10 May 2019

Annotated Game #208: Bishop versus Knight

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

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

06 May 2019

Practical thoughts from a champion on improving your chess

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

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

01 May 2019

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

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

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

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