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