04 August 2019

Annotated Game #217: Recovering in the middlegame

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 July 2019

On improving to the master level

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

24 July 2019

Training quote of the day #25: Artur Yusupov

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

23 July 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

22 July 2019

Annotated Game #216: Starting the breakthrough

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

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

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

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

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

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "82"] {[%mdl 8256] D16: Slav Defence: 5 a4: Lines with 5...Bg4 and 5...Na6} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Na6 {the Lasker Variation of the main line Slav. Rare to see in tournament practice, but easy to learn.} 6. e4 { the most aggressive response.} Bg4 {along with the queen knight's placement on a6, the bishop being played to g4 rather than f5 is the major alternative feature to the usual Black setup in the Slav. Here it's of necessity, given the pawn on e4.} 7. Bxc4 e6 8. Bg5 {there are only two games in my database with this move. The obvious threat is e4-e5 now that the Nf6 is now pinned.} Be7 $146 {the natural move, to unpin the knight, but Komodo prefers a more active approach.} (8... Bxf3 9. Qxf3 (9. gxf3 Nb4 $5 10. e5 {and now} h6 { threatens the bishop and allows Black to break the pin one way or another.}) 9... Qxd4 $11) (8... Qa5 $5 {was played in the only master-level game.} 9. e5 Ne4 10. Bxa6 bxa6 11. Qd3 Nxg5 12. Nxg5 Bf5 13. Qf3 Rc8 14. Nxf7 Kxf7 15. g4 g6 16. gxf5 gxf5 17. Rg1 Ke7 18. Kf1 Qb4 19. Rg3 Kd7 20. d5 Kc7 21. dxe6 Qc4+ 22. Kg1 Qxe6 23. Ne2 Qxe5 24. Rd1 Qe4 25. Nd4 Qxf3 26. Rxf3 Rg8+ 27. Kf1 Rg6 28. Nxf5 Rb8 29. b3 Rb4 30. Ne3 Bd6 31. Rf7+ Kb8 32. Nc4 Bc7 33. Rdd7 {1-0 (33) Rodewis,T (2268)-Mudelsee,M (2295) Germany 2002}) (8... Nb4 {is also possible, a standard theme in this variation, since per above e5 can be met by ...h6.}) 9. Qd2 {reinforcing the bishop's position and clearing the way for a possible queenside castling. This is also a clear invitation to take on f3, which I decided to do after some thought, as there is nothing better.} Bxf3 10. gxf3 { now White has the pair of bishops and a half-open g-file to use, in compensation for his ruined kingside pawn structure. My opponent was evidently interested in taking an aggressive posture.} Nb4 {getting the knight on the rim into play. The whole point of its development to a6 is for it to hop into b4 when a good opportunity presents itself.} 11. Be3 {removing the bishop from a square where it is underprotected, as well as shoring up d4.} a5 {the engines tend not to like this move in the Lasker Variation, although it seems logical to me to reinforce the b4 outpost in a more permanent way. One drawback is that ...Qa5 is no longer possible. Another is that supporting ... b5 with the a-pawn is also ruled out.} (11... O-O $5 {Komodo has no fear of castling into an attack. I did not want to do it at this point, though, believing that it would give White a too obvious and easy plan to follow.} 12. O-O-O Kh8 13. Rhg1 a6 {with the idea of ...b5 to follow is an alternate way to play.}) 12. Rg1 {the obvious place for the rook.} g6 {after some thought, I decided that the dark-square holes created would be offset by the peace of mind of not having to constantly worry about defending down the g-file.} (12... Nh5 {I also considered playing immediately here, since the knight can't be effectively challenged by White and it helps cover f4.}) 13. f4 $6 $11 { this is not helpful for White's attacking potential, since it blocks the c1-h6 diagonal and renders my dark-square weakness less accessible to my opponent.} Nh5 {I thought for a while here and was focused primarily on blunting White's pressure. Now if f4-f5, for example, I was considering ...Ng7 in response. However, the knight is generally better on f6 and its placement on h5 causes potential problems later.} (13... Qc7 {is a more useful developing move, clearing d8 for the rook and getting on a more productive diagonal.}) (13... O-O $5 {makes more sense now, even if White has some temporary pressure. The f-pawn advance does not prove truly threatening.} 14. f5 $6 exf5 15. exf5 Nfd5 {blocking the a2-g8 diagonal. Black will now be happy with any of the exchanges White could make.}) 14. O-O-O {not a surprise, since there's no better place for his king to go, and it brings the other rook into play.} (14. f5 $6 {is in fact premature.} exf5 (14... Ng7 $2 {at this point is bad for Black after} 15. fxe6 fxe6 $16 {since White's pawn structure is significantly better and my knight is in an awkward spot. White possesses a significant space advantage, while Black is cramped and the pieces are not cooperating well.}) 15. exf5 Ng7 {now the knight move is good again.} 16. fxg6 hxg6 (16... fxg6 $2 {leaves Black's king position too airy.}) 17. O-O-O Kf8 $11) 14... Qc7 {getting my queen away from the d-file pressure and preparing queenside castling.} 15. Kb1 {an normal precautionary move. At the time, I felt that it helped ease the pressure on me.} (15. f5 $5 {I was still worried about.} exf5 { the only good move} 16. exf5 Bf6 $14) 15... O-O-O {at this point I felt like the immediate danger had passed, and I could now start looking for counterplay. } 16. Qe2 (16. Be2 Nf6 $11) 16... Bd6 $6 {an example of where move sequence matters. I should have gotten the king to a less exposed square first.} (16... Kb8 $5 $11 {would be the simplest way to equalize.}) (16... Nxf4 {snatches a pawn but gives White good play for it.} 17. Qf3 g5 18. e5 f6 $11) 17. e5 $16 { I had expected this after calculating the previous move. My thinking was that the pawn advance should result in closing off White's dynamic prospects with his central pawns.} Be7 (17... Bf8 {I had also considered, but in the end I thought that being able to move along the d8-h4 diagonal was more valuable. The problem with the text move, which I did recognize at the time, was that the bishop on e7 screens the f7 pawn from the Qc7's protection. This fact could have been used much more effectively by my opponent.} 18. f5 Ng7 19. fxe6 fxe6 $16) 18. Rc1 $6 {missing the chance to break through.} (18. f5 $1 { superficially this looks like it just loses a pawn, which is probably why neither my opponent nor I seriously considered it.} exf5 {forced if I want to capture, otherwise the Nh5 hangs. I had not bothered to look at this line, just assuming that gxf5 would be possible. Now the f7 pawn is hanging and White is looking dangerous in the center, especially with what will be a protected passed pawn on e5.} 19. f4 ({or} 19. Bxf7 $16) 19... f6 20. Qf2 fxe5 21. dxe5 c5 $16) 18... Kb8 {this would be a good and standard sidestep for the king, except that the f5 idea is still possible.} (18... Ng7 {is now in fact best, as it adds a defender to f5.}) 19. Rgd1 (19. f5 $5 {again would give White an advantage.}) 19... Ng7 $11 {now I am truly out of trouble. Strategically, White has run out of ideas and the center is locked, so Black has a more comfortable game going forward. The backwards d-pawn, for example, is now an obvious weakness.} 20. f3 (20. Na2 $5 {would seek to exchange knights, a net benefit to White due to the relatively better activity of the Nb4.}) 20... Rd7 $15 {with the idea of doubling rooks on the d-file. My opponent now struggles to come up with useful moves.} 21. Ne4 {a better place than c3 for the knight.} Nf5 {targeting the backward pawn on d4, from a nice outpost on f5.} (21... Rhd8 $5 {I considered, but it would have allowed White to remove the d4 pawn weakness, which I preferred to keep on the board.} 22. Nc5 Bxc5 23. dxc5 Nd5 $15) 22. Bf2 $6 (22. Nc5 $5 {would disrupt my plans along the d-file, one way or another, although I still have an edge.}) 22... Rhd8 $17 23. Nc5 {this comes too late now, although I miss the best tactical continuation.} Bxc5 (23... Rxd4 $1 {successfully snatches the pawn, something I didn't consider at the board.} 24. Ne4 (24. Bxd4 $2 Nxd4 {and now the Nc5 is hanging, which is the main idea of the tactical sequence. White can give back the exchange or do a desperado move with the knight, but Black has a major advantage both ways.} 25. Rxd4 (25. Nxe6 Nxe2 $19) 25... Rxd4 26. Ne4 Nd5 $19) 24... R4d7 $17) 24. dxc5 Nd5 {threatening the f4 pawn. Strategically, it's also interesting to see the two Black knights versus the two White bishops. The knights can be exchanged, but not challenged by pawns, which makes life more difficult for White.} (24... Rxd1 {Komodo prefers exchanging off a pair of rooks first, to reduce White's ability to fight down the d-file. However, the subsequent winning tactic in the game would then not have been possible.} 25. Rxd1 Nd5 $17) 25. Qe4 $2 {protecting the pawn, but now the Rd1 is underprotected. I realized this and was able to take advantage of it immediately.} (25. Qe1 $11 {is the engine line, which for a human would be unlikely, seemingly just abandoning the f-pawn.} Nxf4 26. Rd6 {this is the idea, an unnatural-looking exchange sacrifice.} Nxd6 $2 {now leads to mate.} ( 26... Nd5 $11) 27. cxd6 Qc8 28. Bb6) (25. Bg3 $17 {is what I had expected.}) 25... Nc3+ $3 $19 {Komodo (via the Fritz interface) actually awarded this the two exclams, so I'll leave it in there. It's unusual to see a naked piece sacrifice like this, meaning that no initial capture is involved. This makes it harder to see as a candidate move during calculation.} 26. bxc3 Rxd1 $19 { now I'm an exchange up with no compensation for White. The open d-file means that my rook is quite valuable, as well.} 27. Rxd1 Rxd1+ 28. Kc2 Qd8 29. Bd4 { I saw this idea during calculation, but the rook retains mobility on the first rank and White's weak kingside pawns come back to haunt him.} Rh1 30. Qd3 Nxd4+ {I chose to reduce material and eliminate the two bishops factor, which I assessed would be better for my rook.} 31. cxd4 Rxh2+ 32. Kb3 Qh4 {now the queen can take advantage of the first and second rank weaknesses as well.} 33. Ba6 {hoping in desperation that I'll take the bishop and White can steal a perpetual check.} Qf2 (33... Qe1 {is the quicker win.} 34. Qe2 Rxe2 35. Bxe2 Qxe2 36. Kc3 h5 37. d5 cxd5 38. f5 gxf5 39. f4 Qa2 40. Kd3 d4 41. Kxd4 Qb3 42. c6 h4 43. cxb7 Kxb7 44. Kc5 Qb4#) (33... bxa6 34. Qxa6 Qd8 $19 {is still winning for Black, but would allow White to be more annoying with his queen.}) 34. Qb1 {hoping I'll miss a mate threat on b7.} Qxf3+ {at this point I was in "safe win" mode and did not feel like burning a lot of brain cells to try and calculate all the way to mate.} (34... Qxd4 35. Bc4 Qd2 36. Be2 Qb4+ 37. Kc2 Rxe2+ 38. Kd3 Rd2+ 39. Ke3 Qd4#) 35. Kc4 Qe2+ {picking up the bishop and squelching any chance of White getting a swindle.} 36. Kc3 Qxa6 37. Qb6 Rh3+ { at this point I saw the inevitable mate, so didn't exchange into the (totally won) endgame.} 38. Kd2 Qd3+ 39. Ke1 Re3+ 40. Kf2 Re2+ 41. Kf1 Qd1# 0-1

19 July 2019

Slow Chess League: August tournament signups now open

Since I moved earlier this year, I expect that playing in OTB tournaments won't be part of my future for a while, at least not on a regular basis. This was the same situation I was in when I started this blog, but I was able to find useful tournament-style games online at the Slow Chess League. Their August tournament signups are now open, I plan on participating in the 45/45 section.

In general, I find that the game quality isn't quite as good (on my part) when playing at that time control, versus the OTB longer ones that I prefer. However, it does encourage more ruthless and efficient thinking, which helps in all aspects of chess.

17 July 2019

Training quote of the day #24: Jay Bonin

From IM Jay Bonin's Active Pieces: Practical Advice from America's Most Relentless Tournament Player
When asked about my own study habits, or - more directly - when someone asks, "Jay, how did you make it to 2400?", I don't always have a great answer. I never had a coach, and in the '70s and '80s as I was climbing the rating list, game databases, chess engines and computers in general were neither as powerful nor as ubiquitous as they are today. Taken together with the fact that the Internet had not yet created the possibility for the instantaneous and free exchange of information, this meant that as an autodidact I had little in the way of formal training other than what was available in Chess Informants and Shakmatny Byulletens when I could find them, and taking the time to thoroughly understand the critical positions in the games published there. I would try to understand not just the tactics that occurred in a game, but the missteps that led to them. Ultimately, I learned by playing stronger opposition and subjecting my own games to the same scrutiny.

16 July 2019

Annotated Game #215: Getting away with a pawn and a win

In this final-round tournament game, after a series of draws, I was looking for a win. The Classical Caro-Kann has been a good opening in terms of scoring wins for me, so I was happy to see my opponent choose it as White. She varies from book with 12. c4, which allows Black to equalize easily. I saw an opportunity to grab White's advanced h-pawn and took it on move 14, which defined the resulting strategic struggle. White could have played more actively, with sufficient compensation for the pawn.

Over time, I am able to consolidate the pawn advantage and make sure that subsequent material exchanges were to my benefit, ending up with a winning double rook endgame. As is common these days, my opponent (a junior) played on until mate. I used to find this practice both annoying and disrespectful, but it seems to be the way competitive chess is now almost universally taught at the scholastic level. Now I just enjoy playing out a winning position (being grateful that I have one) and don't worry about trying to find the absolute quickest path to victory. An easy and safe win is just as good, and it considerably reduces the stress and annoyance factor.

Although I don't quite overdo the pawn-hunting in the opening, it's still enough of a distraction (and detraction) from my game. Seeing in the analysis how White could have taken better advantage of it is instructive. In the future, in a similar situation I would likely play more conventionally rather than chasing the pawn, also bearing in mind the lessons of "Don't Be Greedy in Chess".

[Event "?"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Class B"]
[Black "ChessAdmin"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B19"]
[Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"]
[PlyCount "120"]

{[%mdl 8192] B19: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 main line} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3.
Nd2 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. h5 Bh7 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10.
Qxd3 e6 11. c4 Qa5+ {here I was looking to take advantage of the early c-pawn
thrust. White's move isn't standard and it lets Black achieve easy equality.} (
11... Bb4+ {is a similar idea, without exposing the queen.} 12. Bd2 Bxd2+ 13.
Qxd2 O-O 14. O-O Nbd7 15. Rfe1 Qc7 16. Rac1 Rad8 17. b4 Rfe8 18. Nh2 Qd6 19.
Rcd1 b5 20. c5 Qd5 21. Qe2 Ra8 22. a4 bxa4 23. b5 Reb8 24. bxc6 Qxc6 25. Qf3
Nd5 26. Ng4 Rb3 27. Ne3 N7f6 28. Ne4 Nxe4 29. Qxe4 Rd8 30. Nc4 Qc7 31. Ra1 Nc3
32. Qg4 Rd5 33. Nd6 Rg5 34. Qf4 Nd5 35. Qe4 a3 36. Qc2 Rb2 37. Qa4 Nf4 38. Qe8+
Kh7 39. Qxf7 Rxg2+ 40. Kh1 Qxf7 {0-1 (40) Ghosh,C (2140)-Rahman,Z (2485) Dhaka
2017}) 12. Bd2 Bb4 13. O-O Bxd2 14. Nxd2 {now I can grab the h-pawn, although
White gains compensation for it.} Nxh5 (14... O-O {is the solid alternative.})
15. Nxh5 Qxh5 16. Ne4 {this is not bad, but I can avoid the knight's threats
rather easily.} (16. Qa3 {would prevent me from castling for the moment and
create pressure in the center.}) (16. Qg3 {would allow White to regain the
pawn.} O-O 17. Qc7 Na6 18. Qxb7 Qa5 19. Qxc6 Qxd2 20. Qxa6 Qxb2 $11 {Komodo
considers this level, as Black can undermine support for the passed c-pawn,
but it looks easier to play as White.}) 16... O-O {although I'm behind in
development and White has more space, I felt pretty good about my position.
With reduced material available for attack, my opponent did not have enough
compensation for the pawn.} 17. Nd6 {an obvious threat that is easily repelled.
} (17. Rfe1 Nd7 $15) 17... b6 18. Rfe1 Rd8 $17 {I considered it more important
to pressure White's advanced knight than to develop my own first. Komodo
agrees with me, although either option is good. By this point, the pawn
advantage is mostly consolidated.} 19. Ne4 Nd7 20. Rad1 (20. Qg3 $5 {would get
the queen out of the line of fire on the d-file.} Qf5 $17) 20... Ne5 {now my
knight can get into the action, thanks to the pin on the d-pawn.} 21. Qc3 Ng4 {
this is more overtly aggressive, but not as effective for the attack.} (21...
Ng6 {threatens an eventual ...Nf4 and leaves the queen more mobile. For example
} 22. Rd3 Rd7 23. Rh3 Qg4 $17) 22. Qg3 Qf5 $15 23. Qh3 {temporarily pinning
the knight, but the queen maneuvering is in my favor.} (23. f3 $5 Nf6 $15)
23... Qg6 (23... Qf4 $5 {I considered, but thought it more risky.} 24. Rd3 {
and now} f5 {is the only move preserving Black's advantage. It looks rather
anti-positional to leave the e6 pawn hanging, but White is unable to take
advantage of this.} 25. Qg3 Qxg3 26. Nxg3 Kf7 $17) 24. Qg3 {again pinning the
knight with the positional threat of Qxg6, inflicting doubled g-pawns and
removing the e-pawn's defender. However, I find the solution by protecting the
queen with my king.} Kh7 25. b4 {I thought this was over-optimistic on White's
part.} Nf6 {this forces simplification on the kingside, which works to my
advantage being a pawn up. However, it would be better to immediately target
White's now under-supported queenside pawns.} (25... a5 26. bxa5 Rxa5 27. a3 {
and only now} Nf6 $17) 26. Qxg6+ {this avoids immediate material loss, but
with the queens off the board, achieving a winning position becomes a lot
easier.} (26. Nxf6+ $5 Qxf6 27. Qc7 Kg8 $17) 26... Kxg6 {I had thought
carefully before exposing my king like this. White's reduced material means
that the king position is still solid enough.} 27. Nxf6 Kxf6 {the king's
position is a little unusual, but its more centralized location seems more
like an advantage than a weakness, now that we are in the endgame.} 28. b5 $6 {
this essentially forces a pawn structure change that significantly benefits me.
} (28. Rd3 $5 $17) 28... cxb5 $19 29. cxb5 Rd5 {now White has an isloated
queen pawn that I can effectively blockade and target, while her queenside
pawns also look vulnerable to pressure.} 30. a4 Rc8 {rook activity is the most
important idea. White will no longer be able to cover all of her weaknesses.}
31. f4 {desperation, preparing the next move.} Rc4 32. Re5 {I had anticipated
this and welcomed the further reduction of material. I expect she was hoping I
would exchange on e5.} Rcxd4 (32... Rdxd4 $5 {is what the engine prefers,
which leaves a Black rook in a more commanding position after the exchange.}
33. Rxd4 Rxd4 34. g3 Rxa4 $19) 33. Rxd5 Rxd5 34. Rc1 {naturally not exchanging
again on d5, which would be an obviously won K+P endgame for me.} Rd4 {now it
would do no good for White to place her rook on the 7th rank.} 35. Ra1 Rxf4 36.
g3 Rc4 37. Kf2 h5 {with the simple winning plan of exchanging off White's last
kingside pawn and marching my own pawns down the board. White stubbornly holds
out until mate.} 38. Kf3 g5 39. Ke3 h4 40. Rf1+ Kg6 41. gxh4 Rxh4 42. Ra1 f5
43. Kf3 Rc4 44. Re1 Kf6 45. Ra1 Rc3+ 46. Kf2 g4 47. Rg1 Ra3 48. Rg3 Rxg3 49.
Kxg3 e5 50. Kf2 Ke6 51. Kg3 Kd5 52. Kf2 f4 53. Kg2 e4 54. Kf2 Kd4 55. Ke2 g3
56. Kf1 f3 57. Kg1 e3 58. Kf1 Kd3 59. Kg1 e2 60. Kh1 e1=Q# 0-1

09 July 2019

Video completed: "Don't be Greedy in Chess" by Tatev Abrahamyan


"Don't be Greedy in Chess" is the third video in the new Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan (under the title 'Why You Should Never Be Greedy'). Like the others, it is around 15 minutes and presents its main theme using some narrated game examples.

The first example is the miniature GM Peter Wells - GM Alexei Shirov. It's an interesting Trompowsky Opening that Shirov treats aggressively. Abrahamyan makes the first mistake I've seen in her video series, missing 6...Qxh6 (the more important reason why White doesn't take with the queen after 5...Bh6) although it doesn't change the evaluation of the position. (This is also mentioned in the comments section and one would think that a minor edit to the video would be in order. However, for some reason it seems that professional chess videos are almost never edited, even when obvious mistakes are made, a perennial complaint of mine with ChessBase products as well. This is the 21st century and digital editing tools are easily available.) In any case, Black gets greedy and grabs a rook, allowing White to develop faster and separate Black's queen from the action against his king in the center. White originally also had very limited development, so perhaps the situation did not seem urgent for Black. Abrahamyan has sufficiently long intros for the key moves for White, allowing you to do some of your own thinking about them.

The second game, an older one, focuses on the problems involved with taking too many pawns in the opening. The White side gets a huge lead in development as a result, forcing Black's king to remain in the center (sound familiar?), then some sacrifices flush the king out into the open. The third game is GM Judit Polgar - GM Ferenc Burkes. It is a more subtle example, where Black's decision to tactically win material in fact gets him in trouble. White creatively passes up taking material in favor of focusing on an h-file attack, which eventually gets her the win. This is also another example of where 'problem-like' tactics (no forced mate or win of material) are not present initially (so you can't really "solve" the position) - both accurate calculation and strategic judgment are needed. The finish involves a fully calculated h-file sacrifice that's worth seeing.

The video's lessons were all on point and Abrahamyan allowed much more time for pausing to consider key positions, a technical improvement on the first two videos.

08 July 2019

Annotated Game #214: Why you should never rush (redux)

It often happens in chess training that the topics you are studying become immediately relevant to your game analysis. In this next tournament game, Tatev Abrahamyan's "Why You Should Never Rush" highlights the main theme, since at several points I could have exercised more patience and maneuvered to keep remorselessly squeezing my opponent, rather than simplify or release tension.

Another key idea revealed during analysis was the missed tactical opportunity on move 14. Unlike many tactical problem drills, there was no immediate mate or forced loss of material, but the sequence would have given me a far superior, even winning, position.

Strategically, the struggle revolves around the creation and then targeting of Black's isolated queen pawn (IQP) and the near-ideal circumstances for White in exploiting it. However, my opponent never gave up and in the end she did a good job of holding the endgame draw.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "154"] {[%mdl 8192] A13: English Opening: 1...e6} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 {keeping it in English opening territory, although with some Reti characteristics.} Nf6 4. Bb2 Nbd7 5. e3 c5 6. Be2 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. cxd5 {although not bad, this is possibly premature. During the game, I wanted to get some clarity in the central structure before developing further, and I'd also already decided I wanted to exchange the pawns.} (8. d3 {is the choice of top-rated players, featuring slower development and maneuvering.} b6 9. Nbd2 Bb7 10. Qc2 Rc8 11. Rfe1 Qc7 12. Nf1 e5 13. Ng3 Rce8 14. e4 dxe4 15. dxe4 Bd8 16. Bd3 Kh8 17. Nf5 Ng8 18. Ne3 Bc8 19. Nd5 Qd6 20. Rad1 g5 21. Nd2 Qg6 22. Nf1 Ndf6 23. Ng3 Nh5 24. Nxh5 Qxh5 25. Be2 Qh4 26. g3 Qh3 27. Ne3 Bf6 28. Bf3 Be6 29. Qe2 Bg7 30. Bg2 Qh6 31. Ng4 Bxg4 32. Qxg4 Qg6 33. Bc1 h6 34. Qf5 Qc6 35. Bh3 Re7 36. Bb2 Qc7 37. Rd5 Re6 38. Qf3 Re7 39. Red1 Nf6 40. Rd6 {1-0 (40) Matanovic,A (2490) -Bochaev,M Elista 2002}) (8. Nc3 {is another popular alternative. Here's a short game that shows some tactics for White.} b6 9. cxd5 exd5 10. d4 Bb7 11. Rc1 Rc8 12. Bd3 Ne4 13. Qe2 cxd4 14. Nxd4 Ndc5 15. Rfd1 Nxd3 16. Qxd3 Bd6 17. Nf5 Be5 18. Nxd5 Bxb2 19. Rxc8 Qxc8 20. Nfe7+ {1-0 (20) Toloza Soto,P (2375) -Sepulveda,N (2065) Santiago de Chile 1998}) 8... exd5 (8... Nxd5 {would result in a different central structure, with no possibility of an IQP for Black.} 9. d4 $11) 9. d4 {the idea is to exchange on c5 and force Black to accept having an isolated d-pawn. In this position, I have firm control over d4, the square in front of it, so would benefit from the pawn formation.} Nb6 { although this adds to the defense of d5, I can proceed unhindered with the pawn exchange, leaving Black a bit more passive.} (9... b6 $5) 10. dxc5 $14 Bxc5 11. Nc3 {I now have a pleasant game strategically, with Black tied down to defending the isloated d-pawn, which cannot be advanced and liquidated due to my control of d4. I also have no obvious weaknesses.} Be6 {developing the bishop and overprotecting d5.} 12. Rc1 Rc8 13. Nb5 Qe7 $2 {an outright mistake by my opponent, but I reply far too cautiously.} (13... a6 {was what I had expected, after which the knight would take up a central outpost on d4.} 14. Nbd4 $14) 14. Rc2 $6 (14. Nxa7 $5 {I rejected due to} Ra8 {which I thought would simply win back the a-pawn, to Black's favor. However, the Qe7 is overloaded protecting the Nf6 and Bc5, which allows the following:} 15. Bxf6 gxf6 (15... Qxf6 16. Rxc5 Rxa7 17. a4 $18 {and now White is a clear pawn up and still holds all the positional cards.}) 16. Nb5 Rxa2 {and now Black is in trouble due to the loose kingside and the White knights' activity. For example} 17. Bd3 Nd7 18. Bb1 $18 {with Qd3, Nc7 and Nfd4 all possibilities for increasing pressure on Black to follow up.}) 14... a6 15. Nbd4 Bxd4 {I was happy to see this exchange on general principles: 1) reducing the number of minor pieces, which favors the side blockading the IQP; 2) exchanging bishop for knight, giving me the two bishops; 3) removing the opposing dark-square bishop, making my Bb2 more valuable.} (15... Bd6 $5 $11 {is worthy of consideration, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.}) 16. Nxd4 $16 { occupying the d4 outpost, a great place for the knight.} Rxc2 {exchanging down normally helps the side blockading the IQP, so this is fine by me.} 17. Qxc2 Rc8 18. Qb1 {staying on the b1-h7 diagonal while preparing to exchange rooks on c1.} Ne4 {Black is now also able to occupy an central outpost with a knight, while eyeing the unprotected d2 square. However, offering to exchange rooks avoids the fork threat.} 19. Rc1 Rd8 $6 {this gives me the c-file without a fight and ends up making the Ne4 more of a target than a threat for me. My opponent may have been thinking about trying to support an eventual push of the d-pawn.} (19... Rxc1+ 20. Qxc1 Qc5 $16) 20. Bd3 {increasing pressure on the knight and threatening to win a pawn by taking twice on e4.} f5 $2 { this appears to hold everything, but there are some tactical problems with it, related to the open c-file and the now underprotected Be6.} (20... Nf6 21. Ne2 $16 {and now White's dark-square bishop gets into the game to good effect, operating along the long diagonal and with moves like Bd4 a possibility.}) 21. Nxe6 $18 {this should be good enough, but perhaps is not the best way to take advantage of the position.} (21. Rc7 {is the engine line, exploiting the forking possibility on e6.} Rd7 {after this defense, White has a large advantage, but the way to proceed is not necessarily obvious.} (21... Qxc7 22. Nxe6 Qd7 23. Nxd8 Qxd8 24. f3 Nf6 25. Bxf5 $18 {being a pawn up with the two bishops in an open position is an easy win.}) 22. Rc2 Nd6 23. Qc1 Qf7 24. Ba3 $18 {and White can now rearrange pieces to exert maximum pressure at leisure.}) 21... Qxe6 22. Rc7 Rd7 23. Qc2 Qe7 (23... Nd6 24. Ba3 $18) 24. Rxd7 Qxd7 (24... Nxd7 25. Qc8+ Nf8 26. Qxf5 $18) 25. f3 Nd6 26. Bd4 $6 {right idea to attack the loose Nb6, but wrong piece.} (26. Qc5 $1 {is much more dominating, pressuring b6 and d5 simultaneously.} Qc6 {and now exchanging is probably the easiest way toward victory.} (26... Ndc8 27. Ba3 Qd8 28. Bxf5 $18) 27. Qxc6 bxc6 28. Bxa6 $18) 26... Nbc8 $16 27. Qc5 {unlike in the previous variation, my pieces are not working together as well.} Ne7 28. Be5 (28. Bb2 $5 {with the idea of redeploying to a3.}) 28... Nf7 (28... Ne8 29. Bc3 $16) 29. Bb2 { now the move is forced.} Nd8 (29... Nc6 $5 $16) 30. Qd4 $18 {much better, now I find the correct arrangement of Q+B to increase the advantage.} Ne6 31. Qe5 g6 $2 {this should have lost. Opening up the king position is only to my advantage.} (31... Kf7 32. Bxf5 Nxf5 33. Qxf5+ Kg8 $18) 32. Qh8+ {while still good, this is rushed.} (32. Qf6 $5 {makes it even easier for White, comments Komodo.} d4 33. Bc4 Nd5 34. Qe5 Ndc7 35. Bxd4 $18) 32... Kf7 33. Qxh7+ { I thought from here that it would be a relatively easy win, being a pawn up and with my pieces dominating the board.} Ke8 34. Ba3 (34. Qh8+ {is superior, but I did not find the correct plan associated with it.} Kf7 35. h4 $18 { this is the point, as now Black's kingside pawns can be undermined and picked off.}) 34... Nf8 {here I was starting to get into time pressure and couldn't see a good way to break through, so just went for the piece exchanges.} 35. Qxe7+ (35. Qh8 $18 {would keep the dominant queen and allow White to undermine the kingside further.}) 35... Qxe7 $16 36. Bxe7 Kxe7 37. e4 $6 {I thought for a while here and decided to resolve the central situation. This again turns out to be a rushed approach to the position.} (37. Kf2 $5 $18 {this would keep the advantage in hand. Centralizing the king is a basic endgame principle and there was no need to rush the pawn advance.}) 37... dxe4 38. fxe4 fxe4 $2 { what I was hoping for originally.} (38... f4 $5 $16 {and Black is still in the game}) 39. Bxe4 $18 {this really should be enough to win now.} b5 40. b4 { fixing Black's queenside pawns on light squares, so they can be targets for the bishop.} Kd6 41. Bb7 Ne6 42. Bxa6 Kc6 43. Bc8 {unnecessary, as Black cannot corner the bishop.} (43. Kf2) 43... Nd4 44. Kf2 Nc2 {Black is making the most of her pieces.} 45. Be6 Kd6 46. Bf7 g5 47. Be8 Nxb4 48. Bxb5 $2 { throws away a nice position, comments Komodo. Yet another example of rushed play, but this time it costs me the win.} (48. a3 Nc2 49. Bxb5 Nxa3 {I didn't look past here in my calculation, unfortunately.} 50. Bd3 $1 $18 {and the knight on the rim is completely dominated by the bishop.}) 48... Nxa2 $16 49. Bc4 {now the situation is much more drawish, as all Black has to do is eliminate or blockade my pawns, sacrificing the knight if necessary.} Nb4 50. Kf3 {my king is a little late to the party.} Ke5 51. Kg4 Kf6 52. h4 {now the draw is assured, but I didn't see anything better.} (52. Bb5 $5 {would continue the dance of pieces.}) 52... gxh4 $11 53. Kxh4 {despite having a passed g-pawn, I won't be able to keep Black's king and knight away from its path. I was hoping for a blunder by my opponent and felt it worth pushing as far as I could.} Kg7 54. Kg5 Nc6 55. Kf5 Ne7+ 56. Kg5 Nc6 {Twofold repetition} 57. Bd5 Nb4 58. Be6 Nd3 59. Bf5 Nc5 60. g4 Nb7 61. Kf4 Nd6 62. Be6 Nb5 63. Ke5 Nc7 64. Bd7 Na6 65. Kf5 Nc5 66. Bc6 Nb3 67. Ke5 Kg6 68. Kf4 Kg7 69. Be4 Nc5 70. Bf5 Nb3 71. g5 Nc5 72. Ke5 Nb3 73. Bd7 Nd2 74. Kf4 Nb3 75. Be8 Nc5 76. Kf5 Nb3 77. g6 {at this point all Black has to do is move the knight around, since I can't do anything to the Kg7.} Nc5 {draw agreed} 1/2-1/2

02 July 2019

Chess success vs. professional success

Photo from https://drprem.com/business/astonishing-similarities-chess-business-strategies
I have to admit I'm a little leery of some (well, most) of the business books and articles that use chess as a basis for how to achieve success at work. This isn't a phenomenon limited to chess of course, as everything from Sun Tzu's Art of War to Shakespeare's speeches to "mindfulness" has been touted as a (or often the key) to professional success.

A brief internet search will pull up various things such as the article linked to the above picture, which looks very modern, stylish and professional, except that the chessboard is all one color (?) - at least the pieces are set up in the right order.  This illustrates one of the issues with the genre: most of the time, business writers aren't serious chessplayers who understand the game at any depth, nor do most professional chessplayers have a top-level business or managerial background. And even then, one can easily stretch chess metaphors too far as a writer.

All that said, having worked to grow in chess strength over the years ("The Long Journey to Class A") while also having gained professional management experience at various levels, I can say there are some very useful parallels in terms of skills and approaches that a person can use in both arenas.  I don't know if there's a book-length lesson in there, but I recently boiled the principles I consider most relevant down to around a 45-minute presentation for a group at work.  (They had found out I was a chessplayer and expressed interest in a presentation on the topic, so I said why not.)

Here's a lightly edited version of the outline.  I called it "The 4 Ps" because business presentations are all about catchy, easily remembered alliterative lists.

Preparation - take care of how you show up to each game / workday
  • Mental – focus, calmness, objectivity in assessment
  • Physical – endurance, sufficient rest and recovery, healthy distractions
  • Presence and attentiveness

Planning and evaluation - consciously make an evaluation of each position / situation
  • Learn when to apply general rules and procedures vs. using your personal judgement in specific situations
  • Pattern recognition – take advantage of this “automatic” analysis derived from experience. ("I've seen this movie before...")
  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of a position / situation
  • Know the “why” of what you are doing. Never decide to make a move / take an action without being able to express clearly what it will do (and not do)
  • Balance between following a plan and adjusting to new circumstances

Perspective - ask yourself what can the other side can do
  • You control only your own sphere of action. The rest either someone else controls, or it is uncontrollable
  • Thinking ahead: understand the action – reaction sequence of an initial action (calculating "X moves ahead")
  • Unless you deliberately adopt a different perspective beyond your own "side", you won’t see others' possible reactions, so can’t get ahead of the action-reaction curve

Post-match learning - understand what happened and why
  • Even when you are successful, there is always an opportunity for learning and critiques
  • If you lose / fail, understand why and identify the lessons for improvement for the next time
  • Articulate to yourself what you did well and what you need to work on. Welcome constructive feedback from others, as it will help inform you
  • Both success and failure are transitory. Tomorrow is another day
  • Pay special attention to the critical decisions, why they were taken and the results

23 June 2019

Commentary: Women's Candidates 2019, round 9 (Gunina-Goryachkina)

This game between GM Valentina Gunina and GM Aleksandra Goryachkina during the recently-completed Women's Candidates tournament is much more exciting than my Annotated Game #212, which featured the same unusual Caro-Kann opening. Goryachkina, the eventual winner of the tournament, also uses the idea of the knight exchange on e4, but then varies with the idea of ...Qa5 followed by ...Bf5, targeting White's queen. This idea (along with Magnus Carlsen's 5...Bf5, shown in the previous game) are good opening knowledge takeaways.

The main clash of ideas comes after Gunina's early, aggressive 13. g4. Pushing the g-pawn while your king is in the center or on the kingside is one of those ideas that can be great when it works, and terrible if it doesn't, so each case has to be evaluated individually. Here White starts to get in trouble a few moves later, once Black is prodded to swing her queen to the kingside to occupy the h4 square (a hole left behind by the g-pawn's advance). After that there is a ferocious struggle, but Black calculates bravely and well and keeps the win in hand the entire time. This type of fearless, dominating play is something to emulate.

[Event "FWCT 2019"] [Site "Kazan"] [Date "2019.06.10"] [Round "9.2"] [White "Gunina, Valentina"] [Black "Goryachkina, Aleksandra"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B11"] [WhiteElo "2506"] [BlackElo "2522"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "94"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Qe2 Nxe4 {Here Goryachkina follows my path (in Annotated Game #212) of exchanging on e4, rather than Carlsen's ...Bf5.} 6. Qxe4 Qa5 {now Black diverges from my game, which had ... Nd7. This is a rather new line, as my database games only go back to 2017.} ( 6... Qd5 $5 {is also often played here.}) 7. Bc4 {this would have been prevented by ...Qd5. However, now we see Black's main idea behind the previous move.} (7. Qf4 {is the engines' preference.} Qf5 8. Qe3 Qe6 {followed by a queen exchange on e3 may have been too drawish for Gunina as White, however.}) 7... Bf5 8. Qe2 e6 (8... Nd7 $5 {would control e5 and develop a piece.}) 9. Ne5 {now White has a potential sacrifice on f7 and also offers the c2 pawn, a theme that occurs in some other Caro-Kann lines. Usually the c-pawn is not taken by Black, because it loses too much time and can give White a strong attack. That is certainly the case here, given the weakness of the e-pawn.} (9. O-O {was played in a rapid game, the only other one in the database in this line.} Be7 10. Bb3 Nd7 11. d4 O-O 12. h3 Rfe8 13. Bf4 Qb6 14. Rad1 a5 15. a4 Rad8 16. Rfe1 Bb4 17. Bd2 Bxd2 18. Rxd2 h6 19. Qd1 Nf6 20. c3 Ne4 21. Rde2 Nf6 22. Rd2 Ne4 23. Rde2 Nf6 24. Bc4 Nd5 25. Ne5 Nf4 26. Rd2 Ng6 27. Nxf7 Kxf7 28. g4 Kf6 29. gxf5 exf5 30. Rde2 Rxe2 31. Qxe2 c5 32. h4 cxd4 33. Qe6+ Qxe6 34. Rxe6+ Kf7 35. Rd6+ Ke7 36. Rxg6 d3 37. Re6+ Kf8 38. Re1 d2 39. Rd1 Ke7 40. Kf1 Kf6 41. Ke2 Re8+ 42. Kf3 Re4 43. Bb3 Rxh4 44. Rxd2 g5 45. Rd6+ Kg7 46. Rb6 Rh3+ 47. Kg2 g4 48. Bd5 Rd3 49. Bxb7 h5 50. Bc8 f4 51. Rb5 Kh6 52. Rf5 f3+ 53. Kg3 Rd1 54. Ba6 Rg1+ 55. Kf4 h4 56. Bd3 Rd1 57. Be4 g3 58. Rf7 {1-0 (58) Ter Sahakyan,S (2563)-Grandelius,N (2647) chess.com INT 2018}) 9... Be7 (9... Bxc2 $2 10. Nxf7 $18) 10. c3 {preparing the d4 advance.} Bf6 11. d4 Bxe5 {Black considers that the exchange on e5 is better for her, although White now has the two bishops. The strong knight disappears and development is now equal.} 12. dxe5 Nd7 13. g4 {it's often difficult to evaluate an early g4 push. White seems set on aggression and will be looking to gain space and pressure on the kingside. Of course, now her own king won't be secure either.} (13. Bf4 { would be a more standard choice.}) 13... Bg6 14. f4 b5 {another thematic Caro-Kann move, hitting the bishop and with the idea of further queenside expansion, when possible.} 15. b4 {this in-between move stops a future ...b4, but allows Black to relocate her queen with tempo to the now under-protected White kingside.} (15. Bb3 $5) 15... Qd8 16. Bb3 Qh4+ 17. Kd1 (17. Qf2 Qxg4 18. Be3 $15 {is the engines' line, limiting the damage, but must have been unappetizing for Gunina.}) 17... Rd8 (17... O-O-O {looks even better, getting Black's king to a comparatively safer zone. White doesn't have time to play something like a4, because of the Nxe5 threat.}) 18. Bd2 h5 $17 {forcing the issue on the kingside. Now White has to respond.} 19. f5 {White at this point is committed on the kingside, so might as well press forward.} (19. g5 { doesn't solve anything, as Black can take her time to further strengthen her position while White no longer has any threats.}) 19... exf5 20. e6 {Perhaps White's best practical chance, forcing Black to find the one correct defense. Which, however, she does.} Nf6 21. exf7+ Kf8 22. Kc1 {breaking the pin. White has now run out of possible counterplay, though, and Black takes over the initiative.} Ne4 23. Be1 Qg5+ 24. Kb2 hxg4 $19 {securing the advantage. Black's passed f-pawn is now huge.} 25. a4 Bxf7 {Goryachkina chooses careful consolidation to preserve her winning advantage. This also requires good calculation of the following sequence.} (25... bxa4 {is the engine line, but that allows White more piece activity and open lines with the light-squared bishop.}) 26. Bxf7 Kxf7 27. axb5 cxb5 28. Rxa7+ Kg6 29. Qxb5 {White temporarily restores material equality and has her own pair of passed pawns, but her king position is too weak and Black immediately exploits this.} (29. Ra6+ Nf6 $19) 29... Rd1 {pinning the bishop and threatening ...Qc1+.} 30. Qc6+ Kh7 31. Qc7 Rg8 {overprotecting g7 before doing anything else. Black is not in a rush and the move would eventually be necessary anyway.} 32. Kb3 {nothing better.} Rb1+ 33. Ka4 Qe3 {threatening to win the Ra7 after ...Ra1+, as well as to capture the Be1, so forcing the win of material.} 34. Kb5 Rxe1 35. Rxe1 Qxe1 36. c4 {White pins her last hopes on the passed pawns.} Nc3+ 37. Ka5 Qa1+ 38. Kb6 Qg1+ {Black here maneuvers her queen to a central position to simultaneously pressure the White pawns and harass the White king.} 39. Ka6 Qd4 40. Qf7 Qd6+ 41. Ka5 Qg6 {by this point, Goryachkina has calculated the endgame win with the queens off the board, so would be happy to exchange.} 42. Qd7 (42. Qxg6+ Kxg6 {and now one continuation would be} 43. b5 Rh8 44. b6 Ne4 45. b7 Nc5 {the knight arrives just in time.} 46. Kb6 Nxb7 47. Rxb7 Rxh2 $19) 42... Rf8 {a simple winning choice, just getting behind the passed pawn and pushing it.} 43. c5 f4 44. Ra6 (44. c6 $2 {is not possible, due to the weakness of White's king and the great combination Black's knight and queen can make.} Qg5+ {with a mate in 5.}) (44. b5 {is just too slow.} f3 $19) 44... Qf5 45. Qd4 Qc2 46. Kb6 Rb8+ 47. Kc6 Qg2+ {and now White again loses material after Kd7 followed by ...Qb7+, so she resigns.} 0-1

22 June 2019

Annotated Game #213: Charting your own path

During this next tournament game, my opponent and I chart our own path early on, outside of what is covered in opening books. But it's not really new ground, once you start looking in the databases. In what is ostensibly a rather offbeat sideline of a Caro-Kann Two Knights, you can find super-GM level games by Carlsen and Topalov on the Black side, which are given below. (And the next Commentary game to be posted will feature a very recent game in the same line, from the 2019 Women's Candidates tournament.)

These days, especially with Carlsen as a model, players seem less obligated to try to duel for a theoretical advantage in main lines, although there's still a lot of opening theory that continues to evolve. I used to have an unhelpful attitude towards opening "deviations", thinking that they should always be punished. Now, I think it's more important to know the key elements of an opening position, both static and dynamic, which will then be your guide - regardless of whether the line you're in is popular or even known. Analyzing your own games when you enter unfamiliar territory is always a good learning experience, since both your knowledge base and insights should grow as a result.

In this game, the main insight for me from Carlsen's different choice on move 5 is how to take advantage of White's Qe2 blocking the standard bishop development. Later on, the queen's early sally on the kingside also offers opportunities for Black on the queenside. I decide to follow a more aggressive plan with opposite-side castling, which offered the clear idea of advancing pawns on the kingside to pressure White. This isn't done in the most effective way, and I also miss some key ideas repeatedly (...Qd5!?), which I'll remember for the future. There's a lot of back-and-forth and White was dangerous in the endgame, but I finally managed to get a draw. My opponent was rated about 100 points above me, so not a bad outcome of an interesting game.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "108"] {[%mdl 8192] B11: Caro-Kann: Two Knights Variation} 1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 {this is not in any book variation of the Caro-Kann, but is a legitimate if offbeat choice by White. Here there is a quick transposition into a Two Knights Variation.} d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 {this offers another transposition into a main line Caro-Kann variation, if White takes on f6.} 5. Qe2 {a surprise here, but it's actually the third most popular choice in the database. Black players always need to be aware of the potential threat of a discovered pin by White's queen on the e-pawn after an early Qe2 is played.} Nxe4 {while exchanging is an obvious move, this is actually not the choice of top-rated Black players. Here's a (very!) high-level illustrative game, with Magnus Carlsen as Black:} (5... Bf5 6. Nxf6+ gxf6 7. d3 Nd7 8. g3 Ne5 9. Nxe5 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Qxe5 11. Qxe5 fxe5 12. Bg2 h5 13. O-O h4 14. Rae1 f6 15. f4 hxg3 16. hxg3 exf4 17. Rxf4 Bh6 18. Rh4 Bg7 19. Rb4 Bc8 20. d4 Bf8 21. Rc4 Bh3 22. Bf3 Rd8 23. d5 cxd5 24. Rc7 Rd7 25. Rxd7 Bxd7 26. Bxd5 b6 27. c4 e5 28. b4 Ke7 29. c5 Be6 30. Bf3 Bh6 31. Bxh6 Rxh6 32. cxb6 axb6 33. a4 Rh7 34. Rc1 f5 35. Rc6 Bd7 36. Rxb6 Bxa4 37. b5 Rh8 38. Bd5 Rc8 39. Re6+ Kd7 40. Rxe5 Bxb5 41. Rxf5 Rc1+ 42. Kg2 Kd6 43. Be4 Bd7 44. Rf2 Ke5 45. Bf3 Bf5 46. g4 Rc2 47. gxf5 Rxf2+ 48. Kxf2 Kxf5 {1/2-1/2 (48) Vachier Lagrave,M (2783)-Carlsen,M (2851) Leuven 2017}) 6. Qxe4 {now White's queen is no longer blocking the development of the light-squared bishop, which is why immediately exchanging is not the preferred choice.} Nd7 {a standard developing move, but Black can also immediately challenge the centralized queen:} (6... Qd5 7. Qh4 Qe6+ 8. Be2 Qg4 9. Qg3 Qxg3 10. hxg3 g6 11. d4 Bg7 12. Bh6 Bf6 13. Ne5 Be6 14. O-O-O Nd7 15. f4 Rg8 16. g4 Rd8 17. c4 Bxe5 18. fxe5 Nb6 19. b3 g5 20. Kc2 f6 21. exf6 exf6 22. Kc3 Kf7 23. Rdf1 Rg6 24. Bd3 Bxg4 25. Bxg6+ Kxg6 26. Re1 Nc8 27. c5 Rg8 28. a4 a5 29. b4 axb4+ 30. Kxb4 Rd8 31. Kc3 b6 32. Kc4 Bf5 33. Re3 Bc2 34. Bxg5 Kxg5 35. Rg3+ Kf5 36. Rxh7 Bxa4 37. Rh5+ Ke6 38. Re3+ Kf7 39. Rh7+ Kg6 40. Rc7 Bb5+ 41. Kc3 bxc5 42. dxc5 Kf5 43. g3 Kg6 44. Kb4 Rd4+ 45. Kc3 Rd8 46. Kb4 Rd4+ {1/2-1/2 (46) Bacrot,E (2708)-Topalov,V (2749) Paris 2017}) 7. d4 Nf6 8. Qh4 Bf5 { targeting the weak c-pawn and also preventing the usual development of the White bishop to d3. Without the queen's presence on d1 the doubled d-pawns that would be inflicting on White after a bishop exchange would be a serious weakness.} 9. c3 e6 10. Be2 Be7 11. Bg5 h6 {although this is not actually an immediate threat to the Bg5, because the unprotected Rh8 prevents Black from capturing on g5, it still puts additional latent pressure on White. At least that was my thinking.} (11... Qb6 $5 {is favored by the engines, as Black is in a good position to take advantage of the lack of queenside defenders. For example} 12. b3 Qa5 13. Bd2 Ne4 14. Qf4 Nxc3 $17) 12. Rd1 $146 {it wasn't clear to me what the rook is doing on the d-file. Although the rook is lined up against the queen, the d-pawn in front of it is not going anywhere.} Nd5 { an overly passive approach, aiming for piece exchanges and equality.} (12... Qd5 {is a thematic seizure of the center by Black's queen, and it can't be chased away easily.} 13. a3 (13. c4 $2 Qa5+ $19) 13... O-O $15) (12... O-O { immediately is also good, also essentially forcing the exchange on f6.}) 13. Bxe7 $11 {forced} Qxe7 14. Qg3 {here I thought for a while and decided to take a more aggressive path by castling queenside, since White had declined the queen trade.} (14. Qxe7+ Kxe7 $11) 14... O-O-O {with the dark-squared bishops gone, Black's king is secure on the queenside, allowing kingside expansion.} 15. O-O (15. Qxg7 $2 Rdg8 16. Qe5 f6 {trapping the queen.}) 15... g5 { advancing and protecting the pawn at the same time. Black has only a slightly better position, but it's easier to play and my plan is clear, to do everything I can to try and break through on the kingside.} 16. Rfe1 Nf4 { here I advance my own plan, but allow White to get in a relatively more impactful move.} (16... f6 $5 {takes away the e5 square.}) 17. Ne5 h5 18. Nd3 ( 18. Bd3 Nxd3 19. Nxd3 Rhg8 $11) 18... Nxe2+ {here I should maintain the tension on the kingside, since I have some initiative, rather than help White relieve it.} (18... h4 19. Qf3 Nd5 $15 {here the Be2 is bottled up by White's other pieces and the Re1 is also blocked by it.}) 19. Rxe2 h4 {now this move has less impact.} (19... f6 20. Qe3 $11) 20. Qf3 Qd6 {moving the queen away from the e-file, both to get on the h2-b8 diagonal and to get off the e-file.} 21. Ne5 Rdf8 22. Rde1 f6 {at the time, I judged this to be weakening but not too much so, with that outweighed by the benefit of kicking White's well-placed knight.} (22... Qd5 $5 {is a more solid approach, but I was still thinking more aggressively about a kingside attack.} 23. Qxd5 cxd5 24. h3 $11) 23. Nc4 Qd7 24. Re3 {I thought this was a wasted move.} (24. h3 {would have prevented my next idea.}) 24... g4 25. Qf4 Rd8 {addressing in a simple manner the new threat of Nd6+ by adding to the protection of the d6 square.} (25... Qc7 {also is fine, but is much more complicated, because if} 26. Nd6+ $2 (26. Qxc7+ $11) 26... Kd7 27. Qxf5 exf5 28. Re7+ Kxd6 29. R1e6+ Kd5 30. c4+ Kxc4 31. Rxc7 Re8 32. Rce7 Rxe7 33. Rxe7 {and Black is a pawn up in the rook ending.}) 26. a4 {now White shows interest in getting his own pawns going against my king.} h3 {I thought for a long time here, since it wasn't clear to me how best to continue on the kingside. I don't in fact have any breakthrough possibilities, though.} (26... Rh5 $11 {is suggested by the engine, with the point that the rook can now move along the 5th rank to good effect, prior to committing with ...h3.}) (26... Qc7 {admitting that the position is even would also be a solid approach.}) 27. Qg3 $6 {other reasonable moves by White lead to equality. The text now allows me to open the h-file and get attacking chances.} (27. Rg3 $5 $14 {must definitely be considered}) 27... hxg2 $15 28. Qxg2 Rh3 {another significant think here, as there were several good-looking options. Naturally I'd like to double on the h-file.} 29. Rxh3 $2 (29. a5 $5) 29... gxh3 $19 {now I have a real advantage, but can't figure out the best way to proceed.} 30. Qg3 {forced} Qd5 $2 {this one-move threat against the Nc4 does nothing for me.} (30... e5 {this pawn lever is the key, although it is not easy to see the consequences.} 31. dxe5 (31. Ne3 Be6 32. Qh4 f5 $19) 31... Qe6 $1 {a subtle move that pins White's e-pawn, attacks the Nc4 and simultaneously threatens Rg8.} 32. Qf3 Qg8+ 33. Kh1 Bg4 34. Qf4 Be6 35. Ne3 fxe5 $19) (30... Qh7 {would also be good, again now enabling Rg8.}) 31. Ne3 $11 {now I'm forced into an awkward sequence to maintain equality.} Qe4 32. f3 Qd3 33. Nxf5 Qxf5 34. Re4 Rh8 {here I was thinking in too much of a static defensive fashion. Activity and counter-threats are better to pursue here.} ( 34... c5 $5) (34... Qh7 {also is good, because if} 35. Rh4 $2 Qb1+ 36. Kf2 Qxb2+ 37. Kf1 Qxc3 $19) 35. Qg4 (35. Kf2 Qh7 $11) 35... Qxg4+ {at this point I judged that I would be better off in a rook endgame.} (35... Rh5 $5) 36. Rxg4 { the rook endgame looks generally balanced, although my advanced h-pawn is a weakness.} Rh7 (36... Kc7 37. Rg7+ Kd6 38. Rxb7 Rg8+ 39. Kh1 Rg2 $11) 37. Kf2 Kd7 38. Kg3 Kd6 39. Rh4 Rg7+ 40. Kxh3 e5 {not a good choice.} (40... f5 41. a5 $14) 41. dxe5+ Kxe5 42. Rg4 $16 {now exchanging would give White a won pawn ending.} Rh7+ 43. Kg3 Kf5 (43... f5 44. Rg5 $14) 44. b4 Re7 45. h4 {passed pawns must be pushed!} Rh7 {I'm trying to protect the 7th rank and stop the h-pawn at the same time.} 46. c4 (46. a5 {would put more pressure on the queenside.}) 46... Ke5 {at least my king is centralized and fighting.} 47. Kf2 $2 {this allows me to force the rook away from protecting the h-pawn.} (47. Re4+ Kf5 48. a5 $16) 47... f5 $11 {now my opponent realized what he had done.} 48. Rg8 Rxh4 $15 49. Rg7 Rxc4 {this rushed move is not optimal, as it would have been better to preserve the two queenside pawns together.} (49... b6 $5 50. Rxa7 Rxc4 51. b5 cxb5 52. axb5 Rb4 53. Rb7 Rxb5 $15 {technically speaking this should still be a draw with best play, but I'd rather be Black.}) 50. Rxb7 $11 {now we're back to equality.} a5 51. b5 (51. bxa5 Rxa4 52. Ra7 Kd4 $11) 51... Kf4 {here I play it safe.} (51... c5 $5 52. Rc7 Kd6 53. Rc6+ Kd5 54. Rf6 f4 55. b6 Rxa4 56. b7 Rb4 57. Rxf4 Rxb7 $17) 52. bxc6 Rxa4 53. Rb5 Rc4 54. Rxa5 Rxc6 1/2-1/2

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 #212: 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 drawish. 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 #211: 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 #210: 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