb6+ 22. Kh1 Nf2+ 23. Kh2 Rad8 24. Bxf6 Qxf6 {0-1 (24) Nader,E (2048)-Dia,A Beirut 2004}) 9. cxd5 Nxd5 { this lets me improve my pieces significantly, by exchanging off the not-so-great Nc3 and quickly developing the rook to a nice post on c1.} (9... cxd5 10. Rc1 $14) 10. Nxd5 cxd5 11. Rc1 Qd6 $16 {Komodo already shows a significant advantage here for White. My pieces are more active and have better targets. Meanwhile, Black's kingside is still undeveloped with his king in the center. It's this last feature on which I should have focused my plan. One of the fundamentals of opening strategy is to do whatever is necessary to rip open the position when the opponent's king is in the center.} 12. d4 { safe but not best.} (12. Nh4 {kicks the bishop and allows the f-pawn to advance. Even if Black manages to exchange off queens and blunt the central and kingside pressure, White's rooks and the open c-file will keep an advantage.} Bh7 (12... Be6 13. f4 g5 $5 14. fxg5 hxg5 15. Nf5 $16) 13. f4 $1 e4 (13... Be7 14. fxe5 Qe6 15. e3 Bxh4 16. gxh4 O-O 17. Qf3 Be4 18. Qh3 Bxg2 19. Qxe6 fxe6 20. Rxf8+ Rxf8 21. Kxg2 Rf5 22. Rc7 $16) 14. d3 Nf6 15. dxe4 dxe4 16. f5 Qxd1 17. Rfxd1 $18) 12... e4 $14 13. Ne5 (13. Nh4 $5) 13... Be7 {exchanging on e5 is bad for Black.} (13... Nxe5 $6 14. dxe5 Qe6 15. Qd4 Be7 16. Rfd1 $16) 14. e3 $6 {the wrong idea. White should want to challenge Black's center and dissolve it, not freeze it in place.} (14. f3 O-O 15. fxe4 Bxe4 16. Bxe4 dxe4 17. Qc2 $11) 14... Nb8 $2 {I assume the idea is to redevelop the knight on c6, but it suddenly leaves Black vulnerable in the center and I see the opportunity to play a much improved version of the f2-f3 advance.} (14... O-O $15) 15. f3 O-O 16. fxe4 Bxe4 17. Bxe4 dxe4 18. Qh5 $16 {good enough for a healthy advantage and Komodo's number two choice.} (18. Nxf7 $1 {is found by the engine, a sacrifice that flows from White's domination of the c-file and Black shutting in his queenside pieces.} Rxf7 (18... Qb6 19. Qg4 {and Black has no reasonable defense, thanks to White's d-pawn, bishop on the long diagonal, and soon-to-be exposed king. For example} Rxf7 20. Rc8+ Rf8 21. d5 Qxe3+ 22. Kh1 Qg5 23. Rfxf8+ Bxf8 24. Rxf8+ Kxf8 25. Qc8+ {with mate to come.}) (18... Qg6 19. Ne5 Qe8 20. Qg4 $18) 19. Rc8+ Rf8 20. Rfxf8+ Bxf8 21. Qg4 $18) 18... Bf6 19. Ng4 $6 {reasonable, but there is better.} (19. Nc4 {is tougher for Black to deal with. For example} Qd8 20. Rf2 Nd7 21. Rcf1 $18 {and the Bb2 can get into the game on a3, or if the Bf6 moves, on the long diagonal after d4-d5.}) (19. Rc8 {engine line, based on deflecting the defender of f7 and then maneuvering for a queen fork.} Rxc8 20. Nxf7 Qe7 21. Nxh6+ gxh6 22. Qg4+ Kh7 23. Qxc8 $18) 19... Bg5 {defending against the sac threat on g6.} 20. Kg2 { steps up to protect g3, in anticipation of pushing the h-pawn.} Nd7 21. h4 { again the second engine choice. A good idea, but a better version is} (21. d5 { the pawn is tactically protected and the long diagonal is now open.} Nb6 (21... Qxd5 $2 22. h4 {and Black's Bg5 is won due to the lateral pin against the unguarded Qd5.}) 22. h4 Be7 23. Bf6 $1 {and the bishop can't be taken without dire consequences, for example} Bxf6 $2 24. Rxf6 g6 25. Qxh6 Qxd5 26. Rxb6 $18 {clearing f6 for the knight}) 21... Nf6 22. Nxf6+ Bxf6 23. Qg4 $14 Rfe8 { protecting the pawn, stepping off the a3-f8 diagonal, and clearing a square for the king.} 24. Rc2 Qa6 {this moves the queen further away from the action against the kingside. The prospects of capturing the a-pawn or penetrating at d3 are not good enough to compensate.} (24... Rad8 $5 $14 {with the idea of ... Qd7}) 25. Rcf2 $16 Kh8 $2 {this reasonable-looking move, breaking the g-pawn pin, in fact loses.} 26. Qh5 $18 {again the engine's second choice, but still winning. The threats are d5 and Rxf6.} (26. Rxf6 {is needlessly complicated for a human.}) 26... Re6 {preventing the capture on f6, but now the d-pawn advance decides the game.} (26... Rac8 27. Rxf6 gxf6 28. Rf2 {this would have been tricky to find at the board. The point is to protect the second rank before continuing the attack. Black cannot improve his position in response.} ( 28. Qxh6+ {is what I was looking at, but Black can defend.} Kg8 29. Rxf6 Rc2+ 30. Kh3 Re6 31. Qg5+ Kf8 32. Rf4 Rxb2 33. d5 Rd6 34. Qe5 $16) 28... Qd6 29. Qxh6+ Kg8 30. d5 $18) 27. d5 $18 Rd6 28. Bxf6 Rxf6 29. Rxf6 gxf6 30. Qxh6+ Kg8 31. Rxf6 Qxa2+ 32. Kh3 Rc8 33. Rf5 {with mate to come.} 1-0

08 December 2019

Annotated Game #230: Bishop vs. Queen

This next, first-round tournament game illustrates the practical value of tenacity in achieving results. My opponent varies from normal Caro-Kann Panov lines with 7. Be2, which is however a solid move. I play the opening well, but start going wrong on move 15, heading into a queenless middlegame, by mis-evaluating the results of a piece exchange. Following that, neither of us really understand how to deal with the pawn structure on the queenside, but I make the last mistake and end up an exchange down with no compensation by move 21.

The ensuing struggle of R+B vs. 2 rooks turns complicated and I miss the correct drawing line on move 36. However, my active play still provided counterchances and I end up with a bishop and 3 pawns versus White's new queen, which proved frustrating enough to secure the draw. An unorthodox way to fight back, but a practical success.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B14"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "98"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nf3 Be7 7. Be2 {an uncommon but solid move.} O-O 8. O-O Nc6 (8... dxc4 $5) 9. c5 b6 10. Bb5 Bb7 ( 10... Bd7) 11. Bxc6 Bxc6 12. b4 Ne4 {it's good to play actively here.} 13. Ne5 (13. Nxe4 dxe4 14. Ne5 Bd5 {and Black is comfortable with the strong bishop, the doubled e-pawn being more of a help than a hindrance.}) 13... Nxc3 $15 { correctly continuing with active play.} 14. Nxc6 Nxd1 15. Nxd8 Rfxd8 $6 (15... Nc3 {preserves the knight, which is better than its White counterpart.} 16. Nc6 Ne2+ 17. Kh1 Bf6 $15 {The White knight looks menacing on c6, leading the pawn formation, but in fact has nowhere to go.}) 16. Rxd1 a5 $6 {with the next sequence, it becomes clear that neither of us know how to properly handle the queenside structure.} 17. bxa5 $6 (17. b5 bxc5 18. Ba3 $14 {this ability of White to force a recapture on c5 is what I missed, as it pins the c-pawn against the Be7.}) 17... Rxa5 $2 {here I am too afraid of the c-pawn, but inadvertently empower it using the rook to recapture and leaving the b6 pawn en prise. Capturing (but not recapturing on a5) with the pawn is perfectly fine and also eliminates some White tactics based on the a3-f8 diagonal.} ( 17... bxc5 $1 18. dxc5 (18. Ba3 $6 Rxa5 {now the rook capture makes sense} 19. Bxc5 Bxc5 20. dxc5 Rxc5 $17) 18... Rxa5 $17) 18. cxb6 $6 (18. Bf4 {now tactically punishes the pawn capture on c5, although Black has no better option.} bxc5 (18... Rd7 19. cxb6 $16) 19. Bc7 Rda8 20. Bxa5 Rxa5 21. dxc5 Bxc5 $16) 18... Rb8 $2 (18... Rb5 $11) 19. Bf4 $1 $18 {my opponent now sees this idea, which tactically ties me in knots, given the possibility of Bc7 and a skewer on the d8-a5 diagonal. However, there is nothing better, given the power of the advanced passed b-pawn, so I am forced to sacrifice the exchange.} Rxb6 (19... Rb7 20. a4 $18 {and the Ra5 can now be driven back, followed by a4-a5, which is winning for White.}) 20. Bc7 Rba6 21. Bxa5 $18 Rxa5 {Black has no compensation for the exchange. However, I did not give up on drawing chances, since my R+B combination can fight to restrain the a-pawn, and my structure otherwise is solid.} 22. a4 g6 23. Kf1 Kg7 24. Ke2 Bb4 25. Kd3 { my opponent is correctly bringing his king into the fight. Meanwhile, I am working to restrain it.} Ra7 {vacating the a5 square for the bishop and covering the 7th rank.} 26. Rdb1 Ba5 27. Rb5 Bd8 $6 {the bishop should continue blocking the pawn.} (27... h5 $5) 28. Kc3 (28. a5 {is more to the point.}) 28... Bf6 {my idea was to tie to the king to the defense of the d4 pawn. This is not a bad idea, although White can simply accept this fact and ram the a-pawn through eventually. However, in practice it is not so simple, as I can get counterplay without careful precautions by White.} 29. a5 Rc7+ 30. Kd3 Rc4 31. a6 $2 {this underestimates Black's counterplay.} Rxd4+ 32. Kc2 $14 Rc4+ 33. Kb3 Rc3+ {White has to somehow seek shelter from the rook while not losing material, for example the Ra1. The advanced a-pawn means that I must be careful about taking material, however, and can only do it if it helps with my goal of perpetual attack on White's king.} 34. Ka2 Rc6 {again not giving White time to consolidate.} 35. Ra5 Bxa1 {I had sufficient time to think this through and conclude that it led to a draw.} 36. a7 Bd4 $2 {this, however, is not the drawing line.} (36... Rc8 $1 37. Kxa1 (37. a8=Q Rxa8 38. Rxa8 Bd4 { with a comfortable draw for Black.}) 37... Ra8 38. Kb2 Kf6 39. Kb3 Ke5 40. Kb4 Ke4 {is the trick, keeping the balance with counterplay. Black's king can be shut out of the queenside by White's, unfortunately, but the passed d-pawn counterbalances this.}) 37. a8=Q $18 Rc2+ 38. Kb1 Rb2+ 39. Kc1 Rxf2 40. Ra2 Rxa2 {I judged that making my opponent prove the superiority of a queen to a bishop plus three pawns was my best practical chance.} 41. Qxa2 Bf6 42. Kc2 d4 (42... Be5 $5 {Komodo calculates that Black is better off not moving the central pawns and just making moves with the bishop, perhaps with ...h5 thrown in.}) 43. Kd3 e5 44. g4 Bg5 45. Qa6 h5 $2 {giving White the chance to open lines with a queen on the board is not the right idea. Specifically, this also will allow the king to penetrate via f5 after a pawn exchange.} (45... Be3) 46. h3 (46. gxh5 gxh5 47. Ke4) 46... hxg4 47. hxg4 Bf4 48. Qc6 Bg5 49. Qf3 f6 $2 { again opening lines unnecessarily, in this case the 7th rank, but my opponent was tired of trying to crack my position and offered a draw.} (49... Bf4) 1/2-1/2

Training quote of the day #28: Viktor Moskalenko

From Training with Moska by GM Viktor Moskalenko:
'My favorite piece is the one that wins' - Bobby Fischer
The value of a piece changes during a game, as it always depends on its placement on the board. On the other hand, the level of any player always depends on his knowledge and understanding of the properties of pieces, pawns and squares.

05 December 2019

Commentary: 2018 US Championship, Round 1 (Onischuk - Akobian)

As part of my opening and general chess studies, I save professional/master-level games that I run across with direct relevance to my opening repertoire. Even if they aren't in exactly the same variations that I may use, the ideas and high-level play in these games repay the time invested in analyzing and studying them. It's been a while since I formally did a commentary game, but I expect to continue mixing them in with my own analyzed games. Both PGN annotated game collections are kept up-to-date and available for download via the sidebar links.

This next commentary game features a Dutch Stonewall from round 1 of the 2018 US Championship, between veteran GMs Alexander Onischuk and Varuzhan Akobian. Their play highlights a number of useful themes in the Stonewall, middlegame and endgame, including:
  • The idea of dissolving the Stonewall center and its consequences, especially the need for active central play.
  • Black's positional exchange sacrifice, for which he gets the center and a strong advanced passed pawn as compensation.
  • The strength of that central advanced passed pawn, which eventually decides the game
  • Akobian's practical decisions to simplify play to a less advantageous position, but one that is more easily played, rather than go in for additional complications.
It's an entertaining and instructive game, which among other things shows how the Stonewall can in fact lead to varied, active positions rather than stereotyped closed ones.

[Event "US-ch Men 2018"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2018.04.18"] [Round "1"] [White "Onischuk, Alexander"] [Black "Akobian, Varuzhan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A90"] [WhiteElo "2672"] [BlackElo "2647"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "50"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. d4 e6 2. c4 f5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 d5 5. Bg2 c6 6. Nh3 {an interesting side variation in the Stonewall. White normally looks to dominate and place a minor piece on f4, while happening to restrain ...g5 in the process.} Bd6 {this is the standard Modern Stonewall placement of the bishop. Black must be alert to not playing into White's plans for the Nh3 however, for example by exchanging bishops on f4.} 7. O-O O-O 8. Qc2 dxc4 {transforming the center and initiating complications.} (8... Na6 $5 {scores best in the database, although only based off three games, all of which were in the 1990s. It is also Komodo's preference. In all cases, it was followed by ...dxc4. The text move appears to be the modern choice, dispensing with the knight development, although the last occurrence was played some four years before this game.}) 9. e4 {White needs to play actively in response and strikes back in the center, now that the d-pawn no longer influences e4. The immediate threat is e4-e5.} e5 {blocks White's forking threat and challenges for the center.} 10. exf5 exd4 ( 10... Na6 {is the engine choice, getting another piece developed and eyeing the b4 square.} 11. dxe5 Bxe5 12. Qe2 Qc7 13. Bf4 Bxf4 14. Qxc4+ Kh8 15. Nxf4 Bxf5 $14) 11. Ne2 c5 $146 {choosing to protect the d-pawn over the c-pawn.} ( 11... d3 $2 12. Qxc4+ $16) (11... b5 {was previously played.} 12. Nxd4 Qb6 13. Ne6 Bxe6 14. fxe6 Na6 15. Ng5 Rae8 16. Be4 Nxe4 17. Qxe4 g6 18. Nf7 Nc7 19. Nxd6 Rxe6 20. Be3 c5 21. Nxc4 Rxe4 22. Nxb6 axb6 23. Rfd1 b4 24. Rd7 Rf7 25. Rad1 Nb5 26. Rd8+ Kg7 27. Rb8 Re6 28. Rdd8 Nd4 29. h4 Nf5 30. Bg5 Nh6 31. Rd2 Ng4 32. Bd8 Ne5 33. Re2 Nf3+ 34. Kf1 Nh2+ 35. Ke1 Nf3+ 36. Kf1 Rd6 37. Bxb6 Rd1+ 38. Kg2 Rg1+ 39. Kh3 Rh1+ 40. Kg2 Rg1+ 41. Kh3 Rc1 42. Kg2 c4 43. Re3 Rg1+ 44. Kh3 Rh1+ 45. Kg2 Rg1+ 46. Kh3 Rh1+ 47. Kg2 Rh2+ 48. Kf1 Rh1+ 49. Kg2 Rh2+ 50. Kf1 Rh1+ {1/2-1/2 (50) De Jong,J (2424)-Ulybin,M (2538) Alghero 2011}) 12. Qxc4+ Kh8 13. Ng5 $6 {White misses the chance to immediately undermine Black's center.} (13. b4 $5) 13... Nc6 $11 {defending against the b-pawn advance.} 14. Bf4 {although there is no longer a Nh3, the Ne2 plays a similar role in supporting the bishop on f4. White does not attempt to protect the f5 pawn, which would be too awkward.} (14. Nf7+ {seems like a good move, winning the exchange, but is passed up by Onischuk. None of the engines like it either, showing equality at best for White.} Rxf7 15. Qxf7 Ne5 16. Qb3 Rb8 {and Black has full compensation for the exchange with the protected passed d-pawn, 4-2 mobile queenside pawn majority, and active piece placement. White's doubled f-pawn is also a weakness.}) 14... Bxf5 15. Nf7+ {now White goes for the exchange, with similar results to the above variation. There is not much of a choice, however, since Black otherwise is just a pawn up.} Rxf7 16. Qxf7 Rb8 ( 16... d3 $5 {is recommended by both Komodo and Stockfish, showing full equality. Perhaps Akobian did not want to enter the complications afterwards; the text move simplifies the position and is more predictable to play. The idea is put into practice shortly, in any case.}) (16... Ne5 $2 {as in the above variation no longer works, as there is no Bc8 now and the b-pawn is hanging.}) 17. Bxc6 bxc6 18. Rfe1 d3 (18... Rxb2 $2 {is avoided by Akobian, who no doubt spotted the response by White to sacrifice on d4 and open up the e-file for the Re1. This type of response is likely to be missed by Class players, who would focus on grabbing the pawn and assume that the d-pawn is still well-protected, without further evaluation.} 19. Nxd4 $1 {the point is that Black is forced to deal with the knight, which is attacking the Bf5 and c6, while White also creates threats involving the e-file.} cxd4 20. Bxd6 $18 { this is White's ultimate idea, which works due to Black's back-rank problem.} Bg6 (20... Qxd6 $2 21. Re8+) 21. Qe7 Qxe7 22. Rxe7 d3 23. Be5 Rb5 24. Rd1 $18) 19. Bxd6 $2 {without the e-file open, this idea no longer works for White.} ( 19. Rad1 {was necessary.}) 19... Qxd6 $15 20. Nc3 d2 21. Re7 {Black is vulnerable on the 7th rank here, rather than the 8th rank, so the position is defendable.} Rg8 22. Rxa7 $6 {Onischuk evidently felt that he had time to snatch the pawn, perhaps with the goal of advancing the a-pawn. However, this gives an extra tempo to Black, whose own passed pawn is much farther along on d2.} (22. Rd1) 22... Bg4 (22... Qd3 {is the engine recommendation, powerfully centralizing the queen. This does multiple things, including allowing the advance of the c5 pawn, threatening to penetrate via c2, and forcing White to worry about his airy king position.}) 23. Qe7 (23. Re7 $15) 23... Qxe7 { as before, Akobian goes for a simpler position with less of an objective advantage. This is a common practical decision, especially taking into account things like fatigue and time management.} (23... Qb8 {is the engine recommendation. For example, if} 24. Rb7 Qc8 25. Rc7 Qf5 26. Rxc6 Bf3 $19) 24. Rxe7 $15 Nd5 {the only move for Black. Now the pawn threatens to queen, since Black is in a position to remove the Nc3 and White's Re7 cannot get to the d-file to defend.} 25. Re2 $2 (25. f3 {is the only saving move for White.} Bxf3 {deflecting the bishop from covering d7.} 26. Rd7) (25. Nxd5 cxd5 $19 {and White loses material after an eventual d1(Q).}) 25... d1=Q+ $1 0-1

27 November 2019

Video completed - Foxy vol. 135: The Stonewall and Colle-Zukertort Systems

I recently completed the Foxy vol. 135 (e-DVD edition) of "Queen Pawn System: Stonewall & Colle-Zukertort" by IM Andrew Martin. The Foxy video series are older (non-HD) video presentations that don't offer the interactivity or extras of newer computer products, so are basically equivalent to a recorded lecture.

Martin makes no great claims about these systems, instead repeatedly emphasizing their playability and practical effectiveness at "club level", where Black players are unlikely to be familiar with the right plans and also lack obvious opportunities for early counterplay. With the adoption of the Stonewall Attack - what Martin calls an "antique variation" since its heyday was around the beginning of the 20th century - the White player deliberately slows down the game's pace, deprives Black of tactical opportunities in the opening, and can generate some early kingside attacking threats if Black is not careful.

Below is a summary outline of the DVD contents, which run a total of two hours. After an introductory segment from Martin, there are 17 example games presented, with Martin providing light commentary and occasionally some alternative recommendations for White.

The sum of the example games and explanations provides a more or less complete White repertoire, with a couple of different options in different places. Martin is correct in also stressing ideas over specific variations during the presentations, especially since there are a lot of different move-order possibilities to reach these positions. The Stonewall Attack and Colle-Zukertort structures are not just old ideas, though, as searching on these database positions will pull up a number of examples at GM/professional level that are contemporary. The DVD has content through around 2011, so anyone looking to construct or augment a White repertoire should make the effort to find some newer model games, for other examples and ideas.


Introduction: White systems based on 1.d4 followed by 2. e3. These include three broad categories:
  • Stonewall Attack vs. Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) and related Black setups with ...d5
  • Colle-Zukertort (with a delayed or omitted f4) vs. Queen's Indian Defense (QID) or similar Black setups without ...d5
  • Rapid queenside expansion plan with Nf3/Be2 development vs King's Indian Defense (KID) setup
Game 1: Standard Stonewall Attack White setup (Stonewall pawn formation c3-d4-e3-f4, Bd3, Nd2, Ne5, Qf3) vs. QGD; game is from a 2002 Cuban tournament
  • Explores Black inaccuracies
  • White idea is to mount an early kingside attack, with option of castling queenside when there is no Black counterplay there
Game 2: Black QGD setup with blocked center (c5-c4) from 1998 Asian Championship
  • Removal of central pawn tension enables idea of White playing e4 to undermine Black's center
  • Again shows how White can maneuver to take advantage of planless Black play
Game 3: Black QGD setup with ...b6 to develop the queen bishop; technically a Colle-Zukertort with a delayed f4. (Nikitina-Fedotova, 2011 Sterlitamak Open)
  • Notably features White piece development with b3/Bb2, analogous to Modern Stonewall queenside fianchetto
Game 4: Kramnik - Deep Junior (2000 Dortmund Exhibition); Stonewall Attack against QGD with ...c5
  • Kramnik uses an old anti-computer strategy, with Deep Junior (2700+ at the time) not able to recognize the long-term attacking potential of White's setup
  • Computer plays an early 7...Ng4?! sally to attack e3, which is parried by Qe2 and delayed castling 
  • White features play on the g and h files, also eventual queenside castling to bring the second rook into play; again, no Black counterplay on queenside
  • Kramnik is familiar with the Dutch Stonewall from his training with Mark Dvoretsky, so understands the positional ideas deeply
Game 5: Black plays ...g6/Bg7 after 3. Bd3 (Parr-Broadbent 1946 British Championship)
  • Standard White Stonewall Attack setup, followed by h4/g4 advance
  • Relentless attacking play by White suitable for club level, according to Martin
Game 6: Early 2...Bf5 by Black (Liang-Shen, 2010 All China Games)
  • Martin's recommendation is to play c4, followed by Qb3, to target b7; 
  • White plan is to exchange pawns on d5, followed by Nc3 and Qb3 
  • Martin's suggestion is to go for winning the two bishops by Nf3-h4, if the Black Bf5 can't get away
Game 7: Early 2...Bf5 with an early White Qb3, results in queenless maneuvering middlegame (Abdullah - Shaw, 2008 Dresden Olympiad) 

Game 8: "Book Antidote #1": 3...Bg4 (Wall-Olbrich, Bundesliga 2001)  
  • Recommended for Black by Martin in previous QP openings video
  • White reacts by playing f3 and c4, followed by Nc3/Ne2 development, then b3/Bb2
  • White Knight can go to f4, king can go to f2 as needed
Game 9: "Book Antidote #2": 3...Nc6 threatening to follow up with ...e5 or ...Nb4 (Rubinstein-Reti, Vienna 1908; Marshall - Suctung also cited)
  • Martin recommends proceeding with Stonewall formation, preventing ...e5
  • Continue development with Nf3, allow minor piece exchange and pawn recapture on d3 to cover e4, then play Nc3
  • Rf3-h3 rook lift idea, combined with standard Stonewall queen bishop maneuver over to kingside
Game 10: QID setup (Temnekov-Morisov, 2008 Russia) versus Stonewall Attack
  • By delaying ...d5, Black prevents usual Ne5 ideas, with ...d6 in reserve
  • However, allows for White idea of Qe2 followed by e4
  • White continues to grab space with a3/b4
  • Once rest of board is locked up, White can look to break on the kingside, but is not in a rush
Game 11: Colle-Zukertort move order (Alekhine-Del Turco, Zurich 1934)
  • Leads to favorable version of Stonewall, after Nf3-e5 and f2-f4
  • White has alert play on queenside with c2-c4 at the right moment, along with threats to open up long diagonal for the Bb2
Game 12: QID vs Colle-Zukertort (Bogdanovich-Lehman, Munich 1996)
  • Less loose (because no initial f4) than Game 10 system
  • White plays Qf3 and then e4, with queen moving to h3 after exchange on e4
  • No f4 played, more of a central focus
Game 13: Early ...g6 / KID setup (Kovacevic-Zufic)
  • White needs to find an alternative to Bd3 development, according to Martin, so goes Nf3/Be2, continuing with c4 and Nc3
  • Recommended plan is for queenside pawn expansion, which was started with a4 in the game
  • Need to find a place for the dark-square bishop development; default is to leave it on c1 to protect e3, unless specific opportunities/targets appear on the other available diagonals
  • Prophylactic play shuts down a kingside attack from Black, after dominance established by White on queenside and center
Game 14: KID setup; (Piskov-De Jong, 2006 Hoogeveen tournament)
  • Early b3 (before c4); Martin prefers to play b2-b4 in one go
  • Queenside expansion plan
Game 15: Gruenfeld setup; (Savechenko-Baramidze, 2000 Sparkassen Open)
  • White uses Nf3/Be2 development, followed by b3/Bb2, delaying or omtting c4
  • Ne5 is now available again, now that Black has played ...d5
  • Kingside attack after center is blocked
  • Exchange sacrifice opens up center after extended maneuvering
Game 16: Gruenfeld setup with ...c5 (Del Rio de Angelis-Suarez Uriel, Madrid 2010)
  • b3/Bb2 development again; follow up with Nbd2 and c2-c4; look to occupy e5 with a knight
  • White ends up with a c/d hanging pawns structure; defends them, then uses h-pawn advance 
Game 17: KID setup (Zwaig-Poutiainen, Team 6 Nations, 1973)
  • White plays early Qc2 after c4; Martin recommends continuing with b4 immediately
  • After a/b pawn pushes, White plays Nd5 to exchange off the key Black Nf6
  • White relies on c-file pressure and queenside play to break through, sacrificing a knight on c6 after a b-pawn advance

23 November 2019

Perpetual Chess

I've recently started listening to a high-quality podcast, Perpetual Chess, which has chess improvement as one of its central themes. It's US-based and features both professional and amateur US players - including past US champions such as GM Gata Kamsky and IM Nazi Paikidze - but also has a number of international guests on it at the GM/IM level, including notables such as GM Jonathan Rowson, GM Jacob Aagaard, IM Tania Sachdev, and many more.

What drew me most to it, though, are the "Adult Improver" episodes featuring people who have been making significant progress as adults, at both the Master and Class level. Of course there are a number of other very interesting and relevant interviews at the professional level, and the episode notes give a detailed preview of the topics, which I find very helpful. There should be something useful for any chess enthusiast in the interview list.

21 November 2019

Video completed - Pro Analysis With Alexandra & Danya: Time In The Opening

I recently completed the first in a new video series on Chess.com from WFM Alexandra Botez and GM Daniel Naroditsky, "Pro Analysis With Alexandra & Danya: Time In The Opening". Like other ones that are good for finishing in one sitting, it is around 15 minutes in length and focuses on a main theme, with a few key game examples.

In this video, there are three different late opening / early middlegame positions looked at from the White perspective - one each from 1.e4, 1.d4 and Reti openings. Botez in each case starts with a summary of what she sees in the position at the Expert level, including positional characteristics and some specific plausible candidate moves. Naroditsky then validates the positional elements and goes deeper into the keys to the position, in terms of both general considerations and specific tactics.

This type of live thinking process discussion, which looks at general principles, positional characteristics and tactical possibilities, I find particularly instructive. It illustrates how one needs to think beyond surface-level possibilities to really find the positional and tactical keys to a position and develop a suitable plan. The first example, taken from a Smyslov game, was particularly illustrative of this process. He (as White) enjoyed a lead in development and his opponent's king was in the center, which brings up the general principle of doing whatever is possible to take advantage of that before the king can castle. The actual breakthrough, however, only came by identifying a non-obvious weakness on the queenside and exploiting it using what appears to be a quiet queen move, which sets up some sacrificial tactics.

Botez and Naroditsky have good pace and clarity in their discussion, which makes it easy to follow and absorb, and the technical quality is high. I look forward to additional videos as they come out in the series. 

FT: Tom Morton-Smith on dramatising the ‘chess match of the century’

The Financial Times periodically covers chess topics in a thoughtful way and just put out an article on a new theatre production in London, entitled Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer, that centers on the 1972 Fischer-Spassky world championship match. All of the actual games are reportedly included in some fashion, so it sounds like a more serious effort than many pop culture depictions of chess.

Link to the FT article

20 November 2019

Chess imagery in popular culture

From Captain America: Civil War
In a short detour from the usual topics, I'd like to take a moment to explore (and deplore) the often annoying and occasionally truly awful depictions of chess in pop culture - including movies, TV productions, advertisements, and the like. Chess has an intellectual and often-times sophisticated image associated with it, although of course this is not always the case in real life. It's when things just appear wrong that it becomes annoying (or sometimes funny) to any chessplayer with a true love of the game.

The most frequent error - based on a lifetime amount of (unscientific) observation - is setting up the board wrong. It seems that the vast majority of the time I've seen a chess board on screen, it's not correct - something which should take a production assistant maybe a few seconds to verify, especially in the smartphone era. The two most common problems are the initial position of the pieces - often the King and Queen are switched - or when the board is turned 90 degrees, with colors reversed (the lower right square being dark rather than light).

Here's one of the top Shutterstock chess images, which demonstrates the first sin, reversing the king and queen:

An example of the latter sin, wrong board orientation/colors, can be seen in the lead pic of this post, taken from the blockbuster-budgeted Captain America: Civil War. At least the wood board and set are very aesthetic-looking and high end, with the pieces set up in correct order. It's a relatively subtle error, but I suppose it still doesn't bode well for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and her allies that they can't set up their chessboard right.

Another cringeworthy (and more blatant) example of this is in the TED-Ed "A brief history of chess" video, which is intended to educate its audience about chess:

It's also relatively common to see random positions that could never happen in a real game, are illegal, or impossible things like multiple same-color bishops or pawns on your first rank. Those of us who recognize these gaffes may inadvertently laugh out loud, causing our non-chessplaying companions to wonder what is going on. This can be slightly embarrassing in, say, a business meeting, but it's really not our fault, is it?

Business presentations are in fact an egregiously common example of chess-related blunders. I suppose consultants and others want to make dramatic and smart-looking statements, but they often just look silly. For example:
Like knocking over your opponent's king with your rook?
The above at least might show a real position, although it's not entirely clear from the visual. The below is worse, as the source article (from a chess-related domain, in fact) is about chess and business analysis, but it illustrates the idea with a randomly thrown-together board. This doesn't exactly convey an image of competence and deep understanding:
From https://www.ichess.net/blog/chess-and-business-analysis/

Some relief from the awfulness

To provide at least some contrast, my favorite chess depiction (if not completely accurate), far and away, is the opening scene in the Bond movie From Russia With Love (1963). It shows a slightly modified position from Spassky-Bronstein, 1960. (You can tell it's from the 1960s by the ticking chess clocks and the fact you can smoke at the board.)

The Chess.com article on it is very thorough and one of the comments points out that the extended analysis based on the movie's game position has a flaw. Oh well.

Two other movies that get the feeling and most (if not all) of the details right:
  • The Luzhin Defense (2000), based on the Vladimir Nabokov novel. There is one major game inaccuracy depicted, according to the linked article, although the finale's combination sequence is correct.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Dave plays White; based on the position shown, he is not really very good, and of course loses to Hal 9000.)

19 November 2019

Annotated Game #229: Maneuvering in a (White) Hedgehog

This final-round tournament game was a little wobbly, but I managed to pull myself together after the downward trend in the previous two games and hold the draw in the endgame. I wasn't in the mood for an active, attacking game and the opening (an English) was a little quieter than normal. I end up in a Hedgehog formation, with pawns on the third rank and a slightly cramped and passive position, but one that is difficult to break. This sort of game requires plans based on piece maneuvering and it is instructive to see how my choices almost got me in serious trouble, as my opponent did a better job of following the needs of the position. However, he eventually lets me off the hook on the d-file with some exchanges and the endgame is fully equal after that. I was fine with this and happy to complete the tournament. My final performance was a little below the 1800 mark, but this wasn't enough to drag my rating down below Class A, which meant that I had passed (barely) my first test of holding onto my new Class level.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "77"] {A13: English Opening: 1...e6} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 Nf6 4. Bb2 Be7 5. e3 O-O 6. Be2 b6 7. O-O Bb7 8. d3 (8. cxd5 $5 {here or earlier is a different way to play, reducing the central tension.}) 8... c5 9. Nbd2 {with this formation, White plays more of a waiting game in the center, while the Nd2 is flexible.} Nc6 10. cxd5 (10. a3 {is by far the most often played in the database. This takes the b4 square away from the knight and continues the waiting game.}) (10. Ne5 $5 {is an interesting idea, welcoming an exchange of Black's well-placed Nc6.}) 10... Nxd5 11. a3 {White now has a Hedgehog formation, which is often what is aimed for with the d3/Nbd2 and Bb2 development. Black has more space, but the Hedgehog is hard to crack.} Bf6 12. Qc2 {giving White a tempo to get his queen off the first rank, thereby connecting the rooks, and to occupy the long diagonal if Black exchanges on b2.} Bxb2 13. Qxb2 Qf6 14. Qxf6 { essentially forced} Nxf6 {the position now looks rather drawish, but it is important not to become complacent. White's rooks need to get into the action now.} 15. Nc4 $146 (15. Rfc1 {is most played here. For example} Rfd8 16. Nc4 Kf8 17. Nfe5 Nxe5 18. Nxe5 Nd7 19. Nxd7+ Rxd7 20. b4 cxb4 21. axb4 Rc8 22. Re1 Bd5 23. d4 Rc2 24. Bd3 {1/2-1/2 (24) Kaenel,H (2452)-Gurieli,N (2373) Bern 2000 }) 15... Rfd8 16. Rfd1 Rac8 17. Rac1 Nd5 {Black does not have much more that he can do at this point. Here, however, I start some ill-advised maneuvers.} 18. Ncd2 {one of the problems with this is that it interferes with the protection of the d-pawn by the Rd1, as Black immediately notes.} (18. Nfe5 { is a much more active choice, reducing Black's piece presence in the center and therefore threats.} Nxe5 19. Nxe5 $11) 18... Ba6 19. Ne4 {I've spent two moves putting the knight here, where it is not any better posted than on c4 and is probably worse, since from there it helped control e5.} e5 (19... f5 20. Nc3 Nxc3 21. Rxc3 e5 $15 {is an improved version of the idea for Black.}) 20. Nc3 $6 {now Black gets in the knight exchange without having to play ...f5 first.} (20. g4 {preventing f7-f5} f6 $11) 20... Nxc3 $15 21. Rxc3 {Black is doing a good job of making my position more awkward and under pressure, but as of yet there are still no real threats. His next move increases the pressure, however.} e4 {unfortunately I can't simply take the pawn, due to the hanging Be2.} 22. Ng5 (22. Ne1 {ugly but a good defensive move, reinforcing d3.}) 22... exd3 $11 {this lets me off the hook in the center.} (22... f5 $5 $15 {would keep the tension.}) 23. Bxd3 Bxd3 24. Rcxd3 Rxd3 25. Rxd3 {at this point I was confident I could hold the draw. Black has a slight advantage with the 3-2 queenside majority, but my pieces can restrain it.} Rd8 {this simplifies the task for me.} 26. Rxd8+ Nxd8 {A knight endgame occured, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. The draw is much more clear now, as long as I activate my king.} 27. Ne4 Ne6 28. a4 {this is unnecessary.} (28. Kf1 {best to just get on with centralizing my king.}) 28... a6 29. Nc3 {this active knight combines well with the a-pawn to restrain Black's b5 advance.} Nc7 30. Kf1 Kf8 31. Ke2 Ke7 32. Kd3 b5 33. Ne4 Ne6 (33... c4+ $6 34. bxc4 bxa4 35. Kc3 $14) 34. f4 (34. f3 {is more solid.}) 34... f5 35. Nc3 Nc7 36. e4 g6 37. e5 {now I felt completely fine with the endgame, as Black can't just concentrate on the queenside, but will have to guard the territory in front of the protected, passed e-pawn.} Ke6 38. g3 Ke7 39. Ke3 {essentially a draw offer, waiting for Black to see that there was no way to make progress.} 1/2-1/2

16 November 2019

Annotated Game #228: Offsides knight, or what was the plan again?

This next game continued the downward tournament trajectory, which had started with a relatively clean game and win in the first round (Annotated Game #225), followed by a shaky win, followed by a shaky draw. The below is a rapid loss in a Classical Caro-Kann, which really shouldn't happen, but is instructive to see. White plays solidly and deviates in the opening, a situation highlighted in "Common opening repertoire pitfalls" - in fact, I had this game in mind as a prime example.

I do well in responding as Black through move 12, finding appropriate development for my pieces that both takes into account and takes advantage of White's play. Once I am faced with finding a plan on move 13, however, instead of the thematic ...c5 break I choose to simply exchange off my opponent's pieces. Mindless exchanging is a common error of Class players and in this case it simply improves my opponent's position while denuding my kingside of defenders. The most egregious fault, however, is placing my knight on b6, where it stays offsides for the remainder of the (short) game. I think that Caro-Kann players need to be very careful about any ...Nb6 ideas, as it can be seductive to think about repositioning it to the more central d5, but White often can either kick it with c2-c4 or just keep it shut off from the action. Props to my opponent for quickly taking advantage of my deviations from what the position demanded.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "43"] {[%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 finesse, taking advantage of White's 6. Nf3 instead of the standard h2-h4. Now Black has the option of playing ...Nh5 to block the h-pawn advance and exchange the Ng3.} 7. Bd3 {a solid move that is very common (second choice in the database), just behind the more theoretical h2-h4.} e6 {in positions with a Black pawn on h6 (typically played as a response to h2-h4), it is essentially obligatory to exchange on d3. Here it is not, which is one of the main positional differences. Instead of helping develop White's queen with the exchange, the freeing pawn move is played. Incidentally, almost all of the top-level games in the database feature the text move.} 8. O-O Bd6 {another difference is that the bishop can be developed here rather than e7, preventing White's bishop from going to f4 and getting on the more active h2-b8 diagonal.} 9. Re1 O-O 10. Bxg6 {the most common plan here. The White bishop will get no better and exchanging itself for its counterpart on g6 allows the infliction of a minor weakness on the h-file for Black. This should not be a real problem, but it ends up being a losing one for me, as we shall see.} hxg6 11. Bg5 Qc7 {this takes advantage of the doubled g-pawns, as White exchanging on f6 will no longer inflict positional damage. In fact, it would help Black by controlling e5 with a pawn and allowing for ...Kg7 followed by putting a rook on the h-file.} 12. c4 Nbd7 {developing the last minor piece.} 13. Rc1 (13. c5 Bf4 $11 {poses no issues for Black.}) 13... Bf4 {this is not a bad decision, but the follow-up is poor. It is unnecessary to force the issue of the Bg5 right now, and Black could gain more activity with the thematic ...c5 break.} (13... c5 14. dxc5 Bxc5 $11) 14. Rc2 (14. Bxf4 Qxf4 15. Ne2 Qc7 $11) 14... Nb6 $6 { this actually worsens the position of the knight, which no longer influences e5 and c5 or supports the Nf6.} (14... Bxg5) 15. Ne4 $14 {my opponent finds the best way to take advantage of the offsides knight.} Nxe4 {this worsens the situation by removing all of Black's minor piece defenders on the kingside and helping White's piece activity.} (15... Bxg5 16. Nexg5 Nbd7 $14) 16. Rxe4 Bxg5 17. Nxg5 Rfe8 {not admitting the mistake with the knight, as it would be best to bring it back immediately. The text move has the idea of supporting e6 and giving the king a square on f8, but too much of Black's army is still sidelined.} (17... Nd7 $5 $14) 18. Qf3 $16 Qe7 19. Qe3 {supporting the Ng5 and increasing pressure on the e-file.} Rad8 $2 (19... Nd7 {is necessary to defend. I underestimated the danger to the king, which now immediately manifests itself.}) 20. Rh4 $18 Qf6 $4 {a blunder in a bad position, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. I saw that the king had no squares and would need an escape route from the h-file threat, but this places the queen on a vulnerable square.} (20... Qc5 {is the engine line, an active defense based on White's back-rank vulnerability. White is still much better, however.} 21. Rc1 Qf5 22. g4 Qa5 23. a3 $18) 21. Qh3 Kf8 22. Nh7+ (22. Nh7+ Ke7 23. Qa3+ Kd7 24. Nxf6+ gxf6 25. Rh7 $18) 1-0

12 November 2019

Annotated Game #227: Lack of an early middlegame plan

This next tournament game is a perfect illustration of a common opening repertoire pitfall, that of not having a good (or any) early middlegame plan coming out of the opening. My opponent adopts a Slav setup as Black, which I should have played more actively against. Specifically, I should have recognized the standard idea of White playing an early Qb3 after Black's light-square bishop is away from the queenside; I've often enough been faced with this on the other side of the board. I hit on this idea later in the game, as well as the e2-e4 push to challenge Black in the center, but the delays mean that Black has fully developed and can more easily push back.

I was lucky that my opponent did not use his central pawn majority in a more effective way, but I still got into trouble after selecting a poor plan of just trying to exchange off minor pieces, which gave my opponent a tactic to win the exchange. I get a pawn for it, though, and successfully fight to tamp down further activity and try to set up a quasi-fortress. I succeeded in drawing in the end, which I felt good about. However, it would have been nice to avoid the whole thing by playing 9. Qb3, with greater piece activity and good play in the center and on the queenside. A lesson for the next time I face a similar setup.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "89"] {[%mdl 64] A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 Bf5 5. O-O h6 6. cxd5 cxd5 7. Nc3 e6 8. d3 Nc6 9. Bf4 {this is of course a good post for the bishop. With Black's light-square bishop away from the queenside, however, it would be more to the point to develop the queen first with tempo, also displacing Black's queen slightly if moved to protect the b7 pawn.} (9. Qb3) 9... Be7 10. Rc1 O-O $11 11. Re1 Rc8 12. Qb3 {now that Black is fully developed, this is no longer effective.} (12. e4 $5 {perhaps it is time to think about challenging Black's space advantage in the center.} Bg4 13. exd5 Nxd5 14. Nxd5 Qxd5 15. Ne5 {forcing a queen trade and regaining a symmetrical pawn structure in the center.}) 12... Nd7 {an excellent, active move.} 13. Na4 $6 {it's already difficult to find something useful for White to do. The idea of the text move is to keep Black's knight out of c5, but Black is now free to start a pawn roller in the center.} (13. Be3 $5) (13. Qxb7 $2 Nc5 $1 {trapping the queen.}) 13... Na5 (13... e5 {poses White the most problems.}) 14. Qd1 Nc6 15. e4 {around here I recognize the danger Black's center poses.} dxe4 16. dxe4 Bg4 $15 {Black's pieces are still somewhat better placed than mine, but his central play has been diminished. Now I need to address the pressure from the Bg4.} 17. h3 Bh5 (17... Bxf3 18. Bxf3 Bb4 19. Rf1 $15) 18. a3 {this is primarily aimed at avoiding Black ideas of activating his bishop with ...Bb4.} (18. g4 {is preferred by Komodo.} Bg6 19. Qb3 {is a more active way to play.}) 18... e5 {now we're back to equality.} 19. Be3 $11 Nf6 20. Bc5 $2 {this was based on a a very uninspired idea of simply trading pieces. It has a tactical flaw, however.} (20. Nc3 $14 {would re-deploy the knight to a more effective spot. White's pieces at this point would be a little more active than Black's.}) 20... Qxd1 $17 21. Rexd1 Bxc5 22. Nxc5 $2 ( 22. Rxc5 {would admit the loss of a pawn and be slightly better.} Nxe4 23. Rcc1 $17) 22... Nd4 $1 $19 {well played by my opponent. Now I cannot cover everything threatened.} 23. Rxd4 {I felt this was a superior way to lose the exchange.} (23. Nxd4 Bxd1 $19) 23... exd4 24. Nxd4 b6 25. Ncb3 Rxc1+ 26. Nxc1 Re8 $2 {allows the opponent back into the game, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} (26... Rd8 {maintains the advantage and activates the rook much more advantageously.} 27. Ncb3 a5 $19) 27. f3 $17 {essentially forced. Now e4 is well-protected and the Bh5 is locked out. I felt better about my chances to draw at this point.} Kf8 28. Kf2 {copying my opponent by activating my king, but perhaps it would be more effective to get a minor piece back into play immediately.} (28. Nce2) 28... Bg6 29. Nce2 Nd7 30. Nc6 $6 {this is premature.} (30. Bf1 $5 {preparing to get the bishop into play.}) 30... a5 (30... Ne5 { would be more active.} 31. Nxe5 (31. Nxa7 $6 Nd3+) 31... Rxe5 $17) 31. Ned4 { still neglecting the poor bishop.} Nc5 32. b4 $6 {these sorts of exchanges tend to make life easier for the side that is up material.} (32. Ke3) 32... axb4 33. axb4 Ne6 34. Bf1 {finally!} Nxd4 35. Nxd4 Ra8 36. Ke3 Ke7 37. Bb5 Kd6 38. Kf4 $6 {this prematurely lessens the influence of the king in the center.} (38. h4 $5 Ra3+ 39. Kf4 Rc3 $17) 38... f6 39. Bc6 Ra2 40. b5 {I was happy at this point to get the bishop and pawn protecting each other, making it difficult for Black to make progress on the queenside. Black should be able to use his rook to support play on the kingside, however.} Rd2 41. Ke3 Rd1 42. h4 Ke5 43. Ne2 (43. f4+ $5 Kd6 44. g4 $17) 43... f5 (43... Re1 {would keep the pressure on.} 44. Kf2 Ra1 45. f4+ Kd6 $19) 44. f4+ Kd6 45. e5+ {my opponent could not see a path to victory and had limited time, so offered a draw. I was pretty confident of being able to hold this position if we had played on, now that I have a protected passed pawn on e5 and only one (dark square and out of reach of the bishop) to protect on the kingside, g3.} 1/2-1/2

11 November 2019

Common opening repertoire pitfalls

Here I'd like to explore some deeper and perhaps less talked about aspects of opening repertoire selection and training, from the point of view of how to avoid common pitfalls as an improving player. (Some earlier posts on the fundamentals of repertoire building and tools to use are Openings Selection: Initial ConsiderationsEvolving a Repertoire and Simple Openings Reportoire Database System.) My personal focus is on the type of repertoire that can be used by a Class/Expert player, say in the 1400-2100 range. That naturally reflects my own experience and requirements, although I would expect that most of the below ideas are valid, regardless of rating level. That said, not everything discussed is applicable for grandmaster-level repertoires, which brings us to the first topic:

1. Studying only GM games and lines
This seems counter-intuitive at first - why should it be a problem to study only the best lines? I've come to believe, however, that preparing only the 'best' openings and variations can really hamper your effectiveness as an improving player. Why is this the case?

Primarily, it's because the level and style of play reflected in GM preparation and tournament praxis will not be the same as your own tournament experiences. Even if some opponents occasionally go deeply into main book lines in your favorite opening, this is unlikely to happen a majority of the time. It therefore becomes more important to know how to respond to, and take advantage of, the other moves that can be made by your opponent, outside of top-level theory. This is really the case regardless of the level you are at, but I think it is especially important for the practical results of improving players.

Many times we believe that deviations from theory should be 'punished' at the board, but in fact our opponents are not really making mistakes; instead, they are playing solidly, if not 'best'. In these instances, our opponent is not creating any significant weaknesses to 'punish' - instead, they may fail to prevent us from carrying out our optimal opening plans and piece placements, giving us the opportunity for an easier or quicker path to the middlegame positions we want. (More on the idea of preferred middlegame positions as the real purpose of our openings selection is below.)

Alternatively, our opponents can play more aggressively than they 'should' (in strictly objective terms). These lines - for example, gambits or early flank pawn pushes - will still pose opening problems that cannot be ignored. However, if we are secure in our knowledge of the position, this usually gives us an opportunity to either win material for insufficient compensation, or to inflict long-term positional weaknesses. If you know your chosen opening's themes, ideal piece deployments, typical maneuvers and early middlegame plans well, then you should be able to reach a good (or at least playable) middlegame position, regardless of your opponent's choices.

The problem we often face is that theory books and other resources tend to focus on the 'best' lines (at least what is considered best at the time of publication). These can ignore popular 'real-world' options, as well as fail to explain how to best take advantage of any supposed deviations and inaccuracies. This often is true of materials aimed at master-level audiences, which are the most professional and where conceptual knowledge of the openings is assumed rather than explained. How can we combat this?
  • Use opening resources that contain specific explanations of typical plans and maneuvers, not just discussions of variations. While some of these may be aimed deliberately at Class players who are learning a new opening, such as the 'Starting Out' series from Everyman Chess, others may be higher-level, for example Karpov's How to Play the English Opening. Reviews or samples of the works in question are usually the best way to figure out whether they have enough explanatory content, although it may take some searching. Having specific guidance on plans - for example, something like "here White can opt for a queenside minority attack with Rb1, Rc1 and b2-b4-b5, or instead choose pursue a kingside strategy with Ne5 followed by f2-f4 and Rf3-h3" is also important. Too often we see only generalized principles that are too vague to be accurate and effective when coming up with a concrete plan in the early middlegame.
  • Study annotated games in the opening. A quality annotator will provide comments and insights into positional characteristics, typical plans, and how opening play affects the middlegame. Individual annotated games in magazines, articles or videos are usually not meant to be systematic opening treatments, but they often yield key insights. An annotated game is often used in opening works as a basis for introducing and explaining lines, but you need to be sure that concepts and plans are in fact explicitly addressed, so the game is not just a framework for giving variations. Also, if you can find decent peer-level blogs with annotated games, these can be a great resource, as well as entertaining. They can help identify common mistakes, problems and challenges in the opening below the GM level. The sidebar has links to some of these kinds of resources.
One of the open secrets of growing in chess strength (and gaining rating points) is to identify and study the commonly played, non-theoretical lines that you repeatedly face. These are bound to have certain weaknesses, sometimes serious ones. In the latter case, you can then earn a lot of points by essentially winning the same games over and over, since you already know the best plan and how to implement it over the board. At minimum, even if it does not lead directly to an advantageous position, this type of preparation will give you a pleasant and easy middlegame without much time or effort, while your opponent will have to struggle.

This leads us into the next topic: 

2. Pursuing wrong or unsuitable early middlegame plans
The benefit of employing opening theory is that you stand on the shoulders of everyone who has gone before you in analyzing the moves. Over-reliance on theory, however, has the drawback of not knowing what to do with a theoretically 'best' position once you run out of 'free' moves, even if they have been of the highest quality. The practice of repeating theoretical variations without really understanding the resulting middlegames can seriously retard a chess player's performance and understanding; it was one of the principal reasons I essentially made no progress for over a decade as an adult. Many masters and coaches will therefore recommend focusing your opening study time on common early middlegame positions. I think this is good advice, although you still have to know how to reach them. The opening can therefore be viewed as a way to get to a middlegame position of your liking, rather than as an end in itself.

This makes it doubly important to find and study materials that explain and demonstrate ideas and plans, along the lines of what was mentioned above. Most importantly, you as a player have to understand and be comfortable playing the resulting middlegame. This means 'comfortable' in the sense that you have a good idea about what should be done in the position, rather than necessarily having a peaceful or easy one to play - it may in fact be highly complex or imbalanced. Although I think that 'style' is an overrated concept, it's a fact that people naturally gravitate towards particular types of positions. So constantly setting yourself up for open games, when you really prefer (and do well) in more closed positions, may not be the road to success. On the flip side, if what you really want to do is attack, attack, attack, then often reaching a quiet, maneuvering middlegame is going to frustrate you.

A final important principle is to exercise critical judgment when selecting lines - which really means the types of middlegames that you want. This includes making sure to not blindly accept 100% any 'canned' repertoires or recommendations. If you have trouble handling a particular middlegame situation, perhaps it's a useful challenge that will help grow your chess abilities. On the other hand, if you frequently get into trouble in the middlegame after a particular opening, or don't enjoy playing the positions, then it simply may not be well-suited to your current playstyle in terms of general position-types (open, semi-open, or closed).

3. Over-reliance on engine analysis and evaluations
Along with over-reliance on theory, it is easy to get seduced and sidetracked by over-reliance on our computers' recommendations. As mentioned in Pitfalls of Computer Analysis, it is important to use engines as a tool - and not have the engines use us, which means simply parroting engine lines without understanding them. Engines paired with databases can be profitably used for identifying new possibilities in the opening, and for exploring "what if?" branches in analysis of variations. However, 'final' engine evaluations of an opening line are much less helpful in practical play, especially when there are no forcing plans available (as is usually the case). Do you really want to pick a line that may be 0.1 better on the engine evaluation, but that you cannot play as well practically? That will only lead to worse results at the board.

This goes back to the principle of always being able to answer the question "why?" for yourself, both when playing individual moves and selecting whole variations. What will it do for you, and what are the trade-offs involved versus playing other moves/variations? Your ability to play a position and the results you get with it are the most important factors to consider. It's worth remembering that you would lose every game against a full-strength engine, so what is the point of preparing for it? If you always go for the top engine line, this is essentially what you are trying to do. Instead, craft your repertoire around your human opponents.

4. Not analyzing your own games and evolving your repertoire
The idea of using the study of your own annotated games as the central component of your chess improvement is valid for all aspects of your game, including the opening phase. Your own games and analysis should be the primary driver of testing and developing your repertoire, as it is an experiential process and not just theoretical. An obvious benefit of this process is highlighting common recurring problems with your openings; one of my own examples is Annotated Game #63: Third time's the charm (?)

It's not enough to diagnose a problem, though, you also have to fix it. This usually means researching tweaks to your opening repertoire database when you identify issues in your games. With a database/engine combo this is usually easy to do, although it will still take time to pursue in a reasonably thorough manner. Sometimes more than a tweak is needed, if you don't have anything prepared for a particular variation or opening. Even if you don't 'like' it (see emotional attachments below), if your opponents play something often enough, you'll need to research a middlegame setup that you can be comfortable in reaching. This sounds obvious, but at the Class level one can often find Sicilian players who don't know what to do against 2. c3 or 3. Bb5, French players who don't prepare a line in the Exchange variation, etc.

Self-analysis and repertoire evolution is a constant, continuing process - which is in fact a good thing. Making small updates to your repertoire, while in the process reinforcing the lessons of your recent games, will have a significant cumulative impact over time. This is also much easier than trying to revamp large chunks of your repertoire at once, only based on theory. However, sometimes major new ground does need to be broken, with more of a revolution than an evolution.

5. Lacking enough weapons in your opening arsenal 
Mastery of openings involves experiential knowledge, not just "book" lines. This is evident in relatively minor, but important, things like move-order and transposition considerations; these are often ignored or over-simplified in opening resources. Better ones will point out practical ways to do things like force your opponent into your chosen variations, or to avoid having to deal with particular variations. One common example in the Dutch is starting with 1. d4 e6 as Black if you play the Stonewall, to avoid all of the Anti-Dutch options for White on moves 2 and 3. (Of course, the Black player should have the French in their repertoire if White does and chooses to continue with 2. e4.) Failure to understand and intelligently apply these practical weapons can result in unneeded time in opening preparation, while over the board you will simply be less effective.

On a more macro level, openings selection is necessarily part of your overall game and tournament strategy. I think it is a legitimate choice to focus on the minimum necessary number of openings for a complete repertoire, rather than having multiple systems as White and multiple defenses to 1. e4 and d4 as Black. However, a player ideally wants to be able to go into an opening that will be best for a particular opponent and situation, in order to obtain maximal results. The most critical aspect of this is the ability to select lines that are imbalanced and therefore offer more winning chances, or to go for solid but more balanced positions. This requirement sometimes can be satisfied by preparing alternate variations within a single opening, but not always, depending on how you match up with your opponent.

In the broadest sense, mastering different openings can only be good for your chess, since you build up understanding of different position-types and a deeper understanding of middlegame and endgame concepts and how they relate to the opening. This is more of a long-term investment, however, as it is extremely common to lose more games initially when playing a new opening, reflecting the experiential component of practical knowledge. If you are willing to suffer on the front end, though, eventually you should raise your ceiling and be stronger in the long term.

6. Emotional attachment to openings
What happens when a player becomes unreasonably attached to specific openings, or particular ideas within them? First of all, the growth process described above is not allowed to happen, so it ends up being a limiting factor for an improving player. Mis-alignments in style can also occur, as what one 'likes' to do may not be what actually works for them, at least at their current level of ability. If your tactical skills are currently poor (let's be kind and say 'under-developed'), but you always try for a Sicilian Dragon as Black, then it's not going to end well. Conversely, if you love flank openings, but lack the ability to identify and exploit positional weaknesses or endgame advantages, your results will suffer.

Sometimes this sort of emotional blockage can even extend to move choices within in opening, as described in my case in Annotated Game #2. One should not eliminate the option of playing e2-e4 just because you no longer like playing king pawn openings, is the moral of the story. Another variation of this unwillingness to vary from set patterns, I would argue, is a slavish devotion to 'system' openings where the exact same thing is played every time for a relatively long move sequence, regardless of the opponent or situation. This is not to say that they are necessarily objectively bad or losing, but if you try nothing else, you will not get optimal results in your games or, in the long run, your chess.

In the end, openings are a tool for you, so don't put yourself in the position of being a slave to them. Make them work for you, which includes evolving your repertoire over time and sometimes shaking it up to better your chess. Mastering opening weapons takes time and effort, but will bring satisfaction and better results in the end. 

08 November 2019

Annotated Game #226: This is not the Dutch you're looking for

This second-round tournament game features an Anglo-Dutch, a fancy way of saying that Black responds to my English Opening with a standard Dutch Defense setup. This is not necessarily a bad way to play for Black, but most Dutch players have a significantly more difficult time in coming up with a plan that doesn't involve use of the e4 square, which in this line is taken away by White after 7. d3. So it's not the Dutch they are normally looking for. I have much better results than average in this line and am happy to see it on the board.

My opponent actually does a decent job of pursuing his own goals on the kingside even without the e4 square, including the aggressive plan with 14...f4, which is good enough for equality. For my side, the main lesson out of the opening is to continue pressing on the queenside whenever possible, for example with 11.a4, rather than get distracted. The resulting middlegame evolution is interesting. I manage to draw Black's fangs on the kingside, even if I also end up liquidating my queenside space advantage. The result is a much more open game, which Black tries to take advantage of by snatching a central pawn with his queen. However, I get his c-pawn in return, along with a monster centralized bishop and the initiative.

My opponent, under pressure, neglects to see the net closing in around his queen and misses a backwards bishop move that traps it. (See also Annotated Game #218 and Annotated Game #221 for examples of this phenomenon.) So in this particular 9-game stretch, I won 3 games using this kind of tactic. I think the moral of the story is that it's more difficult in general to visualize backwards moves by pieces. That said, I was very much alive to the possibility and consciously played move 25 with the idea of taking away the Black queen's remaining squares.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "63"] {[%mdl 8192] A10: English Opening: Unusual Replies for Black} 1. c4 f5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 e6 4. g3 Be7 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O d6 {the Classical Dutch setup.} 7. d3 {this keeps the game in English Opening territory. The important point for a Dutch is that the square e4 is no longer available to Black, taking away the usual ideas with ...Ne4.} Nc6 8. Rb1 {proceeding with the typical queenside expansion plan for White.} e5 {no reason not to grab space in the center, although without a pawn on d4 the dynamics are different, as no tension is immediately created.} 9. b4 Qe8 {continuing with standard Dutch motifs, with the idea of transferring the queen to the kingside. This also clears d8 for a knight retreat, as we see after} 10. b5 Nd8 11. Nd2 $146 {not a bad move, but perhaps not the most challenging to meet. The idea is to clear the long diagonal for the Bg2 and reinforce e4.} (11. a4 {is the move most played here and also favored by Komodo. This is a logical follow-up and prepares to either support b5 or advance further.}) 11... Ne6 12. e3 {this is usually a big help for White in meeting Black's kingside expansion plans, both guarding d4 and preparing to exchange on f4 and open the e-file for White.} Ng4 {Black prepares the advance f4, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. There is also the idea of ...Qh4 to target h2, which is why I played the next move. Komodo assesses I can just ignore this, however.} 13. h3 {this pushes the knight back and controls g4, which is good. However, the h-pawn can sometimes become a target, so has to be watched carefully.} (13. a4 {is still the engine recommendation.} Qh5 $6 {is premature here, as after} 14. h3 Nf6 15. Qxh5 Nxh5 {Black doesn't have much prospect for a kingside attack and White's advantage on the queenside becomes more pronounced.}) 13... Nf6 14. Bb2 {the placement of the dark-square bishop is somewhat problematic, since e3 has already closed off its home diagonal, and it is in the way of other pieces on either b2 or a3. } f4 {the aggressive choice.} (14... a6) 15. exf4 exf4 16. Nd5 {this is often a thematic move in the English, but here it's not ideal.} (16. Re1 {would do better to take advantage of the opening of the e-file, which can be better used by the rook than the f-file.} fxg3 17. fxg3 Qg6 18. Kh2 $14) 16... Nxd5 $11 17. Bxd5 c6 18. bxc6 bxc6 19. Bg2 {White's space advantage on the queenside has now evaporated and the position is more balanced.} fxg3 20. fxg3 Qg6 21. Rxf8+ {I thought it was better to reduce the number of Black pieces on the kingside first.} Bxf8 22. Kh2 {the king is huddled together with the bishop behind the reduced pawn wall, but is still safe, as long as White is careful.} Qxd3 $2 (22... Bd7 {developing the bishop and protecting c6 looks equal.}) 23. Bxc6 $18 Rb8 24. Bd5 {now Black has major problems, as White's light-square bishop becomes dominant and the initiative is with White, especially after the pin on the Ne6. Black's queen is centralized but is effectively misplaced, with no pieces available to coordinate with it; it also has relatively few squares to go to, being surrounded by White pieces.} Rb6 25. Qe1 {this obviously pressures the Ne6 further, but more subtly also takes away e3 from the Black queen. Black needs to get his queen out of there now.} Kh8 $2 {dropping the queen, by missing the backwards bishop move.} (25... Qg6 $18) 26. Be4 Qxb1 27. Qxb1 {at this point White has queen for rook and all of the positional pluses, so the win is without difficulty.} Nc5 28. Qc2 (28. Qf1 $5) 28... Be7 29. Nb3 Nxe4 30. Qxe4 Rb7 31. Bd4 Kg8 32. Qc6 {forking the rook and bishop, a situation which continues after ...Rb8 and Qc7.} 1-0

06 November 2019

Video completed: The Stonewall Dutch - A Fighting Repertoire against 1.d4

This five-hour ChessBase FritzTrainer from GM Erwin L'Ami is the most thorough video treatment of the Stonewall Dutch that I've come across, as is reflected by the below contents list. I wanted to continue focusing on recent related opening studies and get deeper on the Stonewall ideas, so finally opened the DVD in my chess library.

Normally I'd provide commentary on each section, but doing that for 30 of them would be too much. Instead I'll offer the following summary observations:
  • It starts with a typical intro to the Stonewall, noting the characteristic pawn formation (f5-e6-d5-c6), the standard move 6 position after White fianchettoes the light-square bishop, and stating that the Modern Stonewall (with 6...Bd6 instead of the old ...Be7) is what will be focused on. GM L'Ami does bring some personal perspective, talking about how he has had difficulty facing it as White and commenting on its contemporary relevance, including citing its use by Carlsen at the top level.
  • L'Ami states that the opening is more about ideas than theory (which is a Stonewall trope) and uses the first sections of the video to look at typical maneuvers and ideas. This is actually very helpful rather than being a cop-out, as these ideas do in fact recur over a number of different variations and setups, and it's often a matter of judgment or even just personal preference when to go with them.
  • The introduction of the classic light-square bishop development maneuver (Bd7-e8-h5) is illustrative of this, as L'Ami goes through three different iterations of it in the main line with a dark square bishop exchange, ending with one which illustrates why White is considered better and the bishop plan is not good for Black in that line. He explains that different lines will require different plans for the light-square bishop (classic development, modern fianchetto, or remaining on c8). While this may seem obvious, this is a point that can often be fudged or unclear, and players can get attached to one plan or another in all situations.
  • An examination of the strategic idea of dissolving the Stonewall pawn formation by ...dxc4 followed by ...c5 or ...e5 breaks is very welcome. L'Ami shows examples of where it is objectively best (including a Giri-Carlsen game) and where it is not, although Black obtains practical chances. This underlines the need to play flexibly and not get mentally trapped by preconceived ideas of "always do this" in the Stonewall, which leads to stereotypical plans played by rote.
  • Another typical idea for Black is ...h6 then ...g5, especially useful in lines with a White knight on h3 that will get shut in afterwards. Again it is a matter of timing and whether Black can follow up effectively, taking into account White's ability to disrupt things in the center in reaction. From my own first impressions with the Stonewall, reinforced by the video examples, Black needs to have his pieces reasonably well-developed, at least in comparison with his opponent, before playing this. It was also eye-opening to see this idea played in one game, followed by a Black offensive on the queenside.
  • The examination of the White idea of exchanging cxd5 highlights critical factors such as whether Black can take with the e- or c-pawns (preferably the e-pawn normally) and the weakness on c6 created by ...b6, which White can often exploit on the c-file.
  • In the theory sections, L'Ami does a valuable service by not just presenting a canned repertoire for Black, but running through major options for both sides, including ones that have been tried and found not to work. Some may view this as a waste of time, but deeper, practical opening study needs to identify these points. The lines are also useful to see for when similar positions are encountered, as you then know what not to do, and why.
  • L'Ami concludes that Black has problems in the best lines for White in both 7. b3 and 7. Bf4 variations, so offers a large chunk of theory involving a move-order that avoids these problems by delaying ...c6. This seems to be a popular approach, as reflected in tournament games from the past couple of years. There are some Black resources and moves that L'Ami does not cover in these long variations, though, and his assessment is not necessarily the same as some other GMs in the same lines, so use your own judgment (as always).
  • The Stonewall sideline involving the development of White's light-square bishop to d3 (instead of g2) receives only perfunctory treatment in section 24. On a practical level, at least at the Class level, this way of playing is a lot more prevalent, including when reached by alternative move-orders when White plays an early e3. Many people will develop the knight to f3 instead of e2, and L'Ami literally spends about 10 seconds on this, just concluding that Black is fine. In my serious games playing the Stonewall, although it's a small sample size, only a minority (2 of 7) of them have featured the "main line" bishop fianchetto to g2 by White.
  • No Anti-Dutch lines are covered at all after 1.d4 f5, so Black players will have to find alternate sources for a full Dutch repertoire.
  • Interactive games: the game selections contain a number of useful strategic and tactical points for both White and Black. The second one, Aronian-Tomashevsky, in fact is a non-fianchetto Stonewall, which again underlines the practical utility of spending more time on these positions.
The package includes two very useful databases: "Working base" - which contains all of the theory notes - and an illustrative games database. These resources provide a lot of depth and convenience for further serious Stonewall study, making sure that this will not (or at least should not) just be shelved and forgotten after completion.


01: Introduction [02:55]
02: Typical Manouevres - Bd7-e8-h5 - Video analysis [09:58]
03: Typical Ideas - dxc4 followed by c5 - Video analysis [11:20]
04: Typical Ideas - Bxe5 dxe5 - Video analysis [12:12]
05: Typical Ideas - h6 followed by g5 - Video analysis [08:45]
06: Typical Ideas - cxd5 - Video analysis [11:48]
07: Typical Ideas - c4-c5 - Video analysis [08:21]
Main Line: 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.c4 d5 5.Nf3 c6 6.0-0 Bd6
08: Main Line - various 7th Moves - Video analysis [17:00]
09: Main Line - 7.b3 Qe7 8.Bb2 0-0 - Video analysis [13:02]
10: Main Line - 7.b3 Qe7 8.Bb2 b6 - Video analysis [10:03]
11: Main Line - 7.b3 Qe7 8.Ne5 - Video analysis [17:34]
12: Main Line - 7.b3 0-0 - Video analysis [12:06]
13: Main Line - 7.Bf4 - Video analysis [16:55]
1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.c4 d5 5.Nf3 Bd6
14: New move order delaying c6 - 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.c4 d5 5.Nf3 Bd6 - Video analysis [12:39]
15: Main Line - 6.0-0 0-0 7.Qc2 c6 8.Ne5 - Video analysis [10:03]
16: Main Line - 6.0-0 0-0 7.Qc2 c6 8.Nc3 Ne4 and other 8th moves - Video analysis [10:24]
17: Main Line - 6.0-0 0-0 7.Qc2 c6 8.Nc3 Qe7 - Video analysis [10:59]
18: Stonewall - 4.Nh3 or 4.c4 c6 5.Nh3 d6 - Video analysis [08:18]
19: Stonewall - 4.c4 d5 5.Nh3 c6 - Video analysis [08:58]
20: Stonewall - 4.c4 d5 5.Nh3 Bd6 - Video analysis [05:53]
21: Move orders tricks - Video analysis [05:19]
22: Stonewall sidelines - 1.Nf3 - Video analysis [05:44]
23: Stonewall sidelines - 1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.Qc2 - Video analysis [05:41]
24: Stonewall sidelines - 1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.e3 - Video analysis [10:23]
25: Theoretical overview - Video analysis [05:54]
Interactive games
26: Anand,V - Schmittdiel,E [19:53]
27: Aronian,L - Tomashevsky,E [16:51]
28: Anand,V - Carlsen,M [16:44]
29: Vitiugov,N - Agdestein,S [12:18]
30: Outro [01:21]