30 October 2019

Annotated Game #225: A new beginning and defeating ratings anxiety

One of the avoidable curses of playing competitive chess is an obsession with ratings. Focusing on your opponent's rating when compared to your own can be quite unhelpful while at the chessboard, as covered in "Ratings Fear and Loathing". Similarly, caring too much about your own rating can - rather ironically - create anxiety and stress whether it is currently going down, up, or staying the same.
  • A declining rating can obviously be depressing, especially if it is associated too closely with self-worth.
  • A stagnant rating can become frustrating, leading to thoughts of "I'll never improve" and such.
  • Achieving a particular ratings goal can lead to a crippling desire to maintain it at all costs, which in an extreme form can include deliberately not playing in order to protect it.
The below tournament game is the first one after my breakthrough to Class A, so it was the first time I faced the last situation above after achieving the new rating level. I felt it was important to consciously combat both the potential short-term and long-term effects of ratings obsession. Some observations that helped the process:
  • Ratings are a statistical phenomenon and there is little meaningful difference in minor (30-40 point) fluctuations. This means that an arbitrary threshold like 1800 for Class A has no intrinsic value, so falling a short distance below it (if that happens) should not have an outsized psychological impact. People grapple with this psychological phenomenon all the time when nominal statistical data points like body weight, stock prices, etc. are involved. What really matters is the long-term trend line, not short-term ups and downs.
  • You have to be willing to lose games in order to win them - nothing risked, nothing gained - and to improve your chess strength over time. This means accepting the statistically inevitable negative results when they occur in the short term, then clearing your mental slate for future games.
  • Quality of play is more important for someone truly interested in chess. Focusing on playing well (the process) rather than gain/loss of rating points (the results) is a much better and healthier improvement strategy.
  • Mental toughness is a phenomenon that ignores ratings.
In contrast to my usual rough start to a tournament, this game is a win and features only one significant slip, a hard-to-see tactic on move 21 which my opponent also misses. The idea - uncovering control of a key square that would disrupt my skewer tactic - was eye-opening and well worth the analysis.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "106"] {[%mdl 8192] B12: Caro-Kann: Advance Variation} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 {this is the point of playing this variation, that the bishop (unlike in the Advance French) is not locked in.} 6. Be2 e6 7. O-O Nge7 8. h3 Bxf3 {otherwise the bishop wastes time by retreating, so this capture is standard. Also, it removes a protector of d4/e5, which soon come under pressure.} 9. Bxf3 Nf5 {continuing with minor piece development to ideal squares.} 10. Be3 $2 {White underestimates Black's threats.} (10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. Bf4 $15 {keeps the material balance, but Black still has the easier game.}) 10... Qb6 {a standard and good move in these types of positions. The queen adds her force to the a7-g1 diagonal and also hits b2, now vulnerable because of the bishop move.} 11. Qd2 $6 {this drops the d4 pawn with no compensation.} (11. Nd2 {at least gets another piece out for White.}) 11... cxd4 12. cxd4 Ncxd4 (12... Nfxd4 {I also considered, but judged it weaker and Komodo agrees. Black for the moment can dissolve the pin on the knight by ...Nxf3, but Bg4 then removes that possibility. The text move allows for ...Nxe3 if needed.}) 13. Bxd4 Nxd4 14. Be2 Rc8 {hard to argue with developing the rook on the open file. } (14... Bb4 {is slightly preferred by the engine.} 15. Bb5+ Qxb5 16. Qxd4 Rc8 {may be a slightly better version of the idea, as all Black's pieces are now developed and if} 17. Nc3 {then} Bxc3 18. bxc3 Qa5 {leaves White down material and stuck with the weak c-pawn.}) 15. Nc3 Bb4 (15... Nxe2+ {simplifying down may be easier, but at the time I did not want to exchange my very well-placed knight.} 16. Nxe2 Bb4 $17) 16. Rac1 O-O (16... Nxe2+ {now I do think that trading off the bishop is superior before castling. After this, White would not have sufficient material to pose any threats to Black's bare kingside.}) 17. Rfd1 Nc6 $19 {Black has no weaknesses and with the protected passed d-pawn has a decisive advantage in the endgame.} 18. Qf4 f6 {played in the hopes of an exchange on f6, which is only to my benefit, but White doesn't have to do this.} (18... Be7 19. Nb5 $19) 19. exf6 (19. Bg4 $5 f5 20. Bh5 $19) 19... Rxf6 {now I have the half-open f-file and can swiftly dominate it with my rooks. The e-pawn is sufficiently protected as well.} 20. Qg3 Rxf2 $2 {this appears to be an obvious tactic, due to the possibility of a follow-up skewer on the a7-g1 diagonal by Black's bishop if White takes on f2 with the queen. However.. .} (20... Rcf8) 21. Kh1 $2 {White fails to find the tactical refutation, which is very hard to spot.} (21. Nxd5 {busts the idea, as the knight sacrifice opens the c-file for White's rook to control c5. No bishop skewer now.} exd5 ( 21... Rf1+ 22. Kxf1 exd5 23. Qf2 $16)) (21. Na4 {also works for White.}) (21. Qxf2 Bc5 $19 {was the idea behind Black's previous move.}) 21... Bxc3 {this is a removal of the guard theme, targeting the Be2. White can actually save the piece, although again it's difficult to find.} 22. Rxc3 $2 (22. Bg4 { threatening to capture on e6 and fork Black's king and rook, thereby gaining the necessary tempo for recapturing on c3.} Rf6 23. Qxc3 $19) 22... Rxe2 { with a piece and two connected passed pawns up, the win is essentially trivial from here, even if it takes some more work.} 23. Rf1 Qc7 24. Qf3 Re4 (24... Rxb2 {is preferred by the engine, but I felt further pawn snatching was unnecessary and simply diverted the rook away from the main action.} 25. Qg4 Qe7 $19) 25. Rfc1 {although everything is losing at this stage, I think allowing my next move made it that much easier for me. I'm happy to dominate the kingside and center and let White make some demonstrations on the queenside.} Rf8 26. Qd3 Qf4 27. Qb5 Rb4 28. Qe2 e5 29. Rd1 Rd4 30. Rdc1 Rd2 31. Qb5 Qf2 32. Rg1 Rf7 {shutting down the threat to b7.} 33. Rd3 Rxd3 34. Qxd3 Qd4 {the plan is to get rid of distractions with the queen and just roll to victory with the pawns.} 35. Rd1 Qxd3 36. Rxd3 d4 37. Rd2 e4 38. Kg1 Kf8 { with White's king cut off from the action, I just march my king up to help the pawns. This is a no-brainer win, so why waste calcuating power on anything else? The engine shows quicker wins, but that's irrelevant.} 39. g4 Ke7 40. Kg2 Ke6 41. Kg3 Ke5 42. Re2 d3 43. Rd2 Kd4 44. Kg2 e3 45. Rd1 d2 46. Kg3 Kd3 47. Kh4 e2 48. Rg1 e1=Q+ 49. Rg3+ Qxg3+ 50. Kxg3 d1=Q 51. Kg2 Rf3 52. Kh2 Qe2+ 53. Kg1 Rf1# 0-1

29 October 2019

Video completed: "How to Trust Your Chess Intuition" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"How to Trust Your Chess Intuition" is the sixth video in the new Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. It's worth noting that for the series page, she re-did the original video titles to fit the "Why You Should [Always/Never]..." format. Most of these title changes are trivial in terms of meaning, but in this case I prefer the original title, as the idea of "always" trusting your intuition is overstating things (especially for non-masters) and can lead to a misinterpretation of the concept.

The main thrust is the benefit of building your intuitive understanding of positions' requirements via pattern recognition, so good candidate moves "suggest themselves" and then you can move on to calculating their results. Abrahamyan also makes the point that sometimes we may not be able to fully calculate the consequences of a move to the end, but intuition allows us (most times) to evaluate it nonetheless. This topic has been previously mentioned here, for example in "How Carlsen makes us feel better about chess" and "How do you know you are becoming a stronger chess player?"

The first example game presented is a classic game, Maroczy-Tartakower, where Black sacrifices a rook for a pawn on h2 with no forced mate afterwards. The main factor involved in making this decision is White's uncoordinated and blocked pieces. Black is technically behind in development, but can in fact mobilize his pieces more effectively than his opponent. The sacrifice was made on move 17 and White resigned on move 36, so as Abrahamyan points out, this was not an example of brilliant calculation to the end, but rather a deep understanding of the long-term advantages and attacking chances involved.

The second game is Aronian-Grischuk from the last round of the 2018 Sinquefield Cup, which features a rook sacrifice for White's pawn on f7. This was effectively an exchange sacrifice in the main analysis line, with White's queen (if it recaptures) being diverted from protecting a knight on e4. White then gets good compensation for the exchange. However, Grischuk re-took with his king on f7 and it became a full rook sac. White plays Rf1 - Abrahamyan in the video immediately and confusingly then says  "bishop f5" although she doesn't say "Black" or put the move on the board - leading to mate if Black retreats his king to g8 and similar problems if ...Kg6. After demonstrating these, she puts the actual move played (...Bf5) on the board. Abrahamyan makes the point that the sac was a practical decision rather than necessarily the most strong objectively in after-the-fact analysis, in order to give White the initiative and put pressure on Black in a stressful final round tournament situation. The rest of the game is given, which is a pleasure to watch. Abrahamyan commits two of her periodic "think about why" presentation fouls, with the questions about the position followed immediately by the move on the board before you can pause the video.

The final game example is Caruana-Carlsen, World Championship 2018, round 8. Abrahamyan examines the analysis of where White, down a pawn, could have played Qh5 with compensation and the initiative, rather than continuing with a quiet move and ending in a draw with opposite-colored bishops.

The video makes a very good point, but for improving players I think the main takeaway is to value and study all types of chess positions that you encounter - especially the ones that more frequently appear in your games - so you can start getting a feel for what should work, then try it out yourself. If it doesn't in fact work, then figure out why and do better the next time around. Decisions can and should be informed by our intuition about positions, but it's a skill to be developed over time, not a magic chess bullet.

24 October 2019

Video completed: Studies in the Stonewall, Volume 2

This ChessLecture.com DVD, the companion to Volume 1, has five presentations on it, from IM (at the time FM) Valeri Lilov, IM David Vigorito and IM Mark Diesen. 


"Excelling with Modern Stonewall": Lilov presents Van Wely - Vaisser, from early in Van Wely's career. This segment addresses an audience new to the Dutch, explaining some of the basic ideas behind the Bd6 development and Stonewall pawn structure while enthusiastically talking up Black's prospects. The game itself is a 7. Nbd2 sideline, met by ...b6, with a typical plan of continuing ...Bb7, Nbd7 and ...c5. Black ends up playing ...Ba6 early as White goes back and forth with his knights. This is a good example of how strong the Stonewall can be when White does not follow an active plan.

"The Stonewall Attack":  This is an introduction to the Stonewall Attack for White. Lilov pitches it as a way to avoid having to know a lot of theory. He presents standard setups and attacking plans against Black's responses with ...e6 and ...c5, as well as ...Bf5 and ...g6/Bg7. There are useful explanations of some key concepts, including White's problems (such as the dark-square bishop), avoiding initiating an exchange on f5 that will open the e-file for Black, and the need to keep watch over e4. 

"How to Exploit a Good Center": the classic 19th century game Pillsbury - Henem is presented by Lilov. Pillsbury plays the Stonewall Attack, which makes it fit into the Stonewall theme, although the primary topic of the lecture is central control. It's not Lilov's smoothest presentation, and it's rather wordy in relation to the amount of content presented, but the ideas still come through.

"Ideas in the Dutch Stonewall:" IM Vigorito's presentation is a relatively in-depth intro to the Modern Stonewall, looking at primarily at 7. b3 (essentially the main line). It offers a cogent summary of White's main plans (exchanging the dark square bishop on a3 vs. developing on Bb2 vs. alternatively developing 7. Bf4), Black's old vs. modern light square bishop development options, the factors involved in playing ...b6 and tactical tricks after a White Ne5 are all covered. Excellent, systematic treatment of the ideas involved in the main lines of the Stonewall.

"Winning with the Stonewall Attack": Santasiere - Welch is presented by IM Diesen, who also goes into typical ideas and some of the opening alternatives early on. Although the game is one-sided (in White's favor), the general concepts (including some better options for Black) are touched on and well-explained.

Comment: the DVD doesn't attempt to present a coherent picture of the Stonewall, as it's a compilation of different video lectures over time. However, for a player starting to get familiar with the Stonewall, it's helpful in providing a reasonably thorough sketch of the main ideas, and I like the fact that it looks at the Stonewall Attack for White as well.

22 October 2019

Video completed: Studies in The Stonewall, Volume 1

I recently completed this ChessLecture.com DVD featuring GM Leonid Kritz presenting of four of his own games in the Dutch Defense. So it is not really about explaining the Stonewall, although there is useful discussion of some typical concepts and common tactical threats/sequences.


"Playing the Dutch Stonewall for a Win, Part 1": the title of this segment is a misnomer, since the game is not actually a Stonewall (being a Nimzo-Dutch hybrid instead). So it was nice to see in general, as are all master-annotated games, but also disappointing, since it wasn't a Stonewall as advertised. This part would therefore be more applicable if you are a Dutch player looking to better understand early alternative options in White sidelines.

"Playing the Dutch Stonewall for a Win, Part 2": this features an offbeat White line with 7. Nbd2, starting from the standard Modern Stonewall position reached on move 6. Some thematic ideas are presented for Black: b6/Bb7 development with ideas of continuing with ...c5, ...Ba6; the ...Ne4 jump; watching out for the e6 pawn weakness.

"Suffer the Right Way Through the Stonewall, Part 1": this game has a non-standard opening sequence where White refrains from playing c4 and Black gets in an early ...b5, which again isn't really a Stonewall. Black then commits some inaccuracies and gets a worse position. Some general tactical ideas and considerations are touched on, including sacrifice ideas for White on d5/e6 and the vulnerability of c6/c7 after a c-pawn exchange by Black. Black has to suffer through the middlegame and endgame, hence the segment's title, although Kritz obtains a won endgame after some mistakes by White in time trouble.

"Suffer the Right Way Through the Stonewall, Part 2": this game reaches the move 6 Modern Stonewall position (so that makes 2 games out of 4 on the DVD). At this point Kritz quickly runs through some of the standard plans for White involving 7. b3 and exchanging the dark-squared bishops, with Black playing ...Qe7, exchanging on a3 if needed, and following up with the ...b6 and ...Bb7 bishop development. 7. Bf4 is also mentioned in a cursory fashion, with Kritz saying that after exchanging on f4 and playing b6/Bb7, Black is fine. This may be true, but this is in fact a major White system and no real plans are presented for either side in it. The game itself features 7. Qc2, another White sideline. Black commits an opening inaccuracy against White's follow-up with Bg5, by letting his opponent play e3 before he can exchange on f4, so then has to fight a while for equality. The general problem of the b5 square being available for a White knight after a pawn exchange on d5 using the Black c-pawn is highlighted, explaining why Kritz played an early ...a6. Black eventually reaches an advantageous major piece endgame, but an inaccuracy leads to a draw by repetition of moves.

I feel that the time spent on the DVD wasn't wasted, since it's always good to learn from master presentations of their own games. It was still rather disappointing to see only half of the content was directly applicable to study of the Stonewall, as was advertised. It's also worth noting that the content summary displayed on the cover (2 hours an 48 minutes, 9 lectures) applies to the full two-DVD set. I'll take a look at the second DVD in the near future.

Reflections on breakthrough tournaments

Part of the process of analyzing your own games is not just to see what goes wrong (and right) in each one, but to draw broader lessons for yourself as a player. What patterns emerge? What do you do well consistently? What kinds of mistakes do you often repeat, perhaps unknowingly at the time? Eliminating or reducing those mistakes and building on the strengths are what (eventually) cause a gain in chess strength and an increased rating. It may be useful to do a personal performance inventory as a baseline, which can help highlight different areas that most need work. (Although remember Training quote of the day #9).

For improvement purposes, this process of self-diagnosis is naturally helpful to do if you have a lousy tournament. Can you articulate the main factor behind that poor performance? Major mental distractions? Poor physical condition (sickness, lack of sleep, etc.)? Overconfidence? Fear? Repeated errors of a similar type in the opening/middlegame/endgame? Many times a bad tournament can just be a one-off occurrence, although it's important not to make excuses and to concretely address whichever issues that you identify.

I think it's equally important to examine your positive results and draw similar kinds of lessons from major inflection points in your chess career, which include having breakthrough tournaments. This means analyzing what went into the tournament results that marked a long-term change in your rating. At the most basic level, it should involve identifying what factors led to success and reinforcing that positive behavior. At the same time, it's not just a self-congratulatory exercise, and a candid assessment of your weaknesses is still necessary for further progress.

The last two tournaments presented here (Annotated Games #216-224) marked my own breakthrough into the Class A rating (1800), after spending most of my chess career around the 1700 level; this is covered in The Long Journey to Class A. I was wary of being too happy about these results, since I'd previously had a significant, positive tournament result after starting this blog, only to fall back to my long-term average. However, I've played in a number of tournaments since the breakthrough and have been able to maintain the new 1800 plateau. While I naturally would have preferred to make continuous progress, at least the results have validated the (not-insignificant) 100-point increase in strength over time.

Focusing on what went right with the two tournaments - what went wrong in each game you can see in detail in the annotations - here's what I came up with, in no particular order.
  • Refusal to give up the fight, when down or even objectively lost according to the engine, while there was still the possibility my opponent could go wrong. (This is also called the art of the swindle.)
  • Ability to better identify and calculate tactical counterblows, including naked sacrifices (Annotated Game #216) and exchange sacrifices.
  • Isolating individual game results mentally, so a previous loss would not have a depressing effect on the next game.
  • Willingness to try new openings (Dutch Stonewall) and start building the practical experience needed to play them well.
  • The stamina, patience and willingness to go into and legitimately play out endgames. I've previously treated them as unwelcome guests, and the usual pattern for me was to play with resolve until around move 35-40, then drop precipitously in performance due to exhaustion and lack of focus/motivation.
I'm in a period now where I have fewer opportunities to play in OTB tournaments, but hopefully after a certain amount of time devoted to additional training and building more skills, I'll be able to make another post like this one. We shall see.

18 October 2019

Annotated Game #224: Play on both sides of the board in the Dutch

This final-round game in the Stonewall Dutch features highly entertaining, if not particularly accurate, play. The main battleground is the kingside and the f-file, largely due to White's strategic choices. I do quite well out of this as Black and by move 18 have a decisive advantage built up on the board. This is also the point where I start missing chances to dominate on the queenside as well, focusing solely on kingside play.

The Dutch (in its various forms) often possesses this strategic tension, in which Black needs to properly evaluate if/when to switch to queenside play, or (in the Stonewall especially) when to dissolve the central pawn structure to obtain an advantage (see move 24). These kinds of decisions I expect will become easier with more experience; the below was only my third tournament game with a Stonewall.

In the game, I come late to the party on the queenside and take a kind of caveman approach to it, which results in my opponent getting a dangerous, then what should be a winning, attack on the kingside. Nevertheless, I don't give up, find a key defensive exchange sacrifice, distract my opponent with active defense, and at the end of a long, exhausting battle play a queen fork that ends the game.

I'll follow up in a later post with some reflections on the overall lessons learned from this tournament and the previous one, which when combined led me to break through the Class A ratings barrier.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A85"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "82"] {[%mdl 8192] A85: Dutch Defence: 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. e3 f5 {this move-order is known as the 'Slav Stonewall'} 5. Nf3 Nf6 6. Bd3 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. Ne5 {the second most popular move here, after b3. White immediately occupies the hole on e5.} Ne4 (8... Bxe5 $5 {is an interesting option for Black that takes the game in a very different strategic direction.}) 9. f4 {White chooses a near-symmetrical structure, reinforcing e5.} (9. f3 $5 { has scored well for White, but on a very small sample (9) of lower-rated games. After the piece exchanges, a draw seems most likely.} Nxc3 10. bxc3 Bxe5 11. dxe5 Qc7 12. f4 Rd8 13. Qf3 Qa5 14. Bb2 Nd7 15. cxd5 cxd5 16. Rac1 Nc5 17. Bb1 Bd7 18. c4 Bc6 19. Qe2 Ne4 20. Bd4 Rac8 21. Qb2 {1/2-1/2 (21) Neunhoeffer,H (2281)-Ungerer,M (2144) Germany 2009}) 9... Nd7 10. Rf3 {White goes for an aggressive plan with the rook lift. This mirrors Black's usual strategic options in the Stonewall, since that is essentially what White is playing on his side as well.} (10. Nxe4 fxe4 11. Be2 Nxe5 12. fxe5 Rxf1+ 13. Qxf1 Be7 14. Bd2 Bd7 15. Bh5 g6 16. Bg4 Qf8 17. Qd1 Qh6 18. Qb3 b5 19. cxd5 cxd5 20. Rc1 Qf8 21. Rc7 Qd8 22. Ba5 a6 23. a3 Rc8 24. Qc3 Rxc7 {Adamski,J (2470)-Sydor,A (2395) Krakow 1978 1/2-1/2}) (10. Bd2 Ndf6 11. c5 Bc7 12. b4 Bd7 13. a4 b6 14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Bc4 bxc5 16. bxc5 Nd5 17. Rb1 Bxe5 18. fxe5 Rb8 19. Rxb8 Qxb8 20. Bxd5 cxd5 21. Qc2 Qc8 22. Rb1 Qa6 23. a5 Bb5 24. Rb2 g5 {Izijk,J (2027)-Ramirez Gonzalez,M (2188) Aruba 2017 0-1 (35)}) 10... Nxe5 $146 {I judged that it would be best to eliminate White's strong knight, a choice validated by Komodo. The arrival of a pawn on e5 is somewhat cramping, but gives White fewer attacking chances.} (10... Ndf6 {had been universally played in the database prior to this.}) 11. fxe5 Be7 $11 12. Rh3 {continuing with the rook lift idea, focusing on pressure down the h-file.} Bd7 {time to activate the Stonewall bishop, or at least get it out of the way of Black's major pieces.} 13. Bxe4 { exchanging the centralized knight. This has the result of increasing the relative strength of my light-square bishop, however, as well as opening the f-file.} fxe4 $15 {Black has the pair of bishops, observes Komodo via the Fritz interface, along with a small positional plus.} 14. Qh5 {I'd had to calculate this far on move 12, given the threat on the h-file, but it is now easily refuted.} h6 $17 {under normal circumstances in the Stonewall this might be a weakening concession, but after the elimination of the Ne5 White has no minor pieces available to threaten g6 or sacrifice on h6. Black's control of the dark squares and g5 in particular means that a g-pawn thrust by White would also not work. My opponent is therefore lacking a good plan to make progress.} 15. Bd2 {activating his own 'Stonewall bishop'} Rf5 {although this harrasses the queen, the main point is to clear f8 for another heavy piece.} 16. Qe2 Bg5 {although e3 is well protected, the pressure is still annoying for White, and the bishop further blocks any ideas of a g-pawn thrust. More immediately, the move also clears the e7 square for my queen.} 17. Be1 $6 {White is having trouble activating his dark-square bishop. This maneuver only highlights Black's relative greater piece mobility.} (17. Qd1 $5) 17... Qe7 $17 18. Qg4 $2 {still dreaming of a kingside attack, it seems.} (18. Bf2) 18... Raf8 $19 {now the rooks have a stranglehold on the f-file and a mate in one is threatened on f1.} 19. Bh4 Qf7 $6 {in the Dutch, the Black player should be flexible in terms of kingside and queenside play. Here I make the same error on my opponent and fixate on the kingside, when my queen could make a decisive foray on the opposite wing.} (19... Qb4 $1 20. Rb1 Qxb2 {this is possible due to the back rank mate threat} (20... Bxh4 {is also sufficient for a major advantage.} 21. Qxh4 Qxc4 22. Qe1 c5 $19) 21. Qxf5 Qxc3 22. Qg4 Bxe3+ 23. Kh1 Qd3 $19) 20. Qe2 $17 Bxh4 21. Rxh4 Rf2 22. Qe1 $6 {a more practical-looking defense than the one given by the engine.} (22. Rf4 Rxf4 23. exf4 Qxf4 $17) 22... Qe7 {I thought for a while and played this somewhat less effective move. The idea was to hit the Rh4, but I did not have much of a follow up to it.} ( 22... Qf5 {this is more patient and threatens ...Qg5.} 23. Rf4 Rxf4 24. exf4 Qxf4 $19) 23. Rg4 {again, a reasonable-looking defense.} (23. Rf4 R8xf4 24. exf4 Rxb2 $17) 23... Rxb2 {an "obvious" move.} (23... Qb4 $5 24. Rb1 Qxc4 $19) 24. Ne2 {this is the main problem with Black's previous. Now the Rb2 is screened from the kingside action and White's knight can come into play.} Qa3 { this is too basic of an approach, simply targeting the a-pawn. I felt this at the time, but for whatever reason could not come up with something better.} ( 24... dxc4 $5 {having opted for queenside play, Black should logically follow up. I was illogically resistant to breaking up the Stonewall pawn formation, however. Knowing when to do this to your advantage is a key skill when playing the opening.} 25. Ng3 Qb4 26. Qxb4 Rxb4 27. Nxe4 Kh7 $19) (24... Qb4) 25. Nf4 { White is now successfully reorganizing his pieces for play on the kingside, which I have significantly weakened.} Rxa2 $2 {not a good decision, because now the opponent is right back in the game, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} (25... dxc4 {still preserves a Black advantage.} 26. Nh5 Rf7 27. Nf6+ Kh8 28. Nxe4 $17) 26. Rxa2 $14 {now we see that I have exchanged an active, dominant rook for White's previously inactive one, shifting the strategic balance. The extra pawn is not worth it.} Qxa2 27. h4 dxc4 $4 { throws away the game, notes the engine. An example of a good idea, but played too late.} (27... Rf7 {I had to think about defense first. On the 7th rank the rook covers both g7 and d7, which will come under pressure.}) 28. Qg3 $18 { now this comes with tempo, due to the attack on g7, and is crushing.} Rf7 ( 28... g5 {hardly improves anything} 29. Nh5 Kf7 30. hxg5 hxg5 31. Rxg5 $18) 29. Nh5 {White adds more attackers than Black can defenders.} Kf8 {the only way to keep playing.} 30. Rxg7 Qb1+ 31. Kh2 Qf1 {this maneuver added a defender on the f-file. I felt this was the best practical chance for me.} 32. Rg8+ Ke7 33. Nf6 c3 {for the moment, White has no immediate kill, so I decide to try to generate some counterplay, as a distraction if nothing else.} 34. Rg7 {my opponent thought for some time here. Black's formation is not easy to crack.} ( 34. Rh8 {is the non-obvious best move for Komodo. The point is that when Black sacrifices the exchange on f6 (as occurs in the game), White is better positioned with the rook.} Rxf6 35. exf6+ Qxf6 36. Rh7+ $18) 34... Be8 { this is what I had calculated and it appeared to frustrate my opponent.} 35. Rg8 Bd7 36. Rb8 $2 (36. Qg6 {in addition to the Rh8 idea, this would have kept the winning pressure on, although the path is complicated. For example} Qf5 37. Qxh6 c2 38. Rg7 c1=Q 39. Qh8 Qxf6 40. exf6+ Kxf6 41. Qh6+ Ke7 42. Qg5+ Kd6 43. Rxf7 $18) 36... Rxf6 $14 {another surprise for my opponent. This defensive exchange sacrifice is Black's only move to stay in the game.} 37. exf6+ Qxf6 38. Rxb7 c2 $16 {although White still has a slight plus in the endgame here, largely due to the active rook placement, it must have been very disappointing for him after having such a crushing attack going. Now he is forced to play some defense himself against the advanced passed c-pawn.} 39. Qe1 e5 40. Qc3 { I was happy to see this.} (40. d5 {is what I was concerned about as a response. } cxd5 41. Rc7 $16) 40... exd4 $11 {the engine evaluates this as equal. I had seen that there was a tactical trick lurking, however, and my opponent incorrectly goes for the "obvious move" of recapturing on d4.} 41. exd4 $4 { this now opens the c1-h6 diagonal and allows a queen fork of White's king and the c-pawn's queening square.} (41. Qxc2 $11) 41... Qf4+ 0-1

17 October 2019

Book completed: Grandmaster Performance by Lyev Polugayevsky

I recently completed Grandmaster Performance by GM Lyev Polugayevsky (alternate spelling Lev Polugaevsky). Note: I have a hardcover of the original Pergamon Press edition (above left), although the currently available edition with Ishi Press (above right) has a similar cover design.

As with previously completed annotated games collections such as Bronstein's Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 and Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse, I used it primarily for single-session reviews of each game, typically taking 15-20 minutes to go through it. I find this to be the ideal amount of time for maintaining focus and being able to absorb the lessons of each game, before moving on to something different. to do this, the games need to be instructive, informative and judiciously well-annotated. Grandmaster Performance fit the bill very well, in all respects.


From the author - a preface from which I got Training quote of the day #19

Problems from the first move - this chapter focused on games where opening preparation was a deciding factor.

In search of the truth - featuring attacking games by the author. The chapter title comes from Polugayevsky's preference for objectively sound attacks, rather than attacking for its own sake.

From defence to attack - featuring games where the author is on the defensive, then finds resources to turn the tables on his opponent.

The touchstone of mastery - games where the author won due to strategically outplaying his opponent.

Finale of the chess symphony - includes endgames of particular interest to the author. Most of these games are still fully annotated, although there is one endgame fragment presented in the chapter.

Psychology of the chess struggle - Polugayevsky presents a few key games from his chess career and the considerations that went into his strategic choices in each case, predicated on his own state of mind and his opponents' capabilities and styles.

Grandmaster Performance is elegantly written (and translated) and has an excellent balance in the annotations between explaining moves, providing variations, and "color commentary" by the author. Each chapter holds together thematically, but when going through complete games one learns much more than just a single lesson. Throughout the book, and especially in the last chapter, one also gets a good sense of the practical considerations used by a strong, competitive player in making decisions, as well as the errors that inevitably occur. For improving players, seeing and absorbing this kind of candid, high-level commentary on thought process and decisionmaking is undoubtedly beneficial. It is also psychologically helpful to understand that chess is not a perfect game, even at the grandmaster level, and success comes from finding ways to win, including when under pressure and on the defensive.

11 October 2019

Annotated Game #223: Don't be afraid of queen endings

This fifth round tournament game continued the upwards trajectory of my quality of play...through the first 2/3 of it, I would say. The opening phase was reasonable, if not ambitious, and I successfully worked towards building an increasingly solid strategic game versus my opponent's isolated queen pawn (IQP) position. Some possible tweaks along the way are useful to see for White, but by move 18 I had acquired a small but stable advantage. My opponent then played actively and well in response, but missed a "small tactic" on move 23 that could have given me a more significant positional advantage if I had gone directly for an endgame transition, likely ending up with R+N on both sides.

Instead, I ended up with a trickier Q+N endgame that was evaluated by the engine as completely equal. I then passed up what I correctly evaluated as an easy drawing line on move 32, in favor of a riskier line that would at best also draw. Psychologically, this type of unjustifiably risky behavior is a common phenomenon, after a player previously evaluates they have superiority; the mind does not want to admit that the advantage has dissipated. The technical mis-evaluation of this situation is also an excellent teaching point, as Black's active queen and knight combination became much more of a potential threat once the queen penetrates to the second rank. Even then, though, my own active Q+N combination could have saved the day, had I calculated correctly. Remembering your own active resources in a queen ending means that you shouldn't have to fear going into them, just be careful of handing your opponent too much activity.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "78"] {[%mdl 8192] A13: English Opening: 1...e6} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 d5 3. b3 c5 4. e3 { restraining, if not technically preventing, d5-d4.} Nc6 {with Black piling in on d4, I exchange pawns and advance my own d-pawn to prevent him from establishing a strong point there.} 5. cxd5 exd5 6. d4 Nf6 7. Bb2 { interestingly, all of the (limited number) of master-level players in the database went with Be2 here. The course of the below game is very similar (see the position on move 10), but White follows a different plan:} (7. Be2 Bg4 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Bb2 O-O 10. O-O Rc8 11. Nc3 a6 12. Rc1 Ba7 13. Nd4 Bd7 14. Nxc6 Bxc6 15. Nb1 Re8 16. Bd4 Bb8 17. Nd2 Qd6 18. f4 Qe6 19. a4 Bd6 20. Bd3 Bd7 21. Nf3 Ne4 22. Ne5 Rxc1 23. Qxc1 Rc8 24. Qd1 Bxe5 25. Bxe5 Nc5 26. Bc2 f6 27. Bd4 Be8 28. Bxc5 Rxc5 29. Qd3 g6 30. b4 Rc7 31. Bb3 Bf7 32. Rd1 Qb6 33. Qd4 Qxd4 34. Rxd4 Rc3 35. Bxd5 Bxd5 36. Rxd5 Rxe3 37. Rd6 Kf7 38. Rb6 Re7 39. g4 f5 40. gxf5 gxf5 41. Kf2 Ke8 42. Kg3 Rg7+ 43. Kh4 Rg4+ 44. Kh5 Rxf4 45. a5 Rf1 46. Rxb7 f4 47. Kg4 h5+ 48. Kxh5 Rg1 49. b5 axb5 50. a6 Rg2 51. a7 Rxh2+ 52. Kg4 Ra2 53. Kxf4 Kd8 54. Ke4 {1-0 (54) Sulskis,S (2507)-Rogule,L (2320) Liepaja 2018}) 7... Bg4 8. Be2 Rc8 {Black can get a check in on the a5-e1 diagonal after some exchanges, but it's useful to see how even giving up castling is still fine for White. Black still needs to take some time to develop his own kingside, so White does not lose time in a comparative sense.} (8... Bxf3 9. Bxf3 cxd4 10. Bxd4 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 Qa5+ 12. Ke2 Rc8 13. Rd1 Be7 14. a3 O-O 15. Ra2 Rfd8 16. b4 Qc7 17. g3 a5 18. bxa5 Qxa5 19. Kf1 Bc5 20. Qd2 Qa6+ 21. Qe2 Qe6 22. Rad2 Rd6 23. Kg2 {Katishonok,N (2265)-Berzinsh,R (2395) Riga 1993 1/ 2-1/2 (44)}) (8... cxd4 9. Nxd4 Bb4+ 10. Kf1 Nxd4 11. Bxd4 Bxe2+ 12. Qxe2 O-O 13. g3 Ne4 14. Kg2 Rc8 15. Rd1 b6 16. a3 Bc5 17. Bb2 Qg5 18. h4 Qf5 19. Nd2 Rfe8 20. Rac1 Nxd2 21. Rxd2 Qe4+ 22. Qf3 Rcd8 23. Rcd1 {Voskanyan,V (2213)-Li, Y (1866) Montreal 2016 1-0}) 9. O-O Bd6 {this bishop development should be a trigger for taking on c5, as occurs for example in analagous QGD positions with the colors reversed. Taking earlier, on the other hand, would save Black a tempo with the bishop.} 10. a3 $146 {this is unnecessary.} (10. dxc5 Bxc5 11. Nc3 O-O 12. Rc1 $11) 10... O-O (10... cxd4 11. Nxd4 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 $11) 11. dxc5 Bxc5 {Black has a very active position} 12. b4 {this was the idea behind the earlier a3, but if you compare the variations, above White has the knight and rook developed and can use them to pressure the Bc5.} Be7 {this turns out to be a wasted move, although my opponent was probably worried about the d-pawn and wanted to overprotect it.} (12... Bd6 13. Nbd2 $11) 13. Nd4 {a somewhat premature way to offer another piece exchange. White would do better by further development with Nbd2, perhaps after playing h3.} Bxe2 14. Qxe2 Bd6 15. Nd2 {finally getting the knight out. I chose this square over c3 for it, as I felt that it would be more effective in fighting for d4 (going to f3 for example) and not block the Bb2 on the long diagonal.} a6 {a little passive.} ( 15... Re8 $5) 16. h3 {this is similarly slow. I should get the Ra1 into the action.} (16. Nxc6 Rxc6 17. Rac1 $14) 16... Bb8 {now I'm able to resume progress.} (16... Nxd4 17. Bxd4 Qe7 18. Rac1 $14) 17. Nxc6 $14 Rxc6 18. Rac1 { although White has only a slight plus here, strategically I'm very comfortable. The d4 square in front of Black's isolated queen pawn is controlled and I have better prospects on the c-file. Black can't afford to exchange rooks on c6, for example, if he ends up with a backward pawn on the file that I can pressure.} Qd6 {protecting the Rc6 from an unfavorable exchange and also threatening a cheapo mate on h2, which I need to defend against.} 19. Nf3 (19. g3 $5 {is preferred by the engine and is a simpler way to blunt Black's threat. Without a light-square bishop, Black has no effective way of exploiting the weakened kingside squares.} Qe6 20. Rxc6 Qxc6 21. Rc1 Qe6 22. Kg2 $14) 19... Re8 20. Rxc6 Qxc6 21. Rc1 Qd6 {although this is no longer a mate threat, it's still annoying to have to watch for a check on h2.} 22. Qc2 {repositioning the queen away from the pinned e-pawn and giving her a great diagonal (b1-h7), while consolidating control of the c-file.} Ne4 {a more aggressive posting for the knight, traditional in IQP positions. However, a small tactic now lets me improve my position.} 23. Be5 {This apparently caught my opponent by surprise. Black cannot take twice on e5 because of the back-rank mate threat.} Qe7 24. Bxb8 $16 {with each minor piece exchange, Black's IQP becomes weaker, as I still have a lock on d4.} Rxb8 25. Nd4 {good but not best. With d4 under control, I should have immediately followed up to exploit my control of the c-file.} (25. Qc7 Qxc7 26. Rxc7 Nd6 27. Nd4 $16 {is a much better version of the idea.}) 25... g6 $14 {this covers f5, limiting the effectiveness of the Nd4, and also eliminates back-rank mate threats, so Black is now in better shape.} 26. Ne2 {time to reposition the knight.} Rd8 27. Qc7 {this is no longer very effective.} (27. Qb2 $5) 27... Rd7 28. Qb8+ Rd8 (28... Kg7 29. Rc8 $11) 29. Rc8 {this was the original idea behind Qc7, but is good only for equality.} (29. Qf4 $5 {with the idea of switching the rook to the d-file offered better chances for pressure.}) 29... Rxc8 $11 30. Qxc8+ Kg7 31. Nf4 { here I considered just going for the draw, which is easily done. Instead I over-evaluate my chances and pick a much riskier line which the engine evaluates as equal.} (31. Qc2) 31... Qe5 32. Qxb7 {I thought for a long time here. Black now penetrates with his queen and I have to watch out for problems on f2, due to the well-placed Ne4.} Qb2 {now things are much more complicated for the defense.} 33. Kh2 {this is still good enough for a draw.} (33. Ne6+ { I also considered and would draw.} Kf6 34. Nf4 {now I have the Nxd5 threat.} Qxf2+ 35. Kh2 Qg3+ 36. Kh1 $11) 33... Qxf2 34. Qxd5 $4 {I thought for a while here as well and simply did not visualize the resulting sequence properly.} ( 34. Qe7 {other queen moves can draw as well. In this line, the e3 pawn is now protected after the Ne4 moves, which is key.} Qg3+ 35. Kh1 Nf2+ (35... Qe1+ { is only good enough for a perpetual.} 36. Kh2 Qg3+ 37. Kh1 Qe1+ 38. Kh2 Qg3+ $11) 36. Kg1 $11) 34... Qg3+ $19 35. Kh1 Qe1+ {my opponent takes one more checking sequence to figure out how to win.} 36. Kh2 Qg3+ 37. Kh1 Nf2+ $1 38. Kg1 Qxe3 {now nothing can save White.} 39. g3 {one last attempt to confuse the matter.} Ng4+ (39... Ng4+ 40. Kh1 Qe1+ 41. Kg2 Qf2+ 42. Kh1 Qf1#) 0-1

01 October 2019

RandomJeff's 30-day slow chess challenge

Slow Chess League (SCL) member RandomJeff is making a concerted effort to get back into chess and has a 30-day challenge (30 slow chess games in 30 days) going on multiple platforms, including Chess.com and ICC. ("Slow chess" in this case means at a 45 45 or 90 30 time control).

You can see his progress on his blog at the below link, and also challenge him to a game:


Details on the challenge at SCL: https://slowchessleague.org/2019/09/29/scl-30-day-challenge/