07 March 2020

Top two things that hold you back

Progress in chess, as with many things in life, isn't just about gaining new skills and knowledge. It's about identifying flawed or unhelpful practices that are holding you back from greater success, and eliminating - or at least significantly reducing - them. As with any sort of bad habit, the most effective way of tackling them is to consciously adopt new and positive practices. Otherwise, it's too easy for your brain to gravitate back to its old habits, like a well-worn rut in the dirt just keeps getting deeper over time.

While amateur players normally need to work on all aspects of their game, I think picking the top two things that keep tripping you up, then consciously working on them in both training and game situations, can be an effective strategy for speeding up overall improvement. Analyzing your own games over time should naturally highlight what these major issues are, combined with some self reflection, although if you have a coach they should be able to point them out as well. I'll share mine here.

1. Materialism

This is a pernicious problem for many amateurs. Occasionally you may find ultra-aggressive players who never bother counting material and always play for mate, but most people still want to win material and will "count the points" - the traditional "scoring" scheme being 9 for a queen, 5 for a rook, 3 for a bishop or knight, and 1 for a pawn.

Once you get to a certain level of play, I believe using this scheme as part of your thinking process is much more of a detriment than it is a help. At the beginner level, some type of easy-to-understand guide to piece value is needed, so using the standard counting scheme and its variants (3.5 for a bishop and 3.25 for a knight, say) has its place. However, this is a very static way of thinking about the game. Failure to take into account dynamic factors will inevitably hold you back, both strategically and tactically. This is not just a human failing, either, as many computer engines before the most recent modern era - Fritz was notorious for this - had the same problem with materialistic evaluations. (More on the role of engines in a bit.)

One way to effectively combat this in the thinking process is to consciously assess (and reassess) the current and future potential value of each piece. Full details of how to do this is beyond the scope of this post; there are a number of positional/strategic books and lessons available that address this topic. The most basic questions about piece activity, however, will go far. Namely: how many squares does the piece influence? Are they important squares? Does the piece have the ability to move to a better square? Answering these questions will help both strategic and tactical thinking, by highlighting opportunities for your pieces, along with vulnerabilities you may have to your opponent's pieces. This is a major component of prophylactic thinking, which involves preventing your opponent's pieces from reaching their best squares.

An important practical tool in this evaluation is the use of an engine (after the game, of course). Modern engines such as Stockfish, Komodo, Houdini and others are very good at assessing the value of compensation for material, which essentially reflects the dynamic positional value of pieces. I find that Komodo in particular tends to give more weight to non-material factors, which is one reason I use that as my primary engine when analyzing. The engine will not tell you why it evaluates a position in a certain way, so it cannot replace your own study and insight, but it importantly provides an objective evaluation for you to ponder further.

Recognition of materialism as a problem has helped me take some practical measures, including:
  • Deliberately looking for ways to increase piece activity, including via methods like pawn sacrifices. The idea of clearance sacrifices, for example, is common in master-level play.
  • Consciously searching for other major sacrificial possibilities, rather than automatically suppressing them as part of the thinking process. This reveals opportunities that will otherwise be missed, for example in Annotated Game #5 (First Sacrifice). This is just as important to do when thinking of your opponent's possibilities, as in Annotated Game #233 (Boden's Mate).
  • Paying more attention to the comparative value of pieces when making (or avoiding) exchanges. Piece swaps are often taken for granted, as players assume that if the overall "count" is the same, then exchanges always have a neutral value. This is one way that masters end up beating amateurs on a regular basis, by better recognizing the longer-term value of the pieces (including pawns) that are left. My simul game versus GM Sam Shankland is a good example.

2. Laziness in calculation

The best training advice I have ever received (from a martial arts master) is "don't be lazy". This is especially important when calculating as part of the thinking process. This does not mean calculating endless variations every single move; rather, it's important to recognize when critical positions are reached. At that point, the variations being calculated have to work, otherwise the game's outcome will be affected.

Another meme-worthy formulation of this is "Don't think you are. Know you are" from The Matrix. In other words, don't think you know what will happen if you make a critical move, make the effort to know what will happen. This requires laziness to be banished and increased focus and energy applied. Fear and doubt can enter into the process as well, either when attacking or defending in a critical situation. It's better to put those things aside and focus on determining the reality of what will work and what will not.

Consistent application of a routine thinking process that involves blunder checking and looking at your opponent's resources is also part of this idea, of not being lazy. It's been too easy for me to over-focus on my own possibilities and then, unless I force myself to ask "what are my opponent's threats and ideas", get caught out by something unexpected.

Another aspect of laziness is stopping prematurely when reaching a key future position during calculations. This is normally a result of either dismissing a position as not being viable, when in fact it is, or the opposite problem, which is believing that the position is won/good for you, when in fact your opponent can bust the line with their next move. This means that you have stopped "one move short" of what should be done. Eliminating this problem is not easy, because of the inherently difficult nature of calculating and visualizing multiple potential future positions, but identifying when to make the extra effort and then applying it can go a long way to improving quality of play and your results.

14 February 2020

Commentary: 2019 Cairns Cup, Round 5 (Abdumalik - Krush)

With the current (2020) Cairns Cup ongoing, it's fitting that this next commentary game between IM Zhansaya Abdumalik and GM Irina Krush is an interesting struggle from last year's tournament. I selected it for analysis because it features an unnamed Caro-Kann sideline - essentially an Exchange Variation paired with the aggressive idea Nf3-e5 - that surprisingly often has appeared in high-level games (Carlsen, Anand and Kramnik top the list of White players) and can crop up at the club level. I suspect that the top players use it largely for surprise value and to avoid long book lines, while club players may more often use it out of lack of knowledge or experience in facing the Caro-Kann. As with any opening approach that is not unsound, it shouldn't simply be dismissed as a sideline and ignored by Caro-Kann players.

Remarkably, I've faced the move 4 position six times during my own tournament career, most often opting for a setup with ...Nf6 and ...Nc6 in response. Krush's play with ...Nf6, ...g6 and ...Nbd7 I think is superior to that and lets her equalize quickly. How she handles the strategic tension in the center, play on the light squares, and taking advantage of a missed idea by her opponent (liquidation of queenside tension with c3-c4) is worth the time for study.

[Event "Cairns Cup 2019"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2019.02.10"] [Round "5.2"] [White "Abdumalik, Zhansaya"] [Black "Krush, Irina"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "2468"] [BlackElo "2435"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Nf3 {this unnamed sideline can also arise from a 2. Nf3 move order. I've actually had this position six times in my tournament praxis.} Nf6 {this is what I played five times out of six.} (4... Nc6 {is as equally popular as the text move in the database and is more in keeping with standard Exchange Variation development. It blocks the diagonal to Black's king and helps guard e5. Used in Annotated Game #171.}) 5. Ne5 { White is attempting to chart an independent course in the opening, rather than sticking to normal development. This approach has been used successfully by a number of top-level players, although the surprise factor likely plays a role.} g6 {this has seen more success, scoring around 50 percent, than the other main alternative ...Nc6.} 6. Bb5+ Nbd7 {now Black has this more flexible and slightly less awkward response to the bishop check.} 7. O-O Bg7 {continuing to develop pieces. White's Ne5 is in a good position, but moving it twice has allowed Black to catch up in development.} 8. c3 {supporting the d4 pawn and looking to blunt Black's bishop on the long diagonal.} O-O 9. f4 {in keeping with the aggressive play featuring the Ne5. One can see this f-pawn push in some other Caro-Kann variations as well, having gained popularity in recent years. As with all pawn advances, it also leaves weaknesses in its wake, and Black now occupies the e4 outpost.} Ne4 10. Bd3 {this is where the bishop normally goes in the Exchange Variation, so arguably White has simply lost a tempo in development. Black's knight in turn has been diverted to d7 instead of c6, which seems more helpful for Black, as it can now move to f6 and support the Ne4.} Ndf6 11. Nd2 Bf5 $146 {making the strategic decision to maintain the Ne4. The Bf5 development is also normal in variations with ...g6.} (11... Nd6 {was previously played.} 12. Qe2 Bf5 13. Re1 Rc8 14. Ndf3 Bxd3 15. Nxd3 Nfe4 16. Nf2 Nxf2 17. Qxf2 Rc7 18. Qh4 e6 19. Qh3 b5 20. a3 a5 21. Ng5 h6 22. Nf3 b4 23. axb4 axb4 24. Ne5 bxc3 25. bxc3 Ne4 26. Bb2 Qb8 27. Re2 Rfc8 28. Rc1 Rb7 29. Ba1 Qa7 30. Qe3 Rb3 31. Rec2 Ra8 32. h3 Rc8 33. Kh2 Kh7 34. Qe1 Nd6 35. Qe2 Nc4 36. Nxc4 Rxc4 37. Ra2 Qc7 38. Rf1 h5 39. Qd1 Rb7 40. Kh1 Bh6 41. Qf3 Rb5 42. Qf2 Rc6 43. Re2 Rcb6 44. Ree1 Kg8 45. Rd1 Qb8 46. h4 Rb1 47. g3 Rxd1 48. Rxd1 Bf8 49. Qc2 Rb3 50. Rg1 Qb5 51. Rc1 Ba3 52. Rd1 Bd6 53. Rg1 Kg7 54. Rd1 Qc4 55. Kg2 Ra3 56. Bb2 Ra2 57. Rd2 Ba3 58. Qc1 Bxb2 59. Rxb2 Ra3 60. Rc2 Qa6 61. Qe3 Ra1 62. Rf2 Rb1 63. Qe5+ Kg8 64. f5 exf5 65. Qxd5 Qa1 66. Qc5 Rg1+ 67. Kh2 Rh1+ 68. Kg2 Qg1+ 69. Kf3 Qe1 70. Qc8+ Kg7 71. Qc6 f4 72. Qe4 Qxc3+ 73. Kxf4 Re1 74. Re2 Rf1+ {0-1 (74) Tomic,G (2216)-Andersen,A (2225) Djenovici 2018}) 12. Ndf3 e6 {stiffening Black's position on the light squares and also locking the bishop on the kingside. I admit I would be hesitant to play this kind of restrictive move, although objectively the Bf5 will have an out after ...Nd6.} (12... Nd6 $5 {is also an idea here.}) 13. Qe1 {this seems to waste time and put the queen on a less mobile square, although perhaps the idea was to enable the queen to eventually swing over to the kingside. Meanwhile, two queenside pieces remain undeveloped.} Nd6 14. Be2 {the bishop moves again, this time to avoid an exchange which would lessen White's ability to fight for the light squares.} b5 {with White retreating forces from the center, Krush now opts to mobilize her queenside.} 15. h3 {threatening g2-g4, but the bishop has the fine e4 square to go to.} Qc7 {connecting the rooks and adding to White's potential pressure on the queenside.} 16. b3 {this weakens c3, but gives White the idea of pushing the c-pawn, while keeping Black out of c4. It also opens up the c1-a3 diagonal for the bishop to get out.} Be4 { Krush now chooses to go for the exchange of bishop for knight.} (16... Rfc8 $5 {would activate the rook.}) 17. Ba3 Bxf3 18. Rxf3 {this is awkward-looking, but helps support the c3 pawn and gives the rook some mobility along the third rank, perhaps anticipating an eventual g2-g4.} (18. Bxf3 $5 {would instead fight for the e4 square.}) 18... Nfe4 {now the results of the bishop for knight trade look good for Black. Once again there is a strong Ne4, which in this position has greater reach than the bishop, targeting key squares such as c3 and g3.} 19. Rc1 {further reinforcing the c-pawn and preparing to advance it.} Rfc8 (19... f6 {is favored by the engines, which show a slight Black plus, but would represent a shift in strategy and require ...Rfe8 to support the e-pawn.}) 20. Kh2 {now White deliberately avoids the critical idea of c3-c4, to her detriment.} (20. c4 dxc4 21. bxc4 bxc4 22. Bxc4 $11) 20... a5 (20... Qa5 {is the engines' choice, forcing White to exchange on d6 or drop a pawn. However, White in return could get some activity and counterplay on the queenside.} 21. Bxd6 Nxd6 22. b4 (22. Bd3 Qxa2 23. Ra1 Qxb3 24. Ra6) 22... Qc7 23. a4) (20... Qb7 $5 {seems like a good practical choice as well, getting the queen off the c-file, reinforcing the Ne4, and keeping options open on the queenside.}) 21. Bd3 {this and White's next seem like waiting moves, with the idea perhaps of Qc1 afterwards. However, this gives Black too much time.} Qa7 22. Rc2 {this was the last chance to liquidate the tension by playing c4.} b4 $1 $17 {now Black's buildup pays off. The problem for White is that his Rc2 is overloaded, trying to cover both the a2 and c3 pawns, while the d4 pawn is also under pressure.} 23. cxb4 Rxc2 24. Bxc2 axb4 25. Bxb4 Qxa2 {breaking up White's queenside pawn duo, but limiting the reach of Black's queen.} (25... Qxd4 {is the choice of the engines, giving Black central control with a 5v3 majority and a centralized queen.}) 26. Bd3 {the bishop moves yet again, and again it seems to be hurting rather than helping White. Perhaps she is hoping in some long-run compensation for having the two bishops, but the light-square bishop is hobbled in this structure.} (26. Bxe4 Nxe4 27. Qc1 $17) 26... Qb2 { this gets the queen out of the way of the rook on the a-file and also targets the d4 pawn. Although material is even, White's two isolated, weak b- and d-pawns and awkward piece placement give Black a significant edge.} (26... Qxb3 $4 27. Bxe4 $18) 27. Bxd6 {this must have been played with some regret, exchanging White's better bishop, but it helps de-congest White's pieces and removes the Ne4.} Nxd6 28. Qb4 {finally giving the queen some scope and at least some theoretical hope for counterplay.} Bf8 {Krush improves her worst piece, with tempo, given its lineup on the White queen.} 29. Qb6 Qd2 (29... Ra2 {played first would keep the initiative and avoid the rook getting cut off by a potential Ba6.} 30. Bf1 Qd2 $19) 30. Bf1 (30. Ba6 $5 {would now interfere with Black's piece coordination and make her readjust her plans and pieces.} Qa2 31. Bd3 Kg7 $17) 30... h5 (30... Ra2) 31. Qc6 {White again misses the key idea of Ba6.} Ra1 $19 {now the rook moves into the attack and White is in trouble.} 32. Qd7 (32. Qb6 {would hold the pawns, at least for now.}) 32... Qxd4 {White's position now collapses.} 33. Nc6 $2 {White must be getting desperate at this point.} (33. Qd8 Rc1 $19) 33... Qf6 {controlling the e7 square.} 34. b4 {might as well push the passed pawn.} Ne4 35. Bd3 h4 {now Black takes advantage of White's kingside holes, preparing another square for the knight.} 36. Qc7 Ng3 {forcing the issue and winning material, with the threat of ...Rh1#} 37. Rxg3 hxg3+ 38. Kxg3 Ra3 {an exchange up with excellent activity for the rook and queen, and an exposed enemy king, the rest of the game is just mopping up for Krush.} 39. Ne5 Bh6 {pretty much everything wins here.} (39... Qf5 $5) 40. Qc1 Kg7 41. Qe3 Rb3 42. b5 Rb4 {now f4 falls to the Black forces.} 43. Ng4 Bxf4+ 44. Kf3 Qc3 45. Qe2 e5 {faced with further material loss, White resigns.} 0-1

13 February 2020

Training quote of the day #29: Simon Webb

The biggest difference between a Master and a club player is in positional understanding. This pays off most clearly in simple positions, where the Master knows exactly what to do, and finds it easy to punish the positional errors of his opponent. This almost certainly applies to you too when you play someone distinctly weaker than yourself.
From Chess for Tigers by IM Simon Webb, Chapter 5: "How to catch Rabbits" 

Annotated Game #238: Lining up the shot

In this last round of the tournament, I still had some pride and preserving my Class A rating to play for, both of which would require a win to be satisfied. However, there was relatively less pressure, as I'd scored a win in the previous round after losing the first three games, breaking the streak. I had been given two Blacks in a row, which in fact was fine by me, since I've scored just as well (sometimes better) with that color.

I was also cheered by the appearance of the London System on the board, which I've traditionally had good results against. This time was no different and I equalized easily, despite a bit of inconsistency in the opening. On move 16 I deliberately decided to keep the queens on the board, looking for more winning chances, although as the engine points out I would have gained a slight advantage in the endgame. The structure had enough imbalances for there to be significant play in an equal position, and therefore chances for my opponent to go wrong.

The game starts turning in my favor around move 20, when I am able to come up with a decent plan to better mobilize my queenside forces, while my opponent makes some aggressive-looking but also wasteful moves on the kingside. The weakening 24. g4?! allows me to a couple of moves later naturally line up my queen against his king on the long diagonal, then take a surprise tactical shot that combines a discovered check, attack on his queen, and an x-ray theme on the f-file. My resulting material advantage and advanced passed pawn seal the win and a satisfying end to what could have been a disastrous tournament.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D02"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "108"] 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 {the London system has only gained in popularity over recent years, it seems.} Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 4. Bd3 Bxd3 5. Qxd3 e6 (5... c6 {is more popular here, controlling the b5 square, although as can be seen in the next variation, the queen check is not a serious threat.}) 6. Nf3 (6. Qb5+ {wins a pawn, but Black has full compensation. White's queen has to be careful not to be caught without squares, as Black's rook gain strength on the queenside open files.} Nbd7 7. Qxb7 Rb8 8. Qxa7 Rxb2 $11 {and now if White gets even more greedy, Black should win:} 9. Bxc7 $2 (9. Qxc7 $2 Qa8 $19) 9... Qc8 $19 { with the threat of ...Rb7.}) 6... Nbd7 7. Nbd2 Nh5 {played to target White's powerful bishop. However, White can avoid the trade and keep a small initiative.} (7... c5 {is a more logical follow-up to Black's previous move.}) 8. O-O (8. Bg5 $5) 8... c5 $6 {mixing and matching strategic ideas is not a good recipe for the opening. Luckily my opponent does not press his developmental advantage.} (8... Nxf4 {is the obvious follow-up, completing the idea behind the knight move.}) 9. c3 (9. c4 {with Black's king still in the center, White would do well to use this pawn lever to try to open the position. For example} Nxf4 10. exf4 Be7 11. cxd5 exd5 12. Qb3 $16) 9... Nxf4 10. exf4 Bd6 $11 11. f5 {now that I am ready to castle, this is not worrisome.} O-O 12. fxe6 fxe6 {the backwards e-pawn looks ugly, but White is not in a position to put too much pressure on it. The half-open f-file also serves as compensation.} 13. Rae1 Qf6 $6 {this is too committal of the queen.} 14. Qe3 (14. Qb5 { can be parried, but Black effectively wastes a tempo in doing so.} Qe7 $14) 14... Rae8 {now White cannot make any more progress.} 15. Ne5 Bxe5 16. dxe5 { I am fine with this bishop for knight trade, as now the d/c pawn pair is strengthened and White has a target on e5 he has to defend.} Qe7 {Here I had a long think about game strategy. This retreat looks slightly passive, but my thinking process was actually to preserve more potential winning chances by keeping the queens on the board.} (16... Qf4 {was my main alternative and Komodo's preference. The queen trade gives Black a small edge perhaps.} 17. Qxf4 (17. g3 $5 Qxe3 18. Rxe3 Rf5 19. f4 $11) 17... Rxf4 $15 {and my rook activity is superior.}) 17. f4 Rf7 {a slow plan. Komodo prefers to prepare to mobilize the queenside pawn majority (4v3), with moves like ...b5 or ...Nb8-c6. } (17... b5) 18. Rf3 Ref8 19. Ref1 {maintaining the equal tension.} b6 { thinking safety first and preparing ...c4.} 20. Rh3 {this effectively wastes a tempo.} (20. c4 $5 {would be more unbalancing, challenging Black's center and posing more problems to solve at the board.} Nb8 21. cxd5 exd5 22. f5 Nc6 23. e6 Rf6 24. g4 g6 $11 {should hold for Black, though.}) 20... c4 {clearing the square for use by my pieces and creating a potential outpost on d3.} 21. Kh1 { effectively another loss of tempo.} (21. b4 cxb3 22. Nxb3) 21... Nc5 $15 { good, but not best.} (21... Qc5 {is pointed out by Komodo as winning a pawn, given that both the f- and b-pawns are weak. I did not even consider it, though, based on my earlier decision to avoid exchanging queens.} 22. Qxc5 (22. Rhf3 Qxe3 23. Rxe3 Rxf4 24. Rxf4 Rxf4 25. Kg1 $17) 22... Nxc5 23. Rhf3 Nd3 $19) 22. Rhf3 Nd3 {Black gets an 'octopus' knight deep in enemy territory.} 23. b3 b5 {play has shifted to the queenside and as a result I now have the initiative and a space advantage.} 24. g4 $6 {an aggressive attempt to re-start kingside threats, but this is too weakening. The f-pawn (and by extension the e-pawn) now have less potential support. The h1-a8 diagonal is also now opened, which later becomes decisive.} (24. Qd4 $5) 24... Qc7 $17 { pressuring the e-pawn, thereby preventing an advance of the f-pawn.} 25. Nb1 $6 {this retreat and redeployment of the knight harms rather than helps.} a5 { this passes up an opportunity to strike a blow on the kingside, now that the knight has removed itself from the action.} (25... g5 26. f5 (26. fxg5 $2 Rxf3 27. Rxf3 Rxf3 28. Qxf3 Qxe5 $19) 26... Nxe5 27. Rg3 h6 $19 {and now the f-pawn will eventually fall.}) (25... Qb7 {immediately is also good.}) 26. Na3 Qb7 { consciously lining up on the long diagonal, as well as protecting the b-pawn.} 27. Nc2 $2 {missing the following tactic. The f-pawn is in fact sufficiently protected, which no doubt led to my opponent not considering the possibility of it being taken. However, the point is the discovered check and simultaneous attack on the queen, combined with the x-ray on the f-file.} (27. Kg1) 27... Nxf4 $1 28. Rxf4 $2 {this leads to additional material loss.} (28. h3 cxb3 29. axb3 Ng6 $19 {with a winning endgame.}) 28... d4+ 29. Qf3 Qxf3+ {now the x-ray tactic works.} 30. R4xf3 Rxf3 31. Rxf3 Rxf3 32. Nxd4 Rxc3 33. Nxb5 Rc1+ 34. Kg2 c3 $19 {with the material advantage and advanced passed c-pawn, the win is just a matter of simple technique.} 35. Na3 c2 (35... Ra1 {is quicker.}) 36. Kh3 Kf7 37. Kh4 Rh1 {forcing either the queening of the pawn or the loss of the knight.} 38. Nxc2 Rxh2+ {from this point on it's just cleaning up.} 39. Kg5 Rxc2 40. a3 Rb2 41. b4 a4 42. Kh5 Rb3 43. Kg5 Rxa3 44. Kh5 Rb3 45. Kg5 a3 46. b5 Rxb5 47. Kh5 a2 48. g5 a1=Q 49. g6+ hxg6+ 50. Kg5 Rxe5+ 51. Kf4 Qd4+ 52. Kf3 Re3+ 53. Kf2 Qd2+ 54. Kf1 Re1# 0-1

08 February 2020

Annotated Game #237: Redemption (with a bit of luck)

Losing my first three games of this tournament ("castling queenside" 0-0-0 as mentioned in Annotated Game #236) was a low point in my chess career, something I recognized I needed to deal with mentally. I've never withdrawn from a tournament and personally don't believe in doing so, unless there is some unavoidable external reason (family emergency, serious illness, or the like). By withdrawing there is also no chance of redemption. Achieving mental toughness in competition means that previous bad outcomes - whether a mistake within a game, a previous loss, or a poor overall tournament result - have to be accepted and then put aside, in favor of focusing on playing as well as possible in the moment.

The below game is far from clean, but it does highlight some positives as well as several areas for improvement.
  • As Black in a Caro-Kann Advance variation, I easily achieve equality out of the opening, although I could have done better at several points, as the position ends up being rather sterile.
  • My opponent makes a weakening move in the early middlegame, which I exploit for a small advantage. 
  • The turning point comes after I come up with a bad plan (featuring 28...f5?) which also highlights a general weakness in my game, of not properly evaluating the circumstances behind f-pawn pushes.
  • I get lucky when my opponent misses a winning tactic for White. Both of us were too focused on the situation with the weak e6 pawn to see it.
  • I do a better job of evaluating the position after my opponent technically is able to win material (two rooks and pawn for the queen), but I get much better dynamic chances, as my queen combines well with my remaining knight against White's exposed king. The pressure then rattles my opponent into dropping a rook and the game.
In terms of redeeming my tournament performance and keeping my Class A rating, this was a must-win game. Part of the mental preparation for it, however, was paradoxically accepting that I could lose, and that my chess career would not be over as a result. The fact that one of my previous losses had actually been a well-played game against a master (Annotated Game #234) also was helpful, even though disappointing, as it showed my play had not been uniformly terrible. The nature of Swiss system tournaments, in which your opponent always is in a similar position in terms of results, also contributes to the chances of coming back from a bad start: they are likely to be just as depressed as you are, so if you can adjust your attitude to be more positive, you may enjoy a certain psychological advantage.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "116"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bg4 {this is one point of the opening variation starting with 3...c5, to enable Black to place the bishop more effectively on g4.} 6. Be2 e6 7. Nbd2 Qb6 {choosing to increase pressure on the diagonal before taking any other action. In these types of positions, it is sometimes difficult to figure out when it is best to relieve the pawn tension, or increase it with the queen move.} (7... cxd4 {immediately is the favorite choice in the database, and here it is more effective in achieving Black's developmental goals and equalizing, without prematurely committing the queen.} 8. cxd4 (8. Nxd4 Bxe2 9. Qxe2 Nxd4 10. cxd4 $11) 8... Bb4 $11) 8. Nb3 ( 8. dxc5 $5 {at first looks like it plays into Black's idea of building up pressure, but after} Bxc5 9. O-O {Black's pieces in fact are not doing much. The pressure on the a7-g1 diagonal is no trouble for White so Black will have to redeploy his forces, figure out where to put the g8 knight, and leave the king in the center for while.}) 8... cxd4 (8... Bxf3 $5 {may be a better version of the idea.} 9. Bxf3 cxd4 10. cxd4 a5 11. a4 Bb4+ 12. Kf1 Nge7) 9. cxd4 (9. Nbxd4 {would have been more consistent with White's previous move, centralizing the knight and providing less of a target than the d4 pawn will be.}) 9... Nge7 {a solid developing move.} (9... a5 $5 {would take advantage of White's positionally awkward setup with the knight on b3, as ...a4 is threatened to drive away the knight, with d4 under pressure.}) 10. O-O Bxf3 { this was not yet necessary. Making White weaken his kingside squares with h3 if he wanted to kick the bishop would be slightly better for Black.} (10... Nf5 {continues with development, to the ideal square for the knight.}) 11. Bxf3 Nf5 12. Be3 {White has the two bishops, but this one is functioning just like a big pawn.} Be7 13. Rc1 O-O $11 {I've now completed development - except for the rooks - and have a comfortable position. White meanwhile is tied to defending d4.} 14. a3 {this temporarily takes the b4 square away from Black, but at the cost of weakening b3.} Rfc8 {it is unclear which rook should get into play first. I chose to leave the rook on the a-file, where it could perhaps support an a-pawn advance, but this never happens.} (14... a5 $5 { immediately is another idea.}) 15. Qd3 Qd8 {here I have a think and come up with a substandard plan.} (15... a5 {again is the main idea in the position and the logical follow-up.}) 16. Qb5 {I saw that the queen could gain space in this manner; however, the b7 pawn is not actually threatened, since after ... Rab8 the Nb3 would be hanging.} Bg5 {this was the original idea, to exchange off a defender of d4.} 17. Qd3 Bxe3 (17... Nxe3 {makes more sense, keeping the bishop on the board and exerting pressure down the h6-c1 diagonal.}) 18. fxe3 { now the position is fully equal, with fewer practical prospects for Black than before. The d4 square is no longer a weakness and White can think about using the half-open f-file.} Qg5 {getting the queen back into the game, pressuring e3 and exerting influence on the kingside.} 19. Rfe1 Nce7 {the knight has no useful squares on the queenside, so redeploying it makes sense.} 20. Kf2 { removing the pin on the g-file, which could theoretically be annoying at some point, but the king is less secure on f2.} b6 {essentially a waiting move, although it does take away c5 and a5 from White knight.} (20... Rxc1 21. Rxc1 Rf8 {is Komodo's preferred plan. At first this looks like it just gives away the queenside, but White's king position justifies a break using the f-pawn.} 22. Qe2 (22. Rc7 $2 Qh4+ $19) 22... f6 $15) 21. e4 $6 {this looks like a strong move, but in fact it leaves White vulnerable.} (21. Nd2 $5) 21... Nh4 { good, but not the best.} (21... dxe4 22. Bxe4 Rxc1 23. Rxc1 Rd8 24. Rd1 a5 25. a4 Qh4+ 26. Kg1 h5 $17 {with the idea of ...Qg5 and running the h-pawn up. Black will have lasting pressure against both White's king position and the d-pawn.}) 22. Qe3 $6 {this makes it easier for me to resolve the kingside tension favorably.} (22. exd5 Nxf3 23. Qxf3 Nxd5 $15) 22... Nxf3 {this is possible because the Qg5 is simultaneously protected, which my opponent may have missed.} 23. Kxf3 {better than the alternative, which drops a pawn.} (23. Qxf3 Rxc1 24. Rxc1 Qh4+ 25. Kg1 dxe4 $17) 23... dxe4+ 24. Qxe4 Nd5 $15 { a logical centralization of the knight, also blockading the d-pawn. However, Black can play more vigorously.} (24... Rxc1 $5 25. Rxc1 Rf8 $17 {again with the idea of lining up on the king and preparing ...f6.}) 25. g3 {creating a flight square on g2 and controlling h4 and f4.} a5 {I now finally play this idea, noticing that the Nb3 is short of squares.} 26. h4 Qe7 {I thought for a while here and decided to play the safe move.} (26... Qh6 {keeps more pressure on White.}) 27. Rc2 Rf8 {now I also play this idea from earlier, but the timing is not as good, and White still has both rooks on the board, which makes his control of the c-file much more relevant.} (27... Rxc2 28. Qxc2 Rf8 $17 {is an improved version.}) 28. Kg2 {the king also can more quickly run away from the f-file now.} f5 $2 {this shows both a lack of patience and a misunderstanding of the position. Without the king as a target, the opening of the f-file is no longer beneficial to Black and just weakens the position due to White's pressure on the e-file.} (28... Qd7 $15 {is better, with the idea of putting a rook on c8 and challenging for the c-file.}) 29. exf6 Rxf6 $4 { I thought for a while here and picked the wrong recapture. White (just as I did) now misses a game-ending tactic.} (29... Qxf6 30. Qxe6+ Qxe6 31. Rxe6 Rae8 32. Rxe8 Rxe8 $14 {accepts the loss of the pawn. Black however is blockading the d-pawn with a well-placed knight and has prospects for good rook activity, so this compensates somewhat.}) 30. Rc6 (30. Qxd5 {queen sacs (even if only temporary) are sometimes difficult to include in the thinking process, as it's common to automatically reject the possibility of such a capture. White wins a piece due to the hanging Qe7.}) 30... Qf8 $11 {now I lose the e-pawn, but can exploit the f-file and White's open king position.} 31. Rxe6 Rf2+ 32. Kg1 Nf6 { I had to think through the consequences of this carefully, predicting that my opponent would go for the queen for rooks exchange.} (32... Rxb2 {is also possible.}) 33. Qxa8 $6 (33. Qd3 Rxb2 34. Nd2 Rc8 $11) 33... Qxa8 34. Kxf2 Qd5 $17 {the general rule is that two rooks are better than a queen when there are open files and the endgame is near. In this particular case, however, my queen can combine effectively with the knight and it is powerfully centralized.} 35. Rxb6 {I got the impression that my opponent was quite happy with the position at this point, having gobbled a pawn on top of the rooks vs. queen situation. However, now I take over the initiative and demonstrate the power of the queen. } a4 {the knight's position is now revealed as a liability.} 36. Rb8+ (36. Nd2 $2 Qxd4+ {with a triple fork.}) 36... Kf7 37. Nc1 Qxd4+ 38. Re3 $2 {my opponent gets flustered by the situation and misses the knight fork, although . ..Qd2+ is also winning by picking up the Nc1.} Ng4+ $19 39. Kf1 Nxe3+ {at this point it's been a long struggle and I go for what I know is winning, rather than searching for even better moves.} (39... Qd1+ {is more effective.}) 40. Ke2 {my opponent now puts up stubborn resistance which requires a good amount of effort on my part to overcome, but the outcome is not really in doubt.} Nf5 (40... Nc4) 41. Rb4 Qe3+ 42. Kd1 Nxg3 43. Rxa4 Nf1 44. Kc2 Qd2+ (44... Qc5+) 45. Kb1 {I had foreseen this run to the queenside, which extends White's life for a little while longer.} Ne3 46. Ra7+ Kg6 {the problem for White is that the Black king can eventually hide behind his own pawns and/or gobble the h-pawn, so it is not vulnerable to further checks from the rook.} 47. Rc7 Qd6 48. Rc3 Nd5 49. Rd3 Qe5 50. Kc2 Qe4 51. b4 Nf4 52. Kc3 Nxd3 53. Nxd3 Qe3 { continuing with the pinning theme. When in doubt, render your opponent's pieces unusable.} 54. Kc4 Qe2 55. b5 Qc2+ 56. Kd4 Qa4+ 57. Kc5 Qxa3+ 58. Nb4 Qc3+ 0-1

02 February 2020

Annotated Game #236: First time castling queenside in a tournament

In a tournament, "castling queenside" means going 0-0-0 in your results. With the following loss, this was my first experience doing so in a formal competition. It was a tough mental blow, especially coming soon after I had broken through the Class A rating barrier. How I responded to this situation, with two rounds left to go in the tournament, will be the subject of the next annotated game.

The below game again highlights the perils of achieving a decent position, perhaps even with a small advantage, out of the opening but not knowing or being able to come up with an effective plan. This is always a function of not truly understanding the needs of the position. In this case, the idea of undermining Black's queenside pawns with a2-a4 appears multiple times, which would have introduced dynamic play and given me the initiative, but I was completely ignorant of it. Another key factor for me was not understanding what to do with the dark-square bishop, which is largely ineffective throughout the game, and then the focal point for a hallucinatory threat, which leads directly to the loss.

The good part of analyzing these types of games is avoiding a repeat of the same mistakes and building up your repertoire of strategic ideas, for the next time you see a similar position. This is why I think improvement comes quickest with a cycle of regular play, followed by objective analysis of each game, which keeps the lessons fresh and relevant.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "90"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 d5 {this is a common variation from Black, looking for a reversed Sicilian. However, White's 6th move breaks that pattern. } 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 {this is available because of 4. e3. Now the next sequence is largely forced, in order to avoid losing the e-pawn.} Nxc3 7. bxc3 Bd6 8. d4 exd4 9. cxd4 O-O 10. O-O Bg4 11. Rb1 {this is a little experimental. I'd seen the idea before in opening resources, but had never played it. The point of course is to have pressure down the b-file, but it is somewhat committal in terms of where to place the rook.} (11. h3 Bh5 12. Bb2 {is most often played. This gets the dark-square bishop developed and limits the Black light-square bishop's diagonals.}) 11... a6 {a logical move, but we are now out of the database.} 12. Be2 Rb8 13. Bd2 $6 {this is not the best square for the bishop. It does cover b4 and a5, which is why I played it, but it still limits the piece's activity.} (13. Bb2 {blocks the b-file, which is why I dismissed it during the game. However, there is no real prospect for White to gain any further pressure down the file, so it's better to improve the bishop to the long diagonal.}) 13... Re8 14. Qc2 {I anticipated this next sequence from Black in response.} Qf6 15. h3 Bf5 16. Bd3 Bxd3 17. Qxd3 {I felt that the minor piece exchange was favorable to White, since Black's bishop was more annoying and my queen ends up being nicely centralized. Komodo shows a slight edge for White here.} Qe7 18. Qc4 {there's no need to move the queen again here. Much better to get another heavy piece into play immediately.} (18. Rfc1 $14) 18... Qd7 19. Rfc1 Qe7 {now I have problems coming up with a good plan. The right idea is to play on the queenside and exploit the pressure down the b- and c-files.} 20. Rb3 {with the idea of doubling rooks on the b-file. This is rather crude and ineffective, however.} Na7 21. Rcb1 (21. Bb4 $5 {getting the bishop into the game is a good idea in itself. An exchange would also benefit White by removing a guardian of the c-pawn.}) 21... b5 {the obvious and good response.} 22. Qc2 Rec8 $6 {using the wrong rook.} (22... Rbc8) 23. Qf5 $6 {completely missing the idea of mobilizing the pawn center. White's queenside play is now going nowhere, so the strategic switch needs to be made. Asking the question "what did my opponent's last move change?" could have led to this realization, as the e-pawn is now free to advance.} (23. e4 $1 { now the Bd6 is lacking squares and White can mobiilize his pieces.} Qd7 24. Rd3 c6 25. Re1 $16) 23... c5 {now Black seizes the initiative with his own queenside play. The pawn break is well supported by his pieces, which are better coordinated than mine.} 24. dxc5 {letting Black get in ...c4 with a 3-1 advanced queenside majority did not look like a good option.} Rxc5 25. Qd3 { Komodo considers this equal, but over the board the initiative counts for an advantage.} Rbc8 26. Nd4 {the move is not bad in itself, but it betrays a lack of understanding of the needs of the position and how to combat Black's initiative. Challenging Black's pawn structure would be more productive.} (26. a4 $5 {and Black would have to allow a trade on b5, creating a single target for White to focus on.} bxa4 $2 27. Rb7 $16) 26... Be5 27. f4 $6 {this was my attempt to introduce more dynamic factors into the position. It works, although Black could have gotten at least a slight advantage.} Bxd4 28. exd4 ( 28. Qxd4 Nc6 29. Qb2 Qe4 $15) 28... R5c7 $6 (28... Rd5 {effectively blockades the isolated queen pawn and prepares to further pressure it.}) 29. d5 {seizing the chance to keep the d-pawn mobile and opening up the game for my pieces. Komodo now shows a small advantage for White.} Qc5+ 30. Be3 Qd6 31. R3b2 $6 { unfortunately I lose the thread again and start a too slow and passive maneuver. The key idea again is threatening to break up the queenside pawns, resulting in much more dynamic play and immediate threats, keeping the initiative.} (31. a4 bxa4 32. Rb6 $14) 31... Nc6 {taking advantage of the pin on the d-pawn to transfer the knight.} 32. Rf1 (32. a4 {again is possible.}) 32... Ne7 {now the extra pressure on the d-pawn means that Black's advantage is solidified.} 33. Rd2 Rd7 34. Bd4 $2 {the result of hallucinating a tactical trap. Black can simply take the pawn, however, which gives him a won game.} ( 34. Rfd1 $15) 34... Qxd5 35. Qg3 Nf5 $19 (35... f6 $2 36. Bxf6 $14) 36. Qf2 Nxd4 37. Rfd1 Rc4 {now the game is effectively over, although I hold out for a possible swindle by making some threats.} 38. Qe3 Rd8 {seeing the back-rank mate threat.} 39. Re1 h6 {I could have resigned at this point.} 40. Red1 Qc5 41. Kh2 Qd6 42. Kg1 Qe6 43. Qf2 Ne2+ 44. Kh2 Rxd2 45. Rxd2 Nxf4 0-1

01 February 2020

Play like Sofia Kenin

As mentioned in Chess vs. Tennis, the dynamics of the two sports/games have a lot of similarities, as individuals face each other in an extended strategic and tactical struggle.

Today's victory in the Australian Open final by Sofia Kenin showed brilliantly some of the qualities needed for similar victories in the chess arena. When down and pressured, she would raise the level of play, in turn pressure her opponent relentlessly and patiently, then at the right moment play an ideal shot as winner. She was able to play hard, put mistakes behind her and focus on playing as best as possible in the current moment. Tenacity was a word used often by the commentators, which characterized her play throughout.

Congratulations to Sofia on working hard to be a champion and sporting role model.

25 January 2020

Annotated Game #235: Beware of "standard" moves

Part of the process of learning a new opening is understanding when "standard" moves - typical piece placement and development, for example - should be played. In the Dutch Stonewall, as in other variations of the defense, it's often good to place a knight on e4 and get in the ...e5 pawn break when it is possible.

In this second-round tournament game, 9...Ne4 was not necessarily bad, but developing the bishop after 9...b6 or getting the other knight out to d7 both look less committal and more promising. The next move, 10...e5 is a blunder both tactically and to some extent strategically, being premature. Tactically the problem is that the otherwise strong recapture with the c-pawn after an exchange on d5 would result in losing a piece. I saw this one move too late, so was forced into losing one pawn, then gave up another one. I gained some compensation back in piece activity and could in fact have equalized, but missed some chances and my opponent played well to consolidate his advantage.

This game was primarily another building block in my understanding of the Dutch Stonewall structures, but also a reminder that it's very possible to fight back from relatively small deficits, especially at the Class level.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "56"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 c6 3. g3 e6 4. Bg2 f5 5. b3 Nf6 6. Bb2 Bd6 7. O-O O-O 8. e3 Qe7 9. d4 {and we have reached a standard Stonewall Dutch position now.} Ne4 { while this is a standard move, here pursuing additional development looks better.} (9... b6) (9... Nbd7) 10. Ne1 e5 {premature both tactically and strategically. A good rule in the Dutch is to play the ...e5 break when it is possible, but that is not the situation here.} 11. cxd5 exd4 {unfortunately, I had missed a tactical refuation of cxd5 and am now forced to play the text move.} (11... cxd5 $2 12. dxe5 Bxe5 13. Qxd5+ $18 {is what I missed when playing move 10.}) 12. Qxd4 cxd5 13. Qxd5+ $16 Be6 14. Qd3 Rd8 (14... Nc6 $5 { at least defends against} 15. Bxe4 (15. Nf3 $16) 15... Nb4 16. Qd4 fxe4 17. Nc3 $14) 15. Bxe4 fxe4 16. Qxe4 {I'm now down two pawns, but the two bishops, open position (no pawns to block me now!) and better piece activity give me some positional compensation. Komodo assesses it as close to a pawn's worth, but of course that still leaves me significantly down.} Nc6 17. Nc2 $6 (17. Nf3) 17... Qf7 $14 {breaking the quasi-pin on the Be6 - I don't want to exchange queens - giving the queen a route to penetrate on the kingside, and also controlling the d5 square.} 18. Nd4 Nxd4 19. exd4 $6 {this move lets me back in the game, since I have a big development advantage now, in effect, and the impact of White's extra pawns are minimized. However, one curious effect is that my planned ...Bd5 is no longer nearly as effective in this line.} (19. Bxd4 Bd5 20. Qg4 Bf3 21. Qg5 Rf8 $14) 19... Bd5 $6 (19... Bh3 $1 {equalizes, as White has to guard the f-pawn.} 20. Nd2 {the engine shows that it's best to give up the exchange.} (20. Rd1 $2 Rf8 21. f4 Rae8 22. Qf3 Qg6 $19 {threatening both Rxf4, Bg4 and Qc2.}) 20... Bxf1 21. Rxf1 Rac8 22. Qd3 $11) 20. Qd3 $16 Re8 21. f3 {this is the problem with ...Bd5, as now White can play this advance to cover the light squares and have the f-pawn be supported by the queen. At this point I run out of effective counterplay.} Re7 22. Nd2 Rae8 23. Nc4 {White can now pursue a simply strategy of just trading pieces, if he wants, getting closer to a winning endgame.} Bc7 24. Rac1 Qh5 25. Ne5 Bb6 26. Kg2 Re6 27. Qb5 Rh6 $4 {looking desperately for counterplay, I miss that the Bd5 is hanging with check, and it's over.} 28. Qxd5+ Kh8 1-0

20 January 2020

Annotated Game #234: An excellent disappointment

As improving players, sometimes our best games against strong opposition still end in losses. As with any serious game, I believe it's what you get out of it, in terms of a better understanding of both the chess and yourself, that are important in the long run to gaining strength. The result still stings a bit when you know you should have won, though.

One pattern that has become very obvious in my games is that when I fully understand the early middlegame plans, I do very well. Otherwise, I am sometimes prone to crash and burn by around move 25, not really knowing what to do with my pieces and getting in trouble as a result. The below first-round tournament game shows the former case. I know how to put the pieces on their best squares, identify targets in the enemy camp, and capitalize on inaccurate moves to achieve first a substantial and then winning advantage.

The final result illustrates, however, how and why many master-level players are able to avoid losing, and in fact win, against lower-rated opposition. My opponent keeps taking active, practical chances for counterplay, even when completely lost. The length of the game starts taking its toll on my calculating ability and when the situation becomes increasingly pressured and sharp, I go off the winning path and in fact lose. My opponent well deserved the result, since he never gave up and did what was necessary to find pressuring moves that gave him the best chances. And although it was a loss, I can take away from it a number of positive reinforcements as well, to emulate in future games.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Master"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D40"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "94"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 {choosing to go for a QGD setup rather than a Nimzo-English with ...Bb4.} 4. e3 c5 {characteristic of the Tarrasch Defense, inviting a transposition with d2-d4.} 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Be2 {this is more of a waiting move than anything else, although the bishop development is consistent with White's original ideas in the opening.} (6. d4 {transposing directly to a Semi-Tarrasch is most popular here and scores reasonably well in the database at 58 percent.}) (6. Nxd5 {is played less often, but scores better at 70 percent and forces a positional transformation.}) 6... Be7 7. O-O Nc6 8. d4 { transposing to a Semi-Tarrasch opening. I thought my opponent probably knew it better than I, but I assessed it was nonetheless better to challenge actively in the center than to go for a more Hedgehog-type position after d2-d3.} O-O 9. Nxd5 {the idea is to head for either a symmetrical pawn structure or giving Black an isolated queen pawn, depending on how he chooses to recapture.} exd5 10. dxc5 Bxc5 {now there is a balanced but relatively simple and easily playable position for me to play, with clear ideas to follow.} 11. a3 {taking away the b4 square from Black's minor pieces.} a5 {preventing the otherwise logical follow-up with b4.} 12. Qc2 {an excellent square for the queen, on the open c-file and the b1-h7 diagonal, especially since it is currently unopposed on either and cannot be chased away by ...Nb4.} Bd6 $6 {I felt at the time this was inaccurate and Komodo concurs. Black's d-pawn is a target and this both removes a defender (blocking the Qd8) and also reinforces White's control over the blockading square d4 in front of the IQP.} 13. Rd1 $14 Be6 14. Bd2 { it's a common principle that playing Bd2 (or the equivalent development for Black ...Bd7) is rarely optimal. However, here the idea is to go to c3 and get on the long diagonal, which Black cannot prevent. I didn't want to develop it alternatively with b2-b3 and then Bb2 due to the weakening of the a-pawn that would result.} Rc8 {now the queen is no longer unopposed on the c-file. However, it has another good square to go to.} 15. Qa4 {there's no immediate threat from the queen here, but Black has to watch the pressure on the a-pawn. The queen also influences the key d4 square now, laterally.} b6 {reinforcing the a5 pawn but also weakening the light squares on the queenside. No pawn advance comes without this type of trade-off.} 16. Bc3 {a beautiful long diagonal for the bishop, targeting g7 and helping control the central d4 and e5 squares.} Qc7 (16... f6 $5 {looks ugly, but is suggested by the engine as one way to help blunt White's advantage.}) (16... Ne7 {looks like a retreat, but removes the knight from potential threats against it on the c-file.}) 17. Ba6 $16 (17. Rac1 {immediately is also good, perhaps better, as the Ra1 is currently doing nothing and Ba6 remains a threat.}) 17... Rb8 18. Rac1 $18 { White's advantage is now substantial, thanks to the under-supported Nc6. Positionally, all of White's pieces are active and have a purpose, while Black's pieces are much less coordinated and have few places to go, including being under threat.} Rfd8 (18... Bc5 19. Bb5 Rfc8 20. Bd4 $18) 19. Bxg7 { cashing in immediately on the threat to win a pawn, given the double attack on the Nc6.} (19. Bb5 {is given by the engine as a better version of the idea. As is so often the case, a good idea can be improved on with additional prepatory moves. However, this line is more complex to play.} Rdc8 (19... Na7 20. Bf6 $1) 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Rxc6 Qe7 22. Qd4+ $18) 19... Kxg7 20. Rxc6 Qe7 21. Qd4+ f6 { a practical choice not to exchange queens, in the hopes of later counterplay. One problem is that it opens the 7th rank up, however.} 22. Bd3 {redeploying the bishop to pressure the now-weakened kingside.} (22. Qh4 $5 {would immediately take advantage of Black's closing the d8-h4 diagonal with his last move, pressure the h-pawn, and also provide some cover for White on the kingside.}) 22... Bc5 $2 {this now forces the queen to its best square.} (22... Bd7) 23. Qh4 Rh8 24. Qg3+ {taking advantage of the bishop moving off its excellent b8-h2 diagonal.} Kf7 25. Rc7 {Black's 7th rank weakness is now taken advantage of by White. At this point I thought the game was essentially over, and it should be.} Bd7 26. Bf5 (26. Bc4 {is the even better engine line, but the text move should also win.}) 26... Bxf5 27. Rxe7+ Bxe7 {White is significantly ahead on material and can target Black's exposed king, which means it should be a relatively easy win. However, Black has the two bishops and double rooks, which offer him dynamic possibilities, especially with the g-file available for him.} 28. Nd4 {I thought about this for some time, passing up the d-pawn in favor of better activity for the knight.} (28. Rxd5 { is perfectly fine, however, and probably a simpler route to victory.} Be6 29. Rh5 Rbc8 30. h4 Rc1+ 31. Kh2 $18) 28... Bg6 29. Qf3 {I thought for some time here, too. I was having trouble coming up with an actual plan.} (29. Qg4 $5 { would be more in keeping with my last move, using the knight as leverage to get into e6.}) 29... Rbd8 30. Rc1 Rd7 31. Qh3 {still making good, active moves. The queen targets the Rd7 and gets on the open h3-c8 diagonal.} Rd6 32. Rc7 { restricting the Be7 and getting on the 7th rank again.} Re8 {again, I have a dominant position, but am struggling with a plan.} 33. Qg3 {the Rd6 is hanging, with the Be7 pinned.} Rdd8 34. Qg4 {back to the excellent diagonal and looking to penetrate.} Kg8 35. h4 {the best move, according to Komodo. The obvious threat is winning the Bg6 due to the pin.} Bd6 36. Rc6 {White is still fine after this, but here is where I start to lose momentum and have calculation problems due to fatigue. I was concerned about back-rank threats if the rook abandoned the c-fiile, now that the Bd6 covers the h2 flight square for my king. However, this threat is easily handled.} (36. Rb7 Rc8 37. g3 $18 { White's king will be fine on g2, even with the light square weakness, since f2-f3 is available if Black goes ...Be4; meanwhile, the Nd4 covers the c2 square.}) 36... Re4 {now Black starts making threats and the pressure starts getting to me.} 37. Qf3 (37. f4 $5) (37. Qh3) 37... Be5 (37... Rxh4 $2 38. Qxf6 $18) 38. g3 {I thought afterwards that this was a bad move, being too passive, but the engine is fine with it.} (38. Rxf6 $5 Bxf6 39. Qxf6 {giving back material to defang Black would be a winning strategy here. The centralized knight and queen combine well against Black's weaknesses on both sides of the board.}) 38... h5 39. Ne6 {a good, active move. In the next sequence I am still winning by a large margin, but felt increasingly under pressure.} Re8 40. Nf4 (40. Ng5) 40... Bxf4 41. gxf4 d4 {the best practical move and one which caused my calculation efforts to seize up even more. The pawn threatens to queen and/or open the e-file, but these threats are in reality not difficult to deal with.} 42. Rxf6 Kg7 43. Rd6 (43. Rxb6) 43... dxe3 44. f5 $6 (44. Kf1 { holds things together.} exf2 (44... e2+ 45. Ke1 Rc4 {is what I was concerned with, missing however} 46. Rc6 $1) 45. Kxf2) 44... Rg4+ {now I needed to simplify down. It is psychologically hard to give up a queen when you have been winning for a long period of time, however.} 45. Kf1 $2 {the losing move.} (45. Qxg4 {I somehow thought Black might continue pushing the pawn, but of course that is not possible with the Bg6 hanging.} hxg4 46. Rxg6+ Kf7 47. fxe3 Rxe3 {with a rook ending advantageous for White.}) (45. Kh2 {also allows White to survive, with difficulty.} Rxh4+ 46. Kg3 Rg4+ 47. Kh3 exf2 48. f6+ Kf8 49. Qxf2 Bf5 50. f7 Re5 51. Kh2 $14) 45... e2+ $19 46. Qxe2 Rxe2 47. Rxg6+ { the final miscalculation, although it was lost anyway at this point.} (47. Kxe2 Bxf5 48. Rxb6 Rxh4 $19 {and the endgame is easily won for Black, thanks to the material advantage and advanced passed h-pawn.}) 47... Rxg6 0-1

05 January 2020

Synchronicity in chess study

It's a well-known phenomenon that when you are learning new material, you suddenly start seeing it pop up in different places, in what appears to be an uncanny manner. This is mostly explainable by the fact that, when you are more aware of a particular phenomenon, you are much more likely to consciously notice it.

Sometimes coincidence in timing appears more like synchronicity, Jung's acausal connecting principle (perhaps made most famous by the cover of the Police album.) For instance, similar themes I recently analyzed in Annotated Games #231 and #232 just appeared in the "Quiescence" post from dana blogs chess.

I view this phenomenon as a benefit of chess study. Exploring different situations and ideas will, it seems, almost inevitably lead - often seemingly by chance - to deeper understanding and enhanced pattern recognition both in your own games and when examining those of others. This is an advantage of exposing yourself during the course of training to broader material, such as collected master/GM-level annotated games, that go beyond the narrow range of your own opening lines. Not only are new concepts introduced, but you can also see familiar patterns in different circumstances.

This is not a new idea - one other example mentioned previously on this blog was "An improved version of the Fajarowicz Gambit?" - but I believe it's worth highlighting again, as a motivational factor in chess study. While too much training (especially when very repetitive) can lead to diminishing returns, broadening your study horizon can lead to new breakthroughs and insights into the game, which is how we become stronger over time.

04 January 2020

Annnotated Game #233: Boden's Mate

This last-round tournament game was actually going well, until a calculation/visualization error of mine led to my opponent being able to deliver Boden's Mate. This is a threat involving two bishops against a king castled on the queenside, as can happen in the Caro-Kann and other openings. Hopefully it's a lesson that only needs to be learned once.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "29"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. N1e2 Nf6 7. Nf4 e5 { this is the standard antidote to White's plan with N1e2-f4. Black's central counterattack resolves the tension with equality.} 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. dxe5 Qa5+ { this is the main idea behind ...e5, regaining the pawn with an active queen.} 10. c3 (10. Bd2 {is played more often, but Black's response is essentially the same.}) 10... Qxe5+ 11. Be2 {this indicated White wanted to keep playing for a win. Qe2 is the standard alternative.} Nbd7 12. O-O O-O-O 13. Qa4 Bc5 14. Bf4 Qe8 $4 {I thought that this was the "safe" move to play, but completely missed the queen sacrifice for an unusual mating pattern. Even without that, b4 would also be winning for White.} (14... Rh4 {I considered for a while, as the dynamic (and it turns out only) response to White's last move, but calculated incorrectly that Black's rook could be trapped or put out of action.} 15. Bxe5 Rxa4 16. b3 (16. Bxf6 Nxf6 $11) 16... Rh4 {and Black is fine.}) 15. Qxc6+ 1-0