30 September 2019

Annotated Game #222: How it's supposed to work

For this fourth-round tournament game, it's useful to review how I got here:
While none of the above were clean games, the good news is that the quality of play was trending up, not to mention that I had actually managed to score 2/3. In this next game, by contrast, it went exactly "how it's supposed to work": start with a solid Caro-Kann Classical, win a pawn in the middlegame, snuff out White's limited compensation, and go on to win a rook and pawn ending.

Of course this kind of one-line game narrative never tells the whole story. Analyzing your own games uncovers the multiple layers involved, humbles you with hidden mistakes, and teaches broader lessons just as much with your victories as with defeats. Some key points here are:
  • I get at least a psychological advantage in the opening by causing a transposition from a queen pawn's opening to the Caro-Kann, which my opponent was not expecting to have to play. These sorts of opportunities are what opening preparation and repertoire choice are all about.
  • The different choices for Black on moves 11-12 on what to do with the dark-square bishop have a large strategic effect on the course of the middlegame.
  • 15...Qc7 is much better than the awkward ...Qe7.
  • The tactic on move 19 (a double attack by the queen, forking White's king and pawn) was not forced, but it was the psychologically easiest line for my opponent to play and what I was expecting. My opponent's other choice would have caused a lot of problems for me in defending.
  • I should be more aware of indirect means of accomplishing goals, for example undermining White's Nd6 rather than somewhat stereotypically attacking it head-on.
  • Although the pawn-down rook endgame wasn't necessarily lost for White, I had the energy to keep the pressure on and calculate reasonably well, instead of letting it drift into a draw. Rather than be stressed about winning when you have an advantage, I think it's much more productive to treat it as an opportunity to make your opponent suffer to the best of your ability. From personal experience, that's certainly how it feels on the other end, and sustained pressure is likely to eventually cause a breakdown in play, regardless of whatever the engine evaluation says.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B19"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "106"] {[%mdl 8192] B19: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 main line} 1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 { this is normally how White enters the Veresov Attack.} c6 (2... Nf6 3. Bg5 { is what White was aiming for.}) 3. e4 {White abandons a queen pawn opening to transpose into a main line Caro-Kann. A small psychological victory already.} ( 3. Bg5 {has much less bite now, especially since Black can answer} h6 {and now} 4. Bh4 (4. Bf4 Nf6) 4... Qb6 {followed by ...Bf5 will result in a favorable type of Slav setup for Black.}) 3... dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 { My opponent is evidently familiar with how to play this line, even if it was not his preference from the start.} h6 7. h5 Bh7 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Nf6 10. Nf3 e6 11. Bf4 Bb4+ (11... Qa5+ {is a much more popular version of the idea of exploiting the a5-e1 diagonal and provoking a White response, either c2-c3 or retreating the bishop.}) (11... Bd6 $5 {is the most played move in the database, directly challenging White's bishop.}) 12. c3 Bd6 {now White has the extra move c2-c3, but Black's argument is that the weakening of the queenside squares is worth the tempo.} (12... Be7 {is a less confrontational way to play. Here's a top-level example:} 13. O-O-O O-O 14. Ne4 Nxe4 15. Qxe4 Nd7 16. g4 Nf6 17. Qe2 Qa5 18. g5 Nd5 19. Bd2 Bxg5 20. Nxg5 hxg5 21. h6 g6 22. Qe5 f6 23. Qxe6+ Kh8 24. c4 Qxa2 25. cxd5 cxd5 26. Qe7 Rac8+ 27. Bc3 {Anand,V (2803) -Vallejo Pons,F (2684) Leon 2008 1/2-1/2}) 13. Be5 {my opponent decides to maintain control over e5, at the cost of exchanging the remaining bishops.} Bxe5 14. Nxe5 Nbd7 $146 (14... O-O 15. O-O-O Nbd7 16. f4 Qa5 17. Kb1 Rad8 18. Ne4 Nxe4 19. Qxe4 Qd5 20. Qxd5 exd5 21. Nxd7 Rxd7 22. Rde1 Rc8 23. Rh3 Kf8 24. Rhe3 Rdd8 25. Kc2 Re8 26. Re5 f6 27. Rxe8+ Rxe8 28. Rxe8+ Kxe8 {1/2-1/2 (28) Negi,P (2529)-Zenklusen,R (2392) Biel 2007}) 15. f4 Qe7 {this somewhat awkward move was intended to maintain flexibility in castling, leaving open the possibility of O-O-O by protecting the f7 pawn.} (15... Qc7 $5 {puts the queen on a better diagonal (b8-h2), keeps open the idea of going to b6 or a5, and supports a possible ...c5 break.}) 16. O-O {That doesn't look like a safe castle, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. White is under no immediate threat, but this decision at least makes it easy for me to decide to castle kingside as well.} (16. O-O-O {and White's king is more secure than on the much airier kingside.}) 16... O-O $11 17. Qf3 Nd5 {deliberately intended to provoke White's next.} (17... Nxe5 {is a more straightforward way to proceed.} 18. fxe5 (18. dxe5 Nd5 {and now the knight is secure in its central post due to the same tactic as appears in the game, namely} 19. c4 $2 Qc5+ $17) 18... Nh7 {this looks awkward but g5 will be a nice post for the knight. Compare this position with the below variation after a similar fxe5 and it's clear that this is the better path.}) 18. c4 {the "obvious move".} Nxe5 (18... N5f6 $11 {with no psychological investment in having just moved the knight, the engine evaluates the retreat as objectively best. White has no further threats and Black's pieces are actively defending.}) 19. dxe5 $6 {my opponent appeared to miss my next move.} (19. fxe5 {would lead to a small plus for White, with pressure on the kingside and some careful defending required for Black.} Nb6 20. Ne4 Rad8 21. Qg4 Nxc4 22. Rf3 Kh8 23. b3 Nb6 24. Nf6 Qb4 25. Rd1 Rg8 26. Nxg8 Kxg8 $14) 19... Qc5+ 20. Kh2 Qxc4 $17 {White has some compensation for the pawn, in terms of better placed and more active pieces. The advanced kingside pawns also give him some hope of pressure on my king position, although I dont believe there is enough material left on the board to make that a real threat.} 21. b3 Qc3 {I am happy to swap queens and head for the endgame with a 3-2 queenside pawn majority. White cannot really avoid it, either, now that my queen has penetrated and has the support of the Nd5.} 22. Ne4 Qxf3 23. Rxf3 Rad8 {this is fine, but I end up not handling the resulting dyanmics on the d-file as best as I could.} (23... b6 $5 {might be easier to play here, in anticipation of White's next move, since now it's easier to start mobilizing the pawns after ...c5. In the game, I get hung up on the d-file.}) 24. Nd6 {this was annoying, but the knight is not a real danger for Black.} Rd7 (24... b6 {again would be simpler.}) 25. Ne4 {guarding the c5 square, but I was happy to see it retreat. I also will take control of c5 momentarily.} (25. a3 f6 26. Raf1 b6 $17) 25... b6 26. Rc1 c5 27. Rcf1 { this looks somewhat menacing, but White has no real prospects on the f-file.} ( 27. Rd1 $5) 27... Ne7 28. Nd6 {back to plugging the d-file again.} Nc8 { this is OK, but is too literal an interpretation of the need to challenge the Nd6.} (28... Nc6 {would instead look to undermine it.} 29. Re1 f6 30. Rfe3 Nb4 31. R1e2 Nd5 32. Rf3 fxe5 33. fxe5 Rxf3 34. gxf3 Nf4 $19) 29. Rd3 Rfd8 30. Rfd1 Nxd6 31. exd6 {in reaching this position, I felt that I had not played optimally and made things harder for myself (which is true). With what appeared to be a static situation on the d-file, I decided to try to mobilize the queenside pawns.} b5 (31... f6 $5 {with the idea of ...Kf7 might be better preparation.}) 32. g4 {White correctly gets his pawns into play as well.} c4 33. bxc4 bxc4 34. Rd4 Kf8 {this was an uninspired waiting move.} (34... c3 $5 { causes White more problems.} 35. R4d3 c2 36. Rc1 Rxd6 37. Rxd6 Rxd6 38. Rxc2 Ra6 {is an improved version of the game, with White's king further away from the action. White's rook cannot profitably take advantage of the 7th/8th rank weakness, either, for example} 39. Rc8+ Kh7 40. Rc7 Rxa2+ 41. Kg3 f6 $19) 35. Kg3 c3 36. Rc4 Rxd6 37. Rxd6 Rxd6 38. Rxc3 Ke7 $15 {this is starting to look much more like a draw, since with the rooks on the board it will be difficult to realize the value of the extra kingside pawn.} 39. g5 f6 {this is fine, although it may be better to take away squares from White's rook first.} (39... Kd7 $15) (39... hxg5 $6 {should be avoided, as it gives White the possibility of creating a h-file passed pawn and also boxes in Black's king.} 40. fxg5 $11) 40. Ra3 $6 {this puts White's rook in front of his own pawn and limits its scope. Rook activity is the most important principle in rook endgames.} (40. Rc7+ Rd7 41. gxf6+ gxf6 42. Rc8 $11) 40... a6 $15 41. Ra5 $6 (41. g6) 41... fxg5 42. fxg5 hxg5 (42... Rd5 {is much more effective. Black should not worry about swapping the a-pawn for a White kingside pawn and making the e-pawn mobile.} 43. Rxa6 Rxg5+ 44. Kh4 e5 $17) 43. Rxg5 $15 Kf6 44. Rg6+ Kf7 {Here I felt like I should be able to win with the proper effort, although Komodo shows only a small edge to Black. It will be harder for White to cover his own pawns while stopping the progress of the e-pawn.} 45. Rg4 {best, making the rook mobile again.} Rd5 46. Kh4 e5 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 47. Rg6 { this makes it easier for me, as the e-pawn becomes significantly stronger the further it moves down the board.} (47. Rg5) 47... e4 $17 48. Rxa6 $2 {my opponent miscalculates the strength of the e-pawn and his ability to stop it.} (48. Kg3 e3 49. Kf3 $17) 48... e3 $19 {this wins by force.} 49. Ra7+ (49. Kg3 Re5 $19) 49... Kf6 50. Kg3 Re5 51. Ra6+ Kf5 52. Ra4 e2 53. Rf4+ Ke6 0-1

26 September 2019

Annotated Game #221: The saving exchange sacrifice

This third-round tournament game features a saving exchange sacrifice by White (me) after a missed tactic by Black. Unlike the second-round game (Annotated Game #220), this one is not nearly as much of a swindle, although under a strict definition it might fall into that category. Some other familiar recent themes crop up as well:
  • Inferior opening play that results in increasingly difficult or simply bad choices while under pressure.
  • Tactical recovery after an opportunity is spotted. In this case, it is the theme of an exchange sacrifice against a castled king position, doubling the pawns and opening up the defenses. More typically this is seen in the Sicilian, when Black sacrifices a rook for a knight on c3 after White has castled queenside. This game is the mirror image of that.
  • An "obvious move" being in fact a mistake, in this case leading directly to the loss.
  • Consciously choosing to win safely and simply, rather than trying to win by finding the "best" line. You don't get extra credit in a tournament for winning faster or more brilliantly.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "45"] {[%mdl 8192] A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. e3 c6 {indicating that Black is heading for a Semi-Slav setup.} 5. b3 Bd6 6. Bb2 Nbd7 7. Be2 a6 (7... Qe7 8. Qc2 O-O 9. O-O Ba3 10. Bxa3 Qxa3 11. d4 Qe7 12. e4 dxe4 13. Nxe4 c5 14. Rad1 cxd4 15. Nxd4 Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Qc5 17. Nb5 Nf6 18. Qe3 Qxe3 19. fxe3 Bd7 20. Nd6 b6 21. Bf3 Rab8 22. Rd2 {Koneru,H (2614)-Ruan,L (2479) Rostov on Don 2011 1-0 (49)}) 8. O-O {this is playable, but d4 likely has to be played anyway, so perhaps now would be a better time.} (8. d4 b5 9. O-O O-O 10. Qc2 Bb7 11. c5 Bc7 12. b4 e5 13. a4 Ng4 14. h3 Nh6 15. axb5 axb5 16. Rxa8 Bxa8 17. dxe5 Nxe5 18. Nxe5 Bxe5 19. Bd3 f5 20. Ne2 Qf6 21. Bd4 Bb7 22. Qb2 Nf7 {Darban,M (2300)-Eren,A (2064) Istanbul 2017 1-0 (38)}) 8... e5 9. cxd5 (9. d4 $5 e4 10. Nd2 $11 {White has more play here than in the actual game.}) 9... cxd5 10. d4 $146 {after Black's natural follow-up move, he then has a strong center, a space advantage, and most of the play in the position.} (10. d3 {is no better.} O-O 11. Rc1 Qe7 12. Qc2 b5 13. a4 b4 14. Na2 Bb7 15. d4 e4 16. Ne5 Rac8 17. Qd2 a5 18. Nxd7 Nxd7 19. Rxc8 Bxc8 20. Rc1 f5 21. g3 g5 22. f4 exf3 23. Bxf3 Nf6 24. Qd3 Bd7 {Taimanov,M (2407)-Marchio,E (2272) Germany 2003 0-1 (54)}) (10. b4 $5 {is Komodo's suggestion for a pawn sacrifice, although it can be safely ignored by Black.} O-O (10... Bxb4 11. Qb3 Qa5 12. d4 e4 13. Ne5 $11) 11. b5 e4 12. Nd4 $11) 10... e4 11. Nd2 Qe7 12. Kh1 {not a horrible move, but White is already having problems finding any good moves. I was fearful of potential tactics involving ...Bxh2+ and decided to move the king as a precaution.} (12. a4 $5 {restraining ...b5, which would allow Black to develop the Bc8 and Nd7.} O-O 13. Re1 $11) 12... O-O 13. f3 $2 {in some cases, this is a useful freeing move by White. However, I have not done the necessary preparation for it, namely protecting e3.} exf3 $17 14. Bxf3 Qxe3 15. Nxd5 {This was my original idea behind initiating the sequence, regaining the pawn and freeing my pieces up for more activity. However, it has a major flaw.} Nxd5 16. Bxd5 Nf6 $2 {my opponent misses the available tactic and instead presents me with a welcome opportunity to sacrifice the exchange for counterplay.} (16... Qh6 {threatening h2 should put Black comfortably ahead.} 17. g3 Nf6 {now the Bd5 and the g3 pawn (due to the pin on the h-pawn) are both hanging.} 18. Rxf6 Qxf6 $19) 17. Rxf6 $11 gxf6 18. Ne4 {a strong follow-up, forking d6 and f6. In calculating it, I also noticed the fact that the Black queen has very few squares left. My opponent now plays the "obvious move", removing the Bd6 from threat and protecting f6, which however loses.} Be7 $4 (18... Qf4 {defends and keeps things relatively equal, although I still prefer to play White.} 19. Qg1 Be7 20. Rf1 Qh6 21. Ng3) 19. Bc1 $18 {a backwards bishop move that returns it to its original square, making it more difficult to see/visualize. Our natural mental assumption is that pieces move forward and don't un-develop themselves.} Qxe4 20. Bxe4 {with a queen for a rook and Black's open king position, the win is essentially trivial from here.} f5 21. Bd3 {a simple way to continue winning. I thought for a bit before retreating the bishop, since there are some tactical possibilities available. However, it did not seem worth the effort to calculate multiple sacrificial lines to try to 'win better'.} (21. Qf3 $5 {is the computer line.} fxe4 22. Qg3+ Bg4 (22... Kh8 23. Qe5+ f6 24. Qxe7 $18) 23. Qxg4+ Kh8 $18) 21... Be6 22. Qf3 Rad8 23. Bh6 {with either further material loss or mate coming, Black resigned.} 1-0

25 September 2019

Training quote of the day #27: Simon Webb

From Chess for Tigers by IM Simon Webb.
...This comes back to the question of what constitutes the 'best move' for you or me. The best move for a grandmaster is not necessarily the best move for you or me. If you want to win your won games you should allow for your own limitations by playing moves which you know are good rather than moves which you think ought to be tremendous.

24 September 2019

ESPN article on chess training

From ESPN's "Why grandmasters like Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana lose weight playing chess"

This is an interesting article on the modern approach to chess training, which at the professional level means maximizing your energy level for playing. This in turn means keeping yourself in good physical shape. While it's necessary for professional players to maximize their performance, it's of course also a good idea for improving amateurs, and I would even attribute the majority of my own progress in gaining practical strength at the chessboard in recent years to better energy management.

Of course this isn't strictly a modern idea, although the science behind personal performance enhancement is now better known and more advanced. Viktor Korchnoi made a habit of long-distance walking over a lifetime. Bobby Fischer did the same and had an even broader and more strenuous training program. These are just two prominent examples.

It would be a mistake to equate chessplaying with weight loss, of course, although it's not surprising to see how extended periods of mental strain and the associated constant physical stress, especially during long matches at the top level, bring about that result. While younger players might be able to shrug off this type of strain relatively easily in a physical sense, I think that it's better to cultivate mental calmness and focus, which can mitigate the constant anxiety and stress-related pressure. Regular physical training does in fact help with this, through its effect on the brain's neurology, and other forms of mental preparation can also contribute to better results.

23 September 2019

Annotated Game #220: Second chances in the Dutch

The theme of this game, as well as being an example of the (desperate) second chances the Dutch can sometimes offer, could also be "Why You Should Never Give Up in Chess". This was my second tournament game with the Stonewall, coming about a year after Annotated Game #175. As can be seen, I'm still feeling my way forward in understanding the needs of the position and best locations for the pieces. White's 12. Ne5 highlights the weaknesses and awkward development that Black has at this point. However, analysis also shows the resilience of the Stonewall, as it is hard for White to make measurable progress even with a noticeable positional plus. The equalizing idea of the ...e5 pawn break (not played in the game until later) is particularly noteworthy.

On move 22, I start a rather rapid downward slide, with White establishing a positional bind on the queenside. Due to blunders on move 25 and 28, by move 30 my opponent is a piece up in a far superior position. I could have given up, but instead decided to play on and try to exhaust all opportunities for complicating the game and giving White a chance to go wrong. Essentially Black has to go "all in" on creating possible central and kingside threats. Move 35 is the last shot at this, which in fact worked in a spectacular way, as my opponent overlooked in the ensuing sequence an exchange sacrifice deflecting his queen away from protecting his king. From that point, the win was technical.

This game helps illustrate some of the psychological and cognitive factors behind winning and losing moves. My two blunders occurred under pressure and involved missing longer-range bishop moves / square coverage, the first being a backwards bishop move. My opponent's game-ending mistake occurred in a complex position where the "obvious" move seemed good enough and the alternatives were more difficult to calculate.

On the positive side, when I committed to staying in the game on move 30, I was then able to focus on possible tactical resources and accurately calculate them. This often happens in a game when you accept that you are objectively lost, which paradoxically releases psychological pressure, as the worst case scenario has already happened. With nothing left to lose, more energy can be directed into trying to fight back than in worrying about potentially losing. I think part of the process of improvement is fostering the ability to have that kind of worry-free focus before you actually get into a lost position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A84"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "102"] {[%mdl 8256] A84: Dutch Defence: 2 c4 Miscellaneous} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nf3 f5 5. Bf4 Nf6 6. e3 Nbd7 {covering the e5 square immediately. More popular is an immediate bishop development to d6 or e7.} 7. Be2 Be7 {in the usual Modern Stonewall, this bishop goes to d6. With White's bishop on f4, it can sometimes be helpful for Black to defer challenging it there and use the old Stonewall setup with the bishop on e7.} 8. h3 {done to provide the Bf4 with a retreat square, but it seems a little slow to me.} O-O 9. O-O h6 $146 { I was thinking that this has the benefit of controlling g5 and avoiding awkward things like Ng5, threatening e6. Black however should do more with his pieces first, with the thematic ...Ne4 probably best here. Once that is done, g5 is more than adequately controlled with the bishop on e7.} (9... Ne4 10. Qc2 g5 11. Bh2 Rf7 12. Nxe4 dxe4 13. Nd2 Rg7 14. Rad1 Qe8 15. Nb3 h5 16. d5 cxd5 17. cxd5 e5 18. d6 Bf6 19. g4 Bd8 20. Rd5 hxg4 21. hxg4 Qg6 22. gxf5 Qxf5 23. Nc5 Rh7 24. Qxe4 Qh3 25. Qh1 Nxc5 26. Rxc5 Be6 27. Rxe5 Bf6 28. Rb5 Rd8 29. Bf3 Rdd7 30. b3 a6 31. Rc5 Bg4 32. Bxg4 Qxg4+ 33. Qg2 Qe2 34. Rf5 Bd8 35. Bg3 Rhf7 36. Rxf7 Rxf7 37. Qe4 Kf8 38. Rc1 Kg7 39. Rc8 Bf6 40. Kg2 g4 41. Rc4 {1-0 (41) Ogaard,L (2435)-Ivkov,B (2515) Buenos Aires 1978}) 10. c5 {this looks aggressive, but the additional pawn move gives me more time to activate my pieces, which I now do. The hole on d6 appears worrying, but White can't take advantage of it yet.} (10. Rc1 Ne4 $14) 10... Ne4 {now the knight also helps cover d6.} 11. Qc2 (11. Nxe4 fxe4 12. Ne5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bf6 $14) 11... Kh8 { this move shows that I am over-focused on potential play down the g-file. In a number of variations this is useful, but here I am still somewhat under-developed.} (11... Bf6 $5 {with the idea of following up with ...Qe7 or . ..Qe8 and ...e5 would be a classic thematic idea. The e5 square, seemingly so strong, is challenged directly.}) 12. Ne5 $16 {this move is all the stronger because of the hole on g6, another drawback to the early ...h6 advance, which makes the next move forced.} Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bf6 14. Bh2 {the correct decision, one which White has prepared for. The White bishop is much more valuable on the h2-b8 diagonal than its Black counterpart.} Bd7 {Black's position is now starting to look a little sad. The Stonewall bishop is not necessarily doomed to irrelevance, but in this position that seems to be its fate. Normally there would be the prospect of it going to h5 or possibly g6 in order to be effective, but that does not look likely here. My other pieces are not well coordinated either.} (14... Ng5 $5 {with the idea of potentially rerouting the knight to f7, either to shore up Black's center or to support an ...e5 pawn break, is an interesting idea.}) 15. b4 Qe8 {improving the prospect for the queen, which can now either support an e-pawn push or get to f7/g6/h5.} 16. a4 {this ignores Black's possible pawn lever in the center. Of course, I ignore it too.} (16. Nxe4 fxe4 17. Bd6 Be7 $16) 16... Rg8 $6 {continuing to over-focus on g-file play.} (16... e5 $5 {is the key to the position, opening the center and activating Black's pieces.} 17. Nxe4 (17. Bxe5 Bxe5 18. Nxe4 fxe4 19. dxe5 Qxe5) 17... fxe4 18. Qc3 exd4 19. exd4 Qg6 $11) 17. f3 Ng5 18. b5 {this makes White even more vulnerable to a counter-blow in the center, but we both remain unaware of this.} (18. Kh1 Nf7 19. f4 $16) 18... Nf7 (18... e5 $5 { is the best option Black has, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} 19. f4 exf4 20. Bxf4 Ne6 $11) 19. bxc6 $14 bxc6 {this opens the b-file, but covers the b5 square, so I preferred it to the bishop recapture.} 20. Bd3 (20. f4 g5 21. Bh5 Bc8 $14) 20... e5 $14 {long-delayed, but still best. In this position it's easier to see as a possibility, since there are very few other options for Black.} 21. Ne2 {reinforcing d4. Exchanging on e5 would let me release my pieces' energy.} exd4 22. exd4 $14 Qe3+ $2 {with this I start losing my way again. There is a nice little tactic present, taking advantage of the e3 hole in a much better way.} (22... Bxd4+ 23. Nxd4 Qe3+ 24. Kh1 Qxd4 25. Bxf5 Bxf5 26. Qxf5 $14) 23. Kh1 $16 g6 24. Rab1 Qe8 25. Ba6 {at this point I thought I was getting into serious trouble on the queenside, which started a bit of panicking.} (25. a5 $16 {followed by a6 would put even more of a squeeze on.}) 25... f4 $4 {the engine deservedly gives a double question mark here. Rather than play something reasonable, I hallucinate and think that the h7-b1 diagonal is now vulnerable. Of course, the Ba6 can always just come back to cover it. An example of trouble seeing a 'backwards' piece move.} (25... Bc8 { doesn't really help in the end, though, as after} 26. Bd3 $16 {White can just reset, having good targets across the board.}) 26. Bxf4 {now White is up a full pawn and has a much freer hand on the kingside and center. Things look bad.} (26. Nxf4 {might be the shorter path} Bf5 27. Bd3 Bxd3 28. Qxd3 Nd8 $18) 26... Ng5 {a desperate bid for piece activity.} (26... Bf5 {is what the engine thinks is still best, at least exchanging off my least active minor piece.} 27. Bd3 Bxd3 28. Qxd3 Qd7 $18) 27. Qd2 Rg7 28. Bb7 {increasing the bind and driving the rook away.} Bf5 $4 {but even a better move would not have saved the game, consoles Komodo.} (28... Rd8 29. Bc7 {and White wins the exchange.} Bf5 30. Bxd8 Bxd8 $18) 29. Bxa8 $18 Bxb1 30. Rxb1 {only now did I see that ... Qxa8 fails to Rb8+! as the rook is protected by the Bf4.} Qe6 {here I'm down a piece and a pawn for no compensation.} 31. Bb7 Re7 {might as well try to make a threat} 32. Ba6 Qf5 (32... Nxf3 {while clever, does not save the day:} 33. Qd3 Nh4 34. Bd6 $18) 33. Rb8+ Kh7 34. Bd3 Qe6 35. Bd6 Nxf3 $5 {one last shot at complicating the position and generating threats. The point is that White is vulnerable on h3 if the Nf3 is taken by the g-pawn.} 36. Bxg6+ (36. Qf4 { secures the win in probably the simplest way. Now the Nf3 (by the queen) and Re7 are both hanging.} Nh4 37. Bxe7 Qxe7 38. Rc8 $18) (36. gxf3 Qxh3+ 37. Kg1 Bg5) 36... Kg7 (36... Kxg6 $4 37. Nf4+ {at least I managed to avoid yet another ?? blunder.}) 37. gxf3 $4 {and now Black has the winning advantage.} ( 37. Bxe7 {is best, but requires some calculation and a temporary queen sacrifice.} Nxd2 38. Bf8+ Kxg6 39. Nf4+ Kf5 40. Nxe6 Kxe6 $18) 37... Qxh3+ $19 38. Kg1 Rxe2 $1 {this is what my opponent had missed, diverting the queen from protecting d4. Black has only a queen and bishop left, but it's enough to create a mate threat.} 39. Qxe2 Bxd4+ 40. Qf2 {forced} Bxf2+ 41. Kxf2 Kxg6 { the resulting endgame is non-trivial to play out, but the mobility advantage the Black queen has, coupled with White's exposed king, is enough to ensure the result.} 42. Rb4 h5 {taking away the g4 square from the rook.} 43. Bg3 Qf5 44. Bd6 {my opponent doesn't seem to have any other ideas left.} Qc2+ 45. Kg3 Qc1 {threatening ...Qe1+ forking the Rb4.} 46. Rf4 Qg1+ 47. Kh3 Kg5 (47... d4 { is the most direct route to a win.} 48. Rf8 Qh1+ 49. Kg3 Qe1+ 50. Kg2 d3 $19) 48. Rf7 Qf1+ 49. Kh2 Kg6 {playing it safe.} 50. Rf4 (50. Rxa7 Qf2+ 51. Kh1 Qxf3+ 52. Kh2 Qf2+ $19) 50... d4 $1 {a nice small deflection tactic to end things.} 51. Be5 (51. Rxd4 Qf2+) 51... Qe2+ {with more material loss coming, my opponent resigned.} (51... Qe2+ 52. Kh3 Qxe5 53. Re4 Qxe4 54. fxe4 d3 55. Kg3 d2 56. Kf2 d1=Q 57. Ke3 Kf6 58. Kf4 Qd2+ 59. Kf3 Kg5 60. e5 h4 61. e6 h3 62. Ke4 h2 63. Kf3 h1=Q+ 64. Kg3 Qhg2#) 0-1

16 September 2019

Annotated Game #219: The usual start to a tournament

This first-round game is from the second breakthrough tournament I had to reach the Class A level. It got off to what is unfortunately something of a usual start for me, with below-average play leading to a relatively quick end. It's tempting to ascribe these kinds of first-round losses to needing to "warm up" or "shake off the rust" or other similar excuse, and I do think there is some truth to that. However, that makes it all the more important to take lessons away from these games, so that your "default" level of play can improve, even when your brain is not at peak performance.

In this game, there are several key moments and ideas to point to:
  • The choice of 4. d3. Here I was mashing together different lines of the English from my preparation (5. Rb1 is actually not bad...in a different variation) and while the opening isn't the main point of failure of the game, it gave Black a freer hand than was needed. It also led to...
  • A failure to play e3, which is typical in this types of positions, restraining Black's idea of a ...f4 push. Around moves 3-4 could have been a good time to do it, but as late as move 12 it would have given me at least a slight plus, by neutralizing Black's pawn play on the kingside.
  • Failure to find the necessary defensive thread while under pressure. I at least understood that a focus on defense was necessary once Black played 12...f4, and was following the correct path with 16. Bf3. However, on move 18 I did not calculate correctly. Seeing in analysis how the king can be a defender (18. Kg2!), especially when the opposition lacks the minor pieces to dominate squares or sacrifice to open up the position, was enlightening.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A27"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "40"] {[%mdl 8192] A27: English Opening: Three Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 f5 4. d3 {this scores poorly in the database, around 40 percent. Better to challenge the center immediately with d4. It is still the second most popular move played, however, probably due to the reversed Sicilian type positions that arise.} Nf6 5. Rb1 $146 {not in the database at all! The idea is to get an accelerated version of the queenside b-pawn push going.} (5. g3 { is more consistent with White's previous move.}) 5... Be7 {a safe choice.} ( 5... e4 6. dxe4 fxe4 7. Nd4 $11) 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 d6 {we're now back in the database. Both White and Black have achieved standard-looking setups, although my path was a little wobbly.} 8. b4 {time to get the b-pawn rolling.} Qe8 { making space for the knight.} 9. b5 {it's not necessary to push this immediately. The threat remains and another move to build up pressure like Nd5 may be better. O-O also helps development.} Nd8 $11 {around here I was feeling good about my game, having pushed Black's knight around, but the engine is more objective. The position is equal, with White's queenside space advantage being offset by Black's coming play in the center and kingside.} 10. O-O Ne6 { understandably wanting to get the knight back into action.} (10... a6 $5 { is what the engines prefer, putting some pressure on White's advanced b-pawn.}) 11. a4 Qh5 {Black signals that he will ignore the queenside in favor of going all in on the kingside.} 12. Ba3 {likewise, I continue to focus on queenside development.} (12. e3 $5 {would be a wise investment, to restrain Black's f-pawn.} a6 13. Nd2 $14) 12... f4 {now Black's pressure on the kingside makes itself felt, before I can push things further on the queenside.} 13. Nd5 { this knight jump to d5 is thematic, but here it is made under less favorable circumstances.} (13. e3 fxg3 14. fxg3 $11 (14. hxg3 $2 Ng4 $19)) 13... Nxd5 14. cxd5 Ng5 15. Nxg5 {getting rid of Black's excellent attacking knight is almost forced.} Bxg5 16. Bf3 {the best defensive move, which should let me push Black's queen away or further exchange down material.} Bg4 17. Bxg4 Qxg4 { this should be equal, but there is only one good defensive move and I fail to find it.} 18. f3 $2 {this was based on a miscalculation. When making pawn moves, it's important to understand the weakened squares they leave behind, in this case e3.} (18. Kg2 $5 {the king "steps up in the pocket" and covers both h3 and f3 effectively. With Black not having a light-square bishop, this is possible.} fxg3 19. Rb4 (19. hxg3 {also works, but is trickier for White.} Bh4 20. Qe1 Qd4 (20... Qxa4 21. Qb4 $11) 21. Qd1 Qxd5+ 22. e4 $11 {taking the Bh4 will leave White's king open to checks from the queen and rook.}) 19... Rf4 20. f3 Qd7 (20... Qh5 21. hxg3 $14) 21. hxg3 $11) 18... Qh3 $17 19. Rf2 fxg3 { only now did I realize that the skewer tactic on e3 existed, I had mentally visualized the pawn on f4 in the way of the Bg5 until then.} 20. hxg3 $4 { loses immediately. I was too rattled to put up further resistance, however, thinking I was already lost. The main problem is that I lose far more than the exchange after Black's pin of the Rf2, due to the g3 pawn hanging.} (20. Rg2 { is the only move.} gxh2+ 21. Kh1 Bf4 22. Bc1 {keeps White in the game, although not happily.}) 20... Be3 $19 (20... Be3 21. Qf1 Qxg3+ 22. Qg2 Bxf2+ 23. Kh1 Qxg2+ 24. Kxg2 Bb6 $19) 0-1

06 September 2019

Training quote of the day #26: Boris Gulko

From Lessons with a Grandmaster, by GM Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Snead.
I like challenges, I like to struggle and fight against the best. That's very exciting to me. Also, I grew up (as did my generation in the USSR) believing that generally, reputations were not to be trusted. Of course, it is hard to be a fake in chess (compared to politics) because if you are weak you will simply lose. Perhaps some of this general belief persisted in the world of chess. The idea of not trusting reputations contrasted sharply with what I experienced when I first came to the United States. I found chess players to be much more polite; e.g. offering a draw to a higher rated player in better positions. We would never do that; we would want to beat them, even make them suffer.

04 September 2019

Video completed: "Why You Should Always Think Before Taking a Draw" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"Why You Should Always Think Before Taking a Draw" is the fifth video in the new Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. It is shorter than the others, at around 7 minutes, which I think is appropriate for the topic. An opening quote summarizes its main idea nicely, in the context of thinking about what to do when a higher-rated player makes a draw offer, although I believe it applies to our general approach to the game as improving players:
We want to be able to play objective chess, rather than emotional chess...and be able to play the position, not so much our opponent.
In the first game example, taken from the Bundesliga where White has a 300-point rating deficit, White took a draw when there was essentially zero risk of losing and he had all the winning chances.  "Playing with zero risk against a strong player, it's something we have to do all the time [meaning every time]. We owe it to our position to actually play the game out." The second game is similar, with the Black player down 300+ points, but after the coming forced sequence being up a pawn and having all the better chances.

The third example acknowledges the role that time pressure can play in accepting a draw, but Abrahamyan argues that if you can play "easy" moves until a time control, you can then do deeper calculation once you have more time. In other words, don't try to calculate all the way to a win if that's not possible, rather take obvious (but with a tactics check!) ways to at least preserve your existing advantage. In this particular game, Black's king position was weak and White had some easy follow-up attacking moves that would not have let Black get any counterplay.

In each case, a contributing factor is the "visual" evaluation of the board, in which superficially the side offering a draw seems like they may have some counterchances or threats. The third game was a good example of this, in which Black had a passed pawn on d4. However, when concrete analysis shows there is no actual opportunity for your opponent to implement a threat, it is worth playing on. In this particular case, White could keep making threats against Black's permanently weak king. In another example from the first game, White could at any time just force a draw via perpetual check, so that provided a sufficient safety net to play for a win.

In addition to being simply good, objective chess, the principle of playing out a favorable position I think is one of the practical keys to advancing your chess strength (and rating). It helps build mental toughness - remember Fischer's motto "No draws!" - and there's also the simple fact that "you can't win if you don't play." Unfortunately time pressure does sometimes interfere with an objectively best decision, along with emotional pressure - but the latter is something which you put on yourself and is subjective, not objective.

I would therefore suggest mentally rejecting the idea of a draw - including offering one yourself - if the decision would be made on a purely emotional basis. I remember having to repeatedly fight down the impulse to hope/wish for a draw in my best game ever, and was very glad that I did so. Yes, losing is then a possibility, but once you accept that fact for each and every game, it makes it mentally easier to give yourself the chance to win more often.