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