31 March 2019

Training quote of the day #22

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

25 March 2019

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

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

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

22 March 2019

Book completed: How Chessmasters Think


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

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

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