10 August 2020

Bad chess attitudes #2: My opponent disrespects their clock and must be punished

I'm highlighting in a short series of posts some bad chess attitudes that can actively harm our game performance and hold us back from improving. To avoid being seen as too judgmental, I'll only share ones that I've struggled with myself. #1 was about trying to punish your opponent's opening choices; here it's about their clock use.

Old school clock, perennial issue
2. My opponent disrespects their clock and must be punished

This attitude can afflict chessplayers who consider themselves to be conscientious about time management. It is a common reaction to those opponents who show up late to a tournament game, which means their clock has significantly run down before they start playing, or to opponents who get massively behind on time and have to blitz out a number of moves to make the time control. Both of these things, of course, can occur in the same game.

The objective result of this situation is always an advantage to the player with more time on their own clock. However, even if you have more time on the clock, a misguided emotional reaction to the situation can disrupt your own game more than that of your opponent. Rather than focusing on playing as excellently as you can, which I think for an improving player should be the goal of every serious game, it is common to instead start trying to punish your opponent for their misuse of time. This attitude typically manifests itself in choosing to play more quickly than you know you should, to try to pressure your opponent into moving more quickly themselves. In essence, it is a decision to pursue a negative strategy (trying to force the opponent to make bad moves) rather than a positive one (focus on making good moves yourself).

The obvious problem with this strategy is that it puts you on roughly the same level as your opponent in terms of actual time usage. This means you end up playing your opponent's kind of game, rather than your own. Time-trouble "aficionados" - or "addicts" or whatever you choose to call them - by definition have a lot of experience in playing rapidly. This means they are used to it and maybe even enjoy it, especially if they play a lot of blitz chess. I believe it is a fundamental error to think you will successfully rattle your opponent by altering your own playing style for the worse. Occasionally it might work, but relying on luck (for your opponent to play badly) while deliberately compromising your own excellence of play is a bad idea in itself, and is not likely to be a winning strategy over time.

Instead, a practical approach to time management is to develop a general game plan for your clock usage at the selected time control - then stick to that plan, regardless of what your opponent does. This means consciously calculating your expected average time per move and using that as a cutoff point for think time, making an exception only if you are in a critical position. For example, GM John Nunn in Secrets of Practical Chess recommends forcing a cutoff of the thinking process when you cannot decide between two moves with very similar evaluations after a reasonable period of calculation/thought. Basically, you pick one on intuition and do a blunder check before going with it. This practice can help reduce unproductive mental wheel-spinning, since in many positions without forcing continuations, it is easy to simply keep calculating different possibilities with no real resolution.

A common thread for this bad attitude and #1 on openings is focusing excessively on how your opponent is choosing to play. In reality, you have little to no influence over their move choices or how they use their clock, which means your mental energy is much better spent on improving your own game. Like many things that seem simple and obvious, it is not always easy to enforce this kind of mental discipline during a game. Deliberately committing to an efficient time management plan and positively focusing on the quality of your own play, however, should provide a strong foundation for your game, regardless of what your opponent does.

06 August 2020

Bad chess attitudes #1: My opponent spoiled my opening


Many things can hold us back in our quest for chess improvement. One of the things that we can control (and improve) is our attitude towards chess, both at the board and away from it. Attitude directly affects our behavior and decisions, which in turn affect the outcomes we get at the board. This is why "chess psychology" is not some esoteric or academic topic, but in fact a very practical one for improving players.

I'll be highlighting in a short series of posts some bad chess attitudes that can actively harm our progress. To avoid being seen as too judgmental, I'll only share ones that I've struggled with myself.

From tigerlilov.com
1. My opponent spoiled my (favorite) opening (and must be punished for it)

This is an attitude you see a lot among amateurs, but almost never among masters. It is born out of frustration at frequently not reaching your favorite opening lines, ones that you've put so much time and effort into preparing. The attitude reveals an emotional attachment to particular lines and their aesthetics, which are then mentally built up into some sort of chessic ideal - which is then "spoiled" on the board by the opponent, who refuses to cooperate in creating this artistic masterpiece. I think having aesthetic value as part of your opening selections is actually helpful, since it is part of why we derive pleasure from chess as a game and an art, but becoming mentally wedded to some sort of "pure" type of opening position is not.

One common example is on the Black side of Sicilians, where amateurs can enthusiastically undertake preparation of lines in complicated systems (Dragon, Najdorf, etc.). These often get derailed at the board as early as move 2 or 3, which then results in complaints about opponents' poor attitudes or worthiness as chess players because they choose to avoid the "best" lines. This kind of reaction ignores the fact that your opponent always gets an equal vote in chess: it's called their move. It is just common sense, however, that if your opponent plays a move that is not theoretically best, but is nonetheless good or at least not a blunder, getting upset about it or wanting to "punish" it will not be very productive for you on the chessboard.

As with many things that are bad for us, social influence and pressure are factors that help create this kind of attitude. "Best" openings are frequently argued about, with fashionable variations or whole opening complexes pushed heavily in publications and public forums. This gives us the social phenomenon of opening popularity, which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with opening effectiveness for you.  Similarly, out-of-fashion openings are put down or ignored. We no longer see so much the Sveshnikov Sicilian against 1. e4, or the Grunfeld against 1. d4, or the Spanish game (Ruy Lopez) as White at top levels. Yet all were considered to be the top choices of professionals not so long ago - and may again be, in the future. No doubt you can think of your own examples.

It should be understood that at the top GM level, variations or openings tend to become unpopular because near-forcing drawing lines have been worked out in them, or it is found over time (and numerous practical examples) that one side (typically White) gets a slight plus with best theoretical play. However, this assumes that both players know how to play at that level and have worked out what to do through the middlegame or even the endgame (such as with the Berlin Wall variation of the Spanish game, which has frustrated professional-level White players). However, what is considered best for the 2600+ crowd at a particular time, while interesting to know, is not necessarily the best guide for your own play.

The most effective antidote for too often being a "taker" of others' opinions on openings is simple, but sometimes hard to do: think and evaluate for yourself. This is absolutely necessary to make progress in all phases of chess, but may be harder to do for openings, since so much material has been published on them. Your own evaluation of particular lines can of course be guided by "expert" opinion, but it should always be a conscious choice and for reasons that you understand. Otherwise your play and results will suffer, even if someone else (or an engine) has informed you that the position you reached was the "best" possible. The fact that any sound opening is playable, at any level, should be remembered. If you do at least semi-serious opening research, you will also inevitably find that "experts" disagree over time - and even at the same point in time - about their evaluations of variations, reinforcing the point that your own judgment is what counts most in the end.

Fundamentally, the purpose of the opening phase is for you to reach a playable middlegame position. This means one that is not clearly advantageous to the opponent, and contains elements and plans that you can understand and execute over the board. This seems like a simple proposition, but it is violated a lot in practice. We need to remember that opening preparation and analysis should be a tool for us to use for our own ends, not to blindly follow.

A modern-day analogy is the relationship we have with our phones: are they consciously used by us as an information and communications tool, understanding the trade-offs in time and efficiency involved? Or do we forego an active role and simply react to it, like a dog in Pavlov's experiment believing that it's always dinnertime when they hear something buzz? You decide.

From verywellmind.com

30 July 2020

Annotated Game #248: Meeting threats with threats

This second-round tournament game features a hard fight in the early middlegame, as my opponent does a good job of seizing the initiative by passing up "obvious" moves (such as automatic recaptures). Instead, she creatively seeks out ones that increase the number of threats on the board. The main clash is from moves 15-22 and I am only able to stay equal by using the same idea, meeting a threat with a threat.

After move 23, I am a pawn up but Black has both positional (the bishop pair) and dynamic compensation, including pressure against my king position. It's instructive to see how calmer defense (for example on move 25) could have better neutralized Black's threats; later on, more dynamic defense by creating counterthreats on the a-file would also have been an improvement.

In the late game, as often occurs, I started getting tired, and blundered on move 39. What happens is that I start cutting mental corners and do not look hard enough at my opponent's possible responses to candidate moves, which is a thinking process violation. Fortunately, my opponent was not in much better shape, however, and let me back in the game; I was able to save the draw in R+B ending with opposite-colored bishops. From a technical standpoint, the endgame analysis pointed out the importance of getting the rook mobile and active; instead, I did too much moving around with the bishop. From a psychological perspective, the game showed how continuing to fight after a blunder can be rewarded, if you are able to keep looking for ways to wrong-foot your opponent.

My opponent (a junior) showed good sportsmanship, but was clearly disappointed with the outcome, for which I can't blame her. It may have been a little frustrating for her playing me again as well. This was our third tournament encounter in two years, with the previous game being a 77-move draw that I should have won in the endgame. We were both Class A at this point, but she had started out as a low Class B and had gained much more than I had over time (a common pattern with juniors). However, it seems that we were well matched, in all three games drawing after a hard struggle.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E14"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "109"] {[%mdl 8192] E14: Queen's Indian: Classical Variation (4 e3)} 1. c4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 d5 4. e3 Be7 5. b3 O-O 6. Bb2 b6 {heading for a Tartakower QGD setup.} 7. Be2 (7. cxd5 $5 {appears a little more challenging and in the spirit of the English.}) 7... Bb7 8. O-O Nbd7 9. d4 c5 {the most effective move for Black, challenging White's center. The pawn structure is now symmetrical and piece development is nearly so. Technically this is now a Queen's Indian Defense.} 10. cxd5 (10. dxc5 $6 {this scores poorly for White, as it just helps Black's development and central control, whether the recapture on c5 takes place with knight or pawn.}) 10... Nxd5 11. Nxd5 { the Nc3 is not as well placed as White's other knight and this exchange also opens the long diagonal for the Bb2.} Bxd5 12. Rc1 {activating the rook} Bf6 { Black has a variety of choices here. According to the database, normally the pawn on d4 is exchanged before playing ...Bf6.} (12... Rc8 13. Ba6 Rc7 14. Qe2 Qa8 15. Rfe1 Bb7 16. dxc5 Rxc5 17. Rcd1 Nf6 18. Bxb7 Qxb7 19. Bd4 Rcc8 20. Ne5 Rfd8 21. Rc1 Nd7 22. Qg4 Nxe5 23. Bxe5 Bf8 24. h4 Rd5 25. Bd4 g6 26. Qf3 Bg7 27. Bxg7 {Gelashvili,T (2604)-Esen,B (2441) Athens 2007 1/2-1/2 (34)}) (12... cxd4 13. Bxd4 Bf6 14. Qd2 Rc8 15. h3 Bxd4 16. Nxd4 Nf6 17. Bf3 Bxf3 18. Nxf3 Qxd2 19. Nxd2 h6 20. Nf3 Rxc1 21. Rxc1 Rd8 22. Rc7 Rd7 23. Rxd7 Nxd7 24. Kf1 Kf8 25. Ke2 Ke7 26. Kd3 Kd6 27. b4 {Mendoza,S (2169)-Secopito,C (2127) Quezon City 2019 1/2-1/2 (31)}) 13. Ba3 {getting the bishop off of the b2 square where it was hanging and pressuring the a3-f8 diagonal.} (13. Qd2 {has been played more often, keeping the bishop on b2.} Qe7 14. dxc5 Bxb2 15. Qxb2 Nxc5 16. Rfd1 Rfd8 17. Ne1 Rac8 18. b4 Ne4 19. Bf3 h6 20. a3 Qf6 21. Qxf6 Nxf6 22. Kf1 Bxf3 23. Rxd8+ Rxd8 24. gxf3 Rd5 25. Rc8+ Kh7 26. Rc7 Rd7 27. Rc2 Kg6 { Hund,G (2059)-Staub,G (2046) Baden 2014 1-0 (45)}) 13... Rc8 {it looks obvious to reinforce the c-file, but White can now activate the light-square bishop to good effect.} (13... Be7 14. Qc2 $11) 14. Bb5 $14 {putting the bishop on a much more useful diagonal (a4-e8) and clearing e2 for the queen. It also physically blocks potential future ideas of pushing the b-pawn.} (14. Ba6 { is also possible, controlling c8, but I wanted to leave this in reserve.}) 14... Be7 {opposing the Ba3 and freeing the c-pawn to move, as well as reinforcing it.} (14... Bc6 $6 {immediately challenging the bishop leaves White with a plus after} 15. Bxc6 Rxc6 16. b4 Qc8 17. bxc5 bxc5 18. dxc5 Rd8 ( 18... Nxc5 $2 {grabbing the pawn does not work out in the end, as White can increase the pressure on the pinned Nc5 and then bring the Nf3 over to win material. For example} 19. Rc4 Be7 20. Qc2 Rc7 21. Nd4 Re8 22. Nb5) 19. Nd4 $14 ) 15. Qe2 {this consolidates control of the f1-a6 diagonal and connects the rooks. It's nice to have a clearly best square to place the queen, which often does not happen in these types of positions.} a6 {having just played a move to dominate the diagonal, I was not expecting this. After some thought, I take the safe route by exchanging the bishop, which was disappointing after the previous maneuvers.} 16. Bxd7 (16. Bxa6 $5 Ra8 {is the problem, as both the Ba3 and pawn on a2 are hanging, but White still is a little better after} 17. Bb2 Nb8 18. Bd3 Rxa2 19. Bb1 Ra7 20. Rfd1 Nd7 (20... Bxb3 $2 21. Qd3 {forking the Bb3 and the h7 mating square})) 16... Qxd7 $11 17. dxc5 {I now have the urge to simplify further, which is not bad, but allows Black to gain the initiative.} (17. e4 Bb7 18. dxc5 $11 {is an improved version, with the Black bishop not so well placed.}) 17... Qb5 {This was well played by my opponent, passing up the automatic recapture on c5, which would have resulted in an isolated pawn for her. I did not like the idea of exchanging on b5, but further simplification would not be so bad, as I underestimated the threats the queen could make. Protecting the Qe2 is the other option.} 18. Nd4 $6 { the thinking was to remove the knight from the threat of being exchanged with gxf3 forced. However, Black's queen now becomes more active and again targets my a-file hanging pieces.} (18. Rfe1 Qa5 (18... Qxe2 19. Rxe2 Bxf3 20. gxf3 $14 {is actually given a small plus by Komodo, as after} Bxc5 21. Bxc5 Rxc5 22. Rxc5 bxc5 23. Rd2 {Black's isolated queenside pawns and White's control of the d-file outweigh the flaw in the kingside pawn structure.}) 19. Bb2 $11 { now Black is not winning material.} Qxa2 $6 20. Nd4 {threatening to trap the queen} Qa5 21. Qg4 $16 {targeting g7 and creating tactical ideas involving the Bb2 and Nd4.}) (18. Qxb5 axb5 19. Nd4 Ra8 20. Bb4 Rxa2 {and Black has a small edge, but this is still better than the game continuation.}) 18... Qa5 $15 19. Bb2 bxc5 {this creates additional problems now as the Nd4 is under threat.} 20. Bc3 {the best response, meeting the threat with another threat (to the Qa5) and protecting the a-pawn along the second rank.} Qb6 21. Nf3 c4 {Black now presses further with the c-pawn, but overlooks my response, again meeting a threat with a threat.} (21... Qb5 $5 {is worth consideration} 22. Qb2 Bxf3 23. gxf3 f6 $15) 22. e4 $11 {finally getting the bishop out of the center.} Ba8 23. bxc4 {I'm now up a pawn, but Black has full compensation in the form of the two bishops and more active pieces, especially since the c-pawn is isolated.} Qc6 {pressuring both c4 and e4, as well as creating a battery on the long diagonal that threatens mate on g2.} 24. Nd2 f5 {a logical break, as exf5 is not possible. Here I thought for a while but did not find the best solution.} 25. f3 {a natural response, blunting the mate threat, but Black now fully utilizes her more active pieces.} (25. Rfe1 {is the calm response, protecting e4 again.} Bg5 {now has less bite after} 26. Rcd1 {for example} Bxd2 27. Qxd2 Qxc4 28. Be5 $14 {and Black has to be careful about the weakness on g7.}) 25... Bg5 26. f4 {weakening the pawn structure again, but I assessed that having the bishop pressuring me on the h6-c1 diagonal would be worse.} Be7 27. e5 $2 { a key error. As with the previous f2-f3 push, I was thinking safety first, but this cuts off my active play on the long diagonal, in exchange for nothing.} ( 27. exf5 {looks scary, exposing g2 again, but it is adequately defended. Good defense requires calculation and courage.} exf5 28. Kh1 $11) 27... Bc5+ $15 { not the most critical follow-up, however.} (27... Rfd8 $5 28. Kh1 Qa4 $17 { and Black once again threatens my underprotected queenside.}) 28. Kh1 Be3 { the bishop is safe here due to the mate threat on g2.} (28... Qa4 {is no longer is such a problem, since after} 29. Nb3 {the pawns are no longer hanging. Black can regain the c-pawn after some exchanges, but the threat is reduced.}) 29. Rf3 {an adequate defense.} (29. Bb4 $5 {is an interesting active defense. The point is less to target the Rf8, rather to get the bishop to a better square for blocking and countering Black's pieces.} Rfd8 30. Bd6 $11) 29... Bxd2 $11 {Black has nothing better, as this removes a key White defensive piece. However, it also results in opposite-colored bishops, which will be a key drawing factor later on.} 30. Bxd2 Qa4 {the a-pawn now falls and material equality is restored.} 31. Rfc3 Qxa2 $15 {Black has kept a bit of an edge, largely due to her better bishop on the long diagonal.} 32. R3c2 Qa4 33. Be3 {by this point I felt a lot better about my game, having emerged essentially unscathed from Black's pressure. My bishop is now more active and my queen and rooks are coordinating.} Rfd8 {activating the rook.} 34. h3 $6 { here I fail to find an adequate plan, or perhaps it is more the execution of it. The idea behind the move is to get the king out of the line of fire of the Ba8, but this allows Black to regain the initiative.} (34. Ra2 Qb3 $11) 34... Qc6 {choosing to renew the mate threat and penetrate on e4 with the queen, rather than the bishop.} (34... Be4 {would be more of a problem for me.} 35. Ra2 Qb3 36. Kh2) 35. Kh2 {this at least makes the g-pawn unpinned and mobile.} (35. Ra2 $5 {is Komodo's suggestion, with the point being that pressure is put on the a-pawn and White can also defend along the 3rd rank.} Rb8 (35... Qe4 36. Rc3 $11) 36. Ra3 {and there's a slight plus for Black but nothing major, it seems.}) 35... Qe4 36. Bb6 $6 {this would be a clever idea, except I missed my opponent's next respose.} (36. Rc3 {looks simplest, protecting the bishop and freeing up the queen to move.}) 36... Rd3 {now we see why in the earlier variation having my own rook on the 3rd rank was a good idea.} 37. Qxe4 { I did not see a better alternative.} (37. Qf2 {my queen is certainly not any better than Black's, so avoiding the trade doesn't look like it gains me anything. Having the queen and rook threatening to combine against White's king, along with the Q+B battery that is still pressuring the long diagonal, did not seem appetizing to me.}) 37... Bxe4 {the centralized bishop increases its power, but it is not decisive. Better would have been for me to get the Rc2 out of its line of fire and over to the a-file, to pressure Black's pawn.} 38. c5 {this looks like a natural move, protecting the Bb6 and advancing the passed pawn. At the same time, however, it blocks the bishop on the a7-g1 diagonal, limiting what it can do, and the pawn itself was not under real threat.} (38. Ra2 $5) 38... Rb3 39. Rc3 $2 {as often occurs, I was getting tired here and started slipping in terms of finding all of my opponent's threats in response to a move.} (39. Rd2 $142 $15 {would keep White in the game }) 39... Rb2 $1 $19 {now the g2 pawn cannot be defended with Rg3.} 40. Kg3 { nothing better.} (40. Rg3 $4 Rxb6 {and the Rc1 is hanging, preventing the recapture.}) 40... h6 {obviously intending ...g5 to follow up after capturing with the rook on g2, which would be devastating, but my king can get to h4 first.} (40... Rxg2+ 41. Kh4 $19) 41. Kh4 Rxg2 42. Rg3 $2 {defending against .. .g5, the best try I could find.} (42. c6 $5 $19) 42... Kh7 $2 {this lets me back in the game. My opponent was also rather tired after the long struggle.} ( 42... Rf2 $142 {ends the debate, states Komodo via the Fritz interface. The f-pawn now falls.}) 43. Rxg2 $17 Bxg2 {we're now in a pawn down R+B endgame with opposite colored bishops, so I felt that I had good chances to hold the draw.} 44. Kg3 Bd5 45. h4 Kg6 {correctly using her king actively and looking to penetrate.} 46. Ra1 {time to use my rook more actively as well.} Ra8 47. Ba5 (47. Rc1 $5 {would be less committal and keep the rook active and mobile.}) 47... Kh5 48. Bd2 $6 {I don't understand the importance of using the rook more and instead move the bishop to a worse square. I was too focused on trying to restrain ...g5, but this made my pieces less effective and more vulnerable.} Rc8 $19 (48... Rb8 {is even better, according to Komodo.} 49. Rxa6 Rb2 50. Be3 Re2 $19) 49. Be3 Bc4 {Black having given me a target, I finally move my rook.} (49... Rb8 $5 50. Rxa6 Rb3 51. Kf2 Kxh4 52. c6 Rb2+ 53. Ke1 $19) 50. Rc1 Bb5 { the bishop is a little less dominating here than on d5.} 51. Rd1 Rc6 $6 { it's a serious error to let my rook onto the 8th rank, where it can be much more effective.} (51... a5 $142 $5 $19) 52. Rd8 a5 {it now makes a big difference that my rook can get behind the pawn, and Black's bishop cannot cover the queening square.} 53. Ra8 a4 {too impatient. Now I spot the saving move.} (53... Ba6 $5 $17) 54. Ra5 $15 {my opponent missed this rather unusual rook fork, made possible by the pawn giving up its square.} Bc4 55. Rxa4 { we were both rather exhausted and the game should be a draw at this point, so I was happy with the result, while my opponent was rather disappointed.} 1/2-1/2

22 July 2020

Publishing games online using the ChessBase replayer

A question recently came up on the Chess.com forums about using Blogger with ChessBase to publish games; this blog switched to using the ChessBase online replayer back in 2018.

Since the instructions at the ChessBase site aren't quite step-by-step, I thought it was worth responding. It's worth noting that this doesn't require any ChessBase software, just a PGN file of the game, so anyone can use it to embed a game in a post.

Here's my answer reproduced:
If you're trying to use the ChessBase program's publish game feature, Blogger isn't going to work with it unless you host the game file separately and then link to it, which kind of defeats the purpose of using Blogger in the first place rather than your own web hosting solution. 
What does work in Blogger is the online ChessBase PGN publishing feature, which embeds the ChessBase game replayer in the post. I switched all of the pathtochessmastery.com published games to it back in 2018, you can take a look there if you want to see the results.
There are two things to do in Blogger to make the game replayer work. I'm still using the old Blogger interface, btw, so the new interface may be slightly different. 
1) In a post where you want to place a game, paste the PGN into the html view of the Create Post screen, wherever you want it to go. Then put
<div class="cbreplay">
right above the start of the PGN, and
</div>
at the end of it. If you post multiple games, do this only once, at the top and bottom of the entire group of PGNs. 
2) To enable the replayer function, do the below once for your blog.
Edit the html formatting for the blog by going to Design - Theme - Edit HTML button.
Towards the top of it (I put it around line 14 in mine) paste the following three lines and save/update
<link href='https://pgn.chessbase.com/CBReplay.css' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'/>
<script src='https://pgn.chessbase.com/jquery-3.0.0.min.js'/>
<script src='https://pgn.chessbase.com/cbreplay.js' type='text/javascript'/> 
Note that this is done via https, so make sure that is enabled by default in the Blogger settings.

15 July 2020

Annotated Game #247: Winning this game, again

This first-round win highlights a concept mentioned before on this blog as one of the keys to gaining playing strength (and rating points) - identifying, studying and exploiting common errors made by opponents in the opening systems you play. This means not just memorizing trappy lines, but understanding the fundamental characteristics of the positions into the early middlegame.

In this game, which features the 3...c5 variation of the Advance Caro-Kann, that key element is the struggle for the d4 square, which is occupied by a White pawn. If White is not careful, Black can pile on the pressure and end up a pawn. Through experience, I've seen how this situation can sneak up on White if they just ignore the potential problem. So essentially I've won this game before, by picking up the d-pawn while not allowing White any counterplay. This gives Black a comfortable strategic edge, if not quite an outright victory.

Here, White went down this oblivious path, missing a last chance on move 12 to avoid problems, although the necessary sequence (found by Komodo) is long, complicated, and unlikely to be calculated over-the-board. Of course obtaining an advantage doesn't mean that your opponent goes away, or that you can put your own play on autopilot. The final outcome required careful play from move 14 on, but at least was relatively simple.

It's worth highlighting that finding the most rapid way to a win is irrelevant to the outcome. It's better to keep the advantage in hand, snuff out any counterplay from your opponent in advance, and win easily, rather than try to always play "best" moves and win quickly. This is even the case when you are low on the clock, since calculating "best" moves accurately can actually take longer - especially if the variations are more complex and you need to be absolutely sure of them, rather than simply blunder-checking the "good enough" ones.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "94"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 {a secondary but still popular line of the Advance variation of the Caro-Kann, with the main one being ...Bf5.} 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. c3 Bg4 {the point of not previously playing ...e6 and locking in the bishop, which now can go to g4 with the pin on the Nf3. This is more important in this line than in some others, as there is a big fight for d4.} 6. Be2 e6 7. Be3 ({ Relevant:} 7. Nbd2 Rc8 8. O-O a6 9. h3 Bh5 10. Re1 Bg6 11. Nf1 cxd4 12. Nxd4 Nxd4 13. Qxd4 Ne7 14. Bg5 h6 15. Qa4+ Qd7 16. Qxd7+ Kxd7 17. Be3 Nf5 18. Bf4 Bc5 19. Rad1 Rhd8 20. g4 Ne7 21. Be3 Ke8 22. Bxc5 Rxc5 23. Ne3 Bh7 24. f4 g5 25. Ng2 Be4 26. Bd3 Bxg2 27. Kxg2 gxf4 28. Kf3 d4 29. cxd4 Rxd4 30. Bb5+ Rxb5 31. Rxd4 Ng6 32. b4 a5 33. a4 Rxb4 34. Rxb4 axb4 35. Re4 b3 36. Rb4 Nxe5+ { Yuffa,D (2534)-Romanov,E (2619) Sochi 2016 0-1}) 7... Nge7 {ignoring the c-pawn in favor of development.} 8. h3 Bxf3 {removing a defender of d4 and not wasting time with the bishop by retreating.} 9. Bxf3 Nf5 {increasing the pressure on d4 and clearing the diagonal for the Bf8. Although the c-pawn is still hanging, capturing it would lose the e-pawn for White.} 10. O-O cxd4 { it is sometimes difficult to understand at what point it is best to exchange the pawns or keep the tension. Here Komodo evaluates the text move as equal for Black, favoring increasing the pressure with ...Qb6.} (10... Qb6 $5 { targeting both d4 and b2, which guarantees Black the pawn. Notice that the Nb1 cannot participate in the fight, unlike after the pawn exchange on d4.}) 11. cxd4 Qb6 {now White has a single way to stay level, with Nc3. The sequence is not obvious, however.} 12. Qd2 $2 (12. Nc3 Ncxd4 13. Bxd4 Nxd4 14. Qa4+ Nc6 15. Bxd5 {regains the pawn, in a very non-obvious way, as White has compensation if the bishop is captured.} exd5 16. Nxd5 Qd8 17. Rad1 Be7 18. Qb5 Rb8 19. Nf6+ Bxf6 20. exf6 (20. Rxd8+ Bxd8 $15) 20... Qxf6 21. Qc5 $11) 12... Ncxd4 { I thought here for a while to make sure the correct knight was being used.} ( 12... Nfxd4 {is inferior, for example} 13. Bh5 Qb4 14. Nc3 Nf5 15. Bf4 $17 { and compared with the game continuation, White retains the two bishops and is better developed.}) 13. Bd1 {now Black no longer has the ...Nxf3 tactical resource, so it's time to trade off the pinning bishop.} Nxe3 14. fxe3 { the trade-off is opening the f-file for White's rook versus creating a weak, doubled e3 pawn.} Nc6 $19 {at this point I judged that Black has a strategically won game, being up a pawn and with White's pawn structure shattered in the center. I still have to watch things like the weak f7 square though.} 15. Nc3 Bc5 {targeting the weak e3 pawn.} 16. Re1 O-O {I thought about taking the e5 pawn, but thought that improving king safety and dynamic play would be better than pawn snatching. Komodo agrees.} (16... Nxe5 17. Ba4+ Ke7 {is still winning but gives White extra chances, or at least hopes.}) 17. Rc1 d4 {I judged that the pawn advance would force the issue in the center and open it to my benefit. White's next move had to be taken into account, though.} (17... Nxe5 $5 {might be a simpler path, now that there is no downside to the capture.}) 18. Na4 Bb4 (18... Qb4 {is the other possibility.}) 19. Qc2 { not the best square for the queen, but White is lost anyway at this point.} ( 19. Nxb6 $6 Bxd2 20. Nxa8 Bxc1 {and I should pick up more material.}) (19. Qe2) 19... Qa5 20. Re2 dxe3 21. Qe4 {this was unexpected. I decided to take the opportunity to simplify.} Qxe5 22. Rxe3 {my opponent evidently thought this was a clever intermediate move before capturing the queen, but I have one too.. .} Bd2 {the bishop fork stays valid after the queen exchange on e5.} 23. Qxe5 Nxe5 24. Rxe5 Bxc1 {the extra exchange now seals the game, as my technique is sufficient to win.} 25. Bf3 Rad8 {favoring rook mobility over trying to hold onto the pawn.} 26. Bxb7 Rd1+ 27. Kf2 Rfd8 (27... Bxb2 $5 28. Nxb2 Rd2+ 29. Ke3 Rxb2) 28. Bf3 R1d2+ 29. Ke1 Bxb2 30. Nxb2 Rxb2 {now with a two-pawn and exchange material advantage and no White counterplay, it really is a matter of technique.} 31. Ra5 Rdd2 {being careful here, to calculate avoiding any back-rank issues.} 32. Rxa7 Rxa2 33. Rb7 g6 34. Rb1 Kg7 35. Kf1 Ra7 36. Re1 Rda2 37. Re3 Rc7 38. Kg1 h5 39. Kh2 Re7 {perhaps not the fastest plan, but the idea is simply to get a rook behind the passed e-pawn and push the pawn majority up the board.} 40. Kg3 Ra5 41. Re4 f5 42. Re1 e5 43. Re2 e4 44. Re3 Rd7 45. Be2 Rd2 46. Kf4 Kf6 47. h4 Raa2 0-1

02 July 2020

Training quote of the day #31: Kayden Troff

From GM Kayden Troff's blog "The Ongoing Life of Chess":

Be Honest with Yourself

This may be something you don’t really think about when it comes to improving in chess, but I think we all (especially chess players) have a tendency to overstate our mistakes or try to ignore them. We need a good in-between, which is honesty. Now the obvious question is why is that important? Well, I think of it as fixing a hole in a tire or fixing a leak in the pipes in your house. You can’t really do anything until you actually locate where the problem is. But once you do then you can decide the measures you need to take to fix the problem. And it is the same in chess. To fix the things you need to fix you first need to understand what you need to fix. And that is where honesty comes in. When you are honest and objective about the mistakes you are making then you are identifying the problem and thus one step closer to fixing it. Sometimes it is difficult to identify the problem yourself and that is where outside assistance comes in, but even then you have to be honest and humble in being able to say whether or not someone’s suggestion of what you need to work on is a correct suggestion. Honesty is not just accepting it, but it is not just rejecting it.

Full post: https://www.chess.com/blog/Troffy/the-road-is-not-the-same-for-everyone

29 June 2020

No draws

One of the chess books I read during my early scholastic career - it might have been GM Larry Evans' Chess Catechism - had a short anecdote about Bobby Fischer being offered a draw at a major tournament, in a very equal position; his opponent got the response "no draws!" At the time, I was rather enthusiastic about draws, to be honest, although intellectually I understood the idea of "no draws" even as I rejected it. As my chess understanding has matured, however, I've come around to more of a "no draws" mentality - although not as an outright refusal to take a draw under any circumstances, which is what I originally thought it meant.

Rather than a principle to be upheld unto death, I believe it is better to think of "no draws" as a mindset. The purpose of a competitive chess game is to win; failing that, to draw; failing that, to lose. There can be social aspects to chess, along with other factors that may come into consideration, but in the end we all normally want to win. The problem comes when our desire to avoid losing becomes stronger. At that point, I believe it will become very hard to make further progress along the path to chess mastery, unless the fear of losing can be accepted and in turn mastered.

In order to win more games, it is an unavoidable fact that more games will have to be played, meaning more losses as well. It also means that games that are balanced or draw(ish) should still be played out, as a rule. This builds positional understanding over time, going significantly beyond simply looking for winning tactics in every position. At the professional level, Magnus Carlsen is the latest and greatest professional to be able to squeeze wins from apparently dead equal positions, but this is actually a common phenomenon when stronger players when face weaker ones. Some players deliberately aim for this type of style (as IM Jay Bonin describes in Active Pieces), but in many cases it reflects a stronger player being able to implement their better understanding of the game, or them deliberately playing on long enough for their opponent to make a significant mistake. Hard to accomplish that if you regularly take an early draw.

So what does the practice of "no draws" look like at a practical level? Here is my scheme for it:
  • I will not ask for a draw unless the position is actually dead drawn. This means there is either a draw by repetition coming, or it is a theoretical draw in the endgame.
  • If my opponent asks for a draw, I will not accept it unless I think a draw is the best (and most likely) result for me.
The first point takes care of the majority of the angst usually involved in thinking about draws. If you enter a game with the mindset of playing it out, then there is never the need for a decision - and the added stress that comes along with it - about when to request a draw yourself. This has some other positive effects on your ability to improve as a chessplayer, such as deeper experience with positions reached and a better ability to play endgames. One of my persistent weaknesses has been the endgame, in part because early on I happily took draws to avoid going into them. This is a self-defeating practice in the long run.

The second point, concerning what to do when a draw offer is received, is that it should be treated as a welcome admission from your opponent that they no longer think they can win the game. Following some old tournament advice, you now have the opportunity to take as much time as you like (that is still on your clock) to consider the offer, since it cannot be withdrawn.
  • If you assess you can play on without risk and have at least a slight advantage, then the decision is easy to reject the offer.
  • If there are other factors in play, such as lack of clock time, then you may have to be practical about it and take a draw if you honestly assess that you could not win (or could very easily blunder) before making the next time control. This is where "no draws" becomes a guideline rather than an iron rule. 
  • In longer games, fatigue and declining calculating ability at the board may also be a consideration, even if enough time remains on the clock. Your own objective self-assessment as a player is what you must rely on for your decision.
  • In the end, the burden of proof should be on the reason to take a draw; the default should be to reject the offer.
Following the "no draws" mindset is one of the things that has measurably boosted my strength over the last several years, including my best game ever. Once you start seeing practical results from this approach, it's easier to put aside the loss avoidance reflex and concentrate more on the progress you can make over time. Plus, I've honestly found it more fun to have the appetite to play a full game, rather than worrying about making or accepting draw offers.

06 June 2020

Annotated Game #246: A thematic Stonewall victory

This last-round tournament game is thematic in a number of ways, not just for the opening in consideration. I had only played a handful of Stonewall games at this point, and it's clear through analysis that I missed some subtleties (and not-so-subtle aspects too). It is exactly this process of experience, analysis, and understanding that drives improvement, however, whether it's a new opening you are playing or any other aspect of your game.

Here I was fortunate enough to win in the end, pressing through a kingside attack that finishes nicely, but could have been defended against (or completely refuted) by exchanging one of my primary attacking pieces. I would also like to highlight some more universal chess observations that stemmed from the analysis, including about how Class players think.
  • White's opening a3 and h3 rook pawn moves are a common tendency among players at a certain level. It struck me during the game that my opponent was playing these moves more as a "system" or automatically, rather than through careful consideration of the needs of the position; a3 in particular looks out of place. The time lost was not decisive, but it allowed me to accelerate my attack plans and grab the initiative.
  • My opponent prematurely resolves the pawn tension in the center on move 9, a common mistake previously discussed in Annotated Game #245; it's interesting to see how these kinds of themes keep cropping up in games and analysis.
  • I missed two key strategic (and tactical) ideas involving piece exchanges and mobilization. I never considered trading off my well-placed Ne4 during the game, although the knight could have profitably given itself up for White's dark-square bishop. A related idea was mobilizing the Nd7 sooner, with the general principle of bringing more pieces into an attack.
  • As previously highlighted in Pitfalls of Computer Analysis, trusting superficial engine assessments can lead you astray. Here on move 16 that would have lead to thinking ...Qh4 was a mistake, based on an initial full-game analysis pass.
  • There are a number of calculation mistakes on both sides regarding the kingside attack that Black launches, starting around move 14. For my part, it reinforces the fact that I should be looking harder for my opponent's ideas, including in this case the very disruptive idea of Nxe4. In general, though, the process and outcome is an object lesson on the practical benefits of the initiative of being the attacker, since an under-pressure defender usually has more costs associated with calculation failures (mate, in this case).
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A84"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "46"] {A84: Dutch Defence: 2 c4 Miscellaneous} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 e6 4. Nf3 f5 {the Slav Stonewall} 5. a3 {this neglects development} Nf6 6. h3 $146 {Secures g4, but also neglects development. We are now out of the database.} Bd6 { Black has now reached the standard Modern Stonewall setup. With White underdeveloped, Black has equalized by this point.} 7. Bd2 {a rather passive choice for the bishop.} (7. Bg5 h6 $11) 7... O-O 8. e3 Nbd7 {this is where I had my first real think. I defer for the moment deciding on where to put the light-square bishop.} (8... b6 9. Be2 Bb7 $11) 9. cxd5 $6 {this prematurely releases the pawn tension in the center. If Black can recapture with the e-pawn in the Stonewall, it usually is an advantage, since the c-file remains blocked for White while the half-open e-file can be better exploited by Black.} exd5 $15 10. Be2 Ne4 {the thematic Stonewall knight jump.} 11. O-O Qf6 { this is another strategic point for thought. The square f6 can be used by the queen, the Nd7 or the Rf8, so Black needs to formulate a plan here.} (11... Qe7 $5 {Komodo agrees that developing the queen is a good idea, but prefers e7. One point is that it fights for control of e5 just as well from here, leaving f6 free for another piece.}) 12. Qb3 {this normally would signal a desire by my opponent to pursue a queenside strategy, also importantly occupying the a1-h8 diagonal. This allows some tactical ideas based on the d5 pawn pin. Having learned my lesson in a previous game, I move my king out of the line of fire.} Kh8 {this also clears g8 for a rook.} 13. Rad1 $6 {this does nothing for the rook, as it has no future on the d-file, and contradicts to some extent the previous queen move.} g5 {I now get a standard kingside attack rolling.} (13... Nxd2 $5 {is a better version of the idea, as found by Komodo. The removal of the Bd2 gives Black an advantage on the dark squares, as well as weakening the defense of f4.} 14. Nxd2 (14. Rxd2 g5) 14... g5 {with the idea of ...Qh6 and ...Nf6 to mobilize additional forces, and ...g4 and ..f4 to storm the king position.}) 14. Nh2 $6 {a premature retreat. White would do better to exchange his largely useless Nc3 for my well-placed Ne4 first.} (14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Nh2 $15 {Black has only a slight advantage, at most, as White can defend his king and has ideas of pushing d4-f5.}) 14... g4 $2 {played after a lot of thought, but a mistake. I am missing both the ...Nxd2 idea and the key follow-up of ...Qh6.} (14... Nxd2 $5 {again is the key idea.} 15. Rxd2 Qh6 $17 {now ...g4 is a real threat, especially after ...Nf6.}) 15. hxg4 $6 { this misses my next idea.} (15. Nxe4 $5 {would allow White to at least equalize.} fxe4 16. Nxg4) 15... Bxh2+ {this also took a good deal of thought, but this time with success...mostly.} 16. Kxh2 Qh4+ {here a previous version of Komodo (11.2) on the first pass thought this was a mistake, instead preferring ...Qh6, as does version 13.2 initially, but after some additional time the engine agrees the text move is best.} 17. Kg1 fxg4 $4 {Komodo via the Fritz interface gives this two question marks, since White now has an only move that wins. Another long think that does not go well for me, in a complex position.} (17... Ndf6 18. Qb4 Rf7 19. Nxe4 Nxe4 $17) 18. Be1 $2 {a logical defensive idea in general terms, but White is better by exchanging off the Ne4 attacker, which also opens up the center.} (18. Nxe4 $1 dxe4 {and now White breaks through in the center while Black's attack has evaporated.} 19. d5 $18 { and now after Bc3, White will cut into Black's position along the diagonals and also the d-file.}) 18... Rf6 $2 {the idea of a rook lift does not lose, but ignores the correct path to victory. The f6 square is better used to mobilize the Nd7, which also opens up the Bc8's path to the kingside.} (18... Ndf6) (18... Nxc3 $5 {followed by ...Rf6 also should win and may be a simpler path.}) 19. f3 $4 {this loses, as I had calculated.} (19. Nxe4 {again would save the game.} Rh6 (19... dxe4 $2 20. d5 $18) 20. f4 Qh2+ 21. Kf2 $11) 19... g3 $19 20. Bxg3 {forced} Nxg3 21. Rfe1 Rh6 {I chose this as a certain win, not being able to fully calculate the ...Nh1 idea at this point, due to fatigue.} ( 21... Nh1 {can be played immediately here.}) 22. Rf1 {now with f1 blocked and the rook already on h6 cutting off the h-file, the tactical idea is much clearer.} Nh1 23. Rfe1 Qf2# 0-1

01 June 2020

Annotated Game #245: How not to crack open the queenside

The following third-round tournament game is very thematic for English Opening players and illustrates a consistent strategic weakness that I have recognized. Facing a King's Indian Defense (KID) setup, I follow the typical plan of queenside expansion with b2-b4, which yields a small plus. The critical position occurs on move 11 and is an excellent example of where I need to improve my game. Tactics are not really involved, but calculation and evaluation is important. Essentially White needs to find a way to keep the pressure up and not prematurely resolve the tension in the position. While I what I chose gained space, it allowed Black to easily contain the pressure and frustrate further progress. Learning what to do (and not do) in these positions is an important step in achieving better results with the English.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "51"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 d6 6. O-O Nbd7 {this is a flexible choice, not committing to a pawn advance yet. That said, ...e5 is most played here, according to the database.} 7. d3 {the standard English setup against the KID.} a6 {up to this point, Black has delayed choosing between the two thematic pawn advances in the KID, but finally does so on the next move.} 8. Rb1 {this is the standard rook move, with the plan of b2-b4. White does not benefit from playing the pawn advance immediately, as Black's last move allowed, due to the weakness on the a1-h8 diagonal.} c5 9. Bd2 {this is a somewhat slow move, although it does develop the bishop, clearing the first rank, and support the knight. I was unduly worried about protecting the Nc3 against discovered attacks on the long diagonal from the Bg7. With the rook no longer on a1, this is not really an issue.} (9. b4 $5 {is a better way to pursue the initiative.}) 9... Rb8 { preparing to contest the b-file.} 10. b4 $14 {at this point White has a small lead in development, space and the initiative.} Ne8 $6 {Black has several options here, since White's last move is not forcing. This retreat of the knight opens the long diagonal, but withdraws it further from the action, which is a net minus for Black.} (10... cxb4 11. Rxb4 Nc5 12. Qc2 {with the idea of Rfb1 is a comfortable plan for White, keeping up pressure on the b-file. The a-pawn is isolated, but control of the b-file more than compensates for this.}) (10... Qc7 $5 {would avoid committing Black to changing the pawn structure.}) 11. b5 {not the best plan. Instead of opening the b-file to White's advantage, this allows Black to better contain White's pressure on the queenside. This is also an example of how Class players typically rush to resolve pawn tension.} (11. bxc5 $5 dxc5 12. a4 $16) (11. Qc2 {is also possible, connecting the rooks and maintaining the tension.}) 11... b6 {this looks a little dubious at first, since now I'll open the b-file with a backwards b-pawn for Black. However, after} 12. bxa6 Bxa6 {Black's b-pawn is overprotected and White has no obvious way to make progress.} 13. a4 (13. Qc1 Bb7 $11) 13... Nc7 {not the most active choice, but it gives Black the option of exchanging with the knight on b5, if Nc3-b5.} 14. Qc2 {at this point there is nothing left for White's queenside strategy and Komodo recommends switching to the kingside and center for play, although without a real prospect for an advantage. In that case, c1 would be a better square for the queen, creating a battery on the c1-h6 diagonal.} Bb7 $11 {illustrating how my efforts on the queenside have been for nought. Black can block the Rb8 and it does not matter. } 15. Rb3 {stubbornly continuing to look for queenside play, without bothering to take my opponent's obvious reply into account.} Bc6 {unblocking the Rb8 and pressuring a4.} 16. Nb5 Ra8 {now Black even has more threats on the queenside than I do.} 17. Rbb1 {an admission that my 15th move was useless, but there is nothing better.} Nxb5 {this exchange simplifies the queenside structure and gives my pieces better coordination as a result. However, the position is very even still.} 18. axb5 Bb7 19. Bc3 {contesting the diagonal under the principle that Black's Bg7 is a superior piece, so exchanging it would benefit me.} Nf6 { this is a small inaccuracy. Black wants to preserve his bishop, but this allows me some extra pressure.} 20. Ra1 $14 Qc7 21. Qb2 {now the Nf6 can only move to h5, due to the pressure on the Bg7.} h5 22. Rxa8 {not a bad move, but it ignores the (small) strategic benefits White has on the kingside and is followed up by queenside liquidation.} (22. Nh4 $5 {may be the best try to keep some initiative.} Bxg2 23. Nxg2 Qb7 24. e4 $14 {followed by Ne3 establishes better control of the center, particularly d5.}) 22... Rxa8 23. Ra1 Qb8 24. Ra3 {consciously trading to equality.} (24. Nd2 $5 Bxg2 25. Kxg2 Ra7 $11) 24... Rxa3 25. Qxa3 Qa8 26. Qxa8+ 1/2-1/2

18 May 2020

Video completed - Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense 2


I recently completed the "Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense 2" DVD. This second volume, including content from IM David Vigorito and IM Bryan Smith, is more systematic than volume 1 in examining several different Caro-Kann variations, although example games still play a role in the presentations. As with the first one, the comments about typical plans involving piece placement and how to evaluate the resulting positions are for me the most valuable parts.

This volume's contents are actually an older collection of ChessLecture.com videos than were in the first one, so the order of the two "Studies" volumes seems backwards. You're probably better off starting with volume 2, although it doesn't matter all that much. This volume is somewhat more oriented toward looking at the opening from the Black point of view, although different White approaches are objectively looked at as well, and the White point of view is taken in the "Fantasies" sections at the end.

Summary of contents, with comments, follows. Note that the "PGN included" mentioned on the cover is a file with just a single unannotated game (Tiviakov-Dreev) and does not include any of the other games mentioned in the lectures, which is a bit disappointing (and deceptive marketing - come on guys, you're better than that).

Classical Caro-Kann 4...Bf5: Part I (Tiviakov - Dreev)
  • First part is general concepts and theory
  • Looks at two Black responses to 5. Nc5
  • Shows move-order trick if White delays playing h4
  • Looks at 6. N1e2 with early ...Bd6 response from Black
  • 6. Nf3 - good explanation of why Black does not exchange bishops on d3; a "let's just play chess" type of move; Black plan is to go for ...c5 or ...b5 advance
  • 6. f4 - again an early ...Bd6 response followed by ...Ne7
  • 6. Bc4 is considered the main sideline, followed by N1e2; 7...Bd6 response again considered the most safe
  • Tivakov-Dreev is shown as a miniature win for Black in the 6. Bc4 line
Classical Caro-Kann 4...Bf5: Part II
  • Covers main line with 6. h4
  • Good explanation of move-order significance of 7. Nf3 vs. h5 as follow-up for White
  • Gets into the Bf4 vs Bd2 options for White and Black's responses, with kingside castling plan
  • IM Vigorito then focuses on the old queenside castling plan for Black, which is still playable
  • Analysis extends into middlegame and endgame in these lines
Advance Caro-Kann for Black: Part I
  • Done by IM Vigorito from Black's point of view, with 3...Bf5; says 3...c5 is "interesting but risky" and doesn't treat it further
  • Focuses on "sharp" lines by White (4. Nc3 followed by g4)
  • Black should reply with a plan involving ...c5, according to Vigorito
  • Some similarities to French structures, including Winawer
  • A few possibilities are highlighted in response to White moves, but a clear recommendation is given in each case, with evaluations explained succinctly for both strategic and tactical points
Advance Caro-Kann for Black: Part II
  • "Slower" lines overview - more positional
  • 4. Nf3 - Short system; White idea of opening the position with c4
  • As with other lectures, examines what doesn't work for strategic/tactical reasons and why
  • 4. Be3
  • Other miscellaneous possibilities on move 4; have to be careful with 4. h4 as Black
  • Talks about knowing where the pieces should go, not rush with ...c5 as the main principles
Fantasies in the Caro-Kann
  • IM Bryan Smith - looks at the Fantasy Variation (3. f3), from White's point of view; has played it a dozen times in tournaments, with good results
  • Original critical line is 3...dxe4 followed by 4...e5
  • Both sides can get in trouble early if not following optimal path; Black's problem is getting too greedy or neglecting development, White's is allowing exchanges instead of developing
  • Other main options for Black include 3...e6, 3...g6; former can turn into an Advance French
  • Some stream of consciousness instead of preparation and analysis when discussing example games
Fantasies in the Caro-Kann: Part II: Odds & Ends
  • Fantasy variation from the White point of view again, with less common Black replies (3...e5, 3...Nf6, 3...Qb6)
  • Some slightly annoying microphone issues (rasping sound) degrade the audio quality
  • A fairly detailed look at the various options for both sides
  • Of interest mostly for White players of this variation, although if Black wants to play one of the choices it's worth a look.

17 May 2020

Annotated Game #244: Is it equal?

This second-round tournament game, against an Expert in a Classical Caro-Kann sideline, is an interesting look at what "equal" means and how it can be wrongly evaluated. One of the recurring themes found in my own game analysis, mentioned before here, is that the result of an assumed "equal" piece exchange in reality favors one side. As Black, one of the strategic errors I make early on is 9...Bxf3, which is an unforced trade of bishop for knight while the position is relatively open. A common amateur mistake is to blindly follow a strategy of trading down pieces against a significantly higher-rated opponent, thinking that fewer pieces automatically means a more "equal" game. In reality, it usually just plays into the strengths of your opponent, who is probably better at endgames and exploiting small positional advantages than you are.

Despite a few other inaccuracies, I actually do manage to achieve real equality in reaching a K+P endgame - which shows the benefits of stubborn and careful play - but I crack under pressure eventually with a miscalculation. Having a better "automatic" idea of what to do during endgames should help avoid this in the future, as it is too draining energy-wise to have to try to switch on your full internal calculating machine all the time, especially in a long game.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Expert"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "107"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. h4 Nh5 {my opponent was surprised by this move-order trick, clearly had not seen it before.} 8. Nxh5 Bxh5 9. Be2 { pursuing normal development by breaking the pin on the Nf3.} Bxf3 $146 { this is a novelty because it is a bad idea strategically. The position is too open to give away the two bishops advantage so quickly.} (9... Nd7 {remains equal.} 10. Bf4 e6 11. Ne5 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 Be7 13. O-O-O O-O 14. Kb1 Nxe5 15. Bxe5 Re8 16. Rd3 Bf8 17. h5 f6 18. Bf4 Qd5 19. Rg1 Rad8 20. g4 Qb5 21. Qe4 c5 22. Rb3 Qa4 23. Qxb7 cxd4 24. Bc1 Re7 {Garcia,G (2485)-Campora,D (2550) Zaragoza 1992 0-1 (70)}) (9... e6 {is the other choice, which also looks reasonable.}) 10. Bxf3 $16 {Komodo already evaluates White as significantly better here.} e6 11. g3 {protecting the h-pawn so White can castle.} Bd6 12. O-O Qc7 {there's no need to commit the queen this early.} (12... Nd7 $5) 13. Qe2 Nd7 14. Be3 O-O {I had felt pretty good about the position here, in terms of keeping it solid, although objectively White has all the pluses. However, unless he plays vigorously, I should be able to improve things, which is what happens in the game.} 15. Bg2 (15. c4 {would be more to the point here, among other things taking away ideas of Nd7-f6-d5.}) 15... Rfe8 {thinking about a potential ...e5 break and lining up on White's queen. The rook was doing less on the f-file, I felt.} 16. Rad1 {White centralizes a rook in turn, supporting the d-pawn.} Nf6 17. Bg5 Be7 18. c3 {a solid choice.} h6 {with the idea of prompting an exchange and getting rid of the two bishops advantage.} 19. Bf4 Bd6 20. Bxd6 {my opponent couldn't come up with anything better.} Qxd6 $11 { now White has a slight space advantage, but not much else.} 21. Rfe1 Qc7 { allowing for a potential transfer over to the queenside.} 22. Qe5 {this looks like a strong queen centralization, but White does not have enough material on the board for it to translate into a meaningful attack. Best would be to continue with maximizing the Black queen's scope.} Qxe5 (22... Qb6 {keeps more tension.} 23. Rb1 Red8 24. Bf3 Rac8 25. Qe2 a5) 23. dxe5 {my opponent has the evident strategy of outplaying me in the endgame, which the exchange of queens has assisted. The advanced e-pawn, along with the h-pawn, is a better endgame structure for White.} Nd5 {the knight is well centralized, but unfortunately has no targets.} 24. Rd4 Kf8 {with the idea of centralizing the king and moving it to help cover the d-file.} 25. Kf1 Ke7 26. Ke2 Red8 {correctly contesting the d-file.} 27. Red1 Nb6 $6 (27... Rd7 {with the simple but effective plan of doubling rooks, since White cannot do anything useful in the interim.} 28. c4 {was what I was avoiding, but after} Nb6 29. Rxd7+ Nxd7 $11 { Black is completely equal.}) 28. Rxd8 Rxd8 29. Rxd8 Kxd8 $14 {White now has a slight advantage in the BvN endgame, due to his king position and ability to restrict my knight. His bishop is not very effective either, though.} 30. Kd3 Ke7 {this seems logical, but leaves my knight doing nothing. Might as well get it back into the action immediately.} (30... Nd7 $5) 31. b3 {restricting the knight's squares.} Nd5 {this again looks nicely centralized, but the knight would be more effective from d7.} 32. a3 Kd7 33. c4 Ne7 34. Be4 {White is consistently gaining space with his moves. In the absence of an obvious breakthrough, this is a good plan, especially since I do not really understand what I should be doing here to disrupt his plans.} b6 (34... f5 $5 35. exf6 gxf6 {would leave my kingside pawns on squares that could not be targeted by the bishop, and help control the 5th rank.}) 35. g4 (35. c5 {is a more dangerous try.} bxc5 $2 (35... b5 $11) 36. Kc4) 35... c5 {it was good of me to see the dangerous idea and block it for the future.} 36. f4 {the engine shows complete equality, but of course with White pressing forward it did not feel like it at the board. A pawn disruption is what is needed.} Nc6 (36... f5 37. exf6 gxf6 38. g5 fxg5 39. hxg5 hxg5 40. fxg5 Kd6 $11) 37. Bxc6+ Kxc6 $11 { still perfectly equal, but it's easy to go wrong in a K+P ending, which is what my opponent was counting on.} 38. h5 Kd7 39. Kc3 a6 40. Kd3 Ke8 41. g5 { I thought for a long time here and calculated incorrectly.} f6 $4 { unfortunately, this pawn break is now a bad idea with a pawn on g5.} (41... Ke7 $11 {is probably the simplest.}) 42. exf6 $18 gxf6 43. g6 $2 {my Expert-level opponent also goes wrong here, so we blunder back and forth.} ({White should play} 43. gxh6 Kf7 44. f5 exf5 45. Ke3 $18 {with White's rook pawns able to hold off the Black king for a couple of tempi, White's king can gobble the Black f-pawns then head over to the queenside.}) 43... Ke7 $2 (43... f5 $1 { would take away White's access square.}) 44. b4 $2 (44. f5 $18 {with a similar idea as in the above variation.}) 44... a5 $4 (44... f5 $11 {still draws.}) 45. bxc5 $18 {now White finds the killing blow and the rest is forced.} bxc5 46. Ke4 Ke8 (46... f5+ 47. Ke5 $18) 47. f5 Ke7 48. fxe6 Kxe6 49. Kf4 a4 50. Ke4 f5+ 51. Kf4 Kf6 52. g7 Kxg7 53. Kxf5 Kf7 54. Ke5 {White now wins the queenside pawns and can queen a pawn first.} 1-0

13 May 2020

Video completed - Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense


I recently completed the "Studies in: The Caro-Kann Defense" DVD; a second volume is pending. As with other videos in the ChessLecture.com series, IM David Vigorito uses several games to narrate ideas in the Caro-Kann and also provide concrete analysis of the play into the middle and endgame phases. This is valuable both for a deeper understanding of opening options and - especially important - of the early middlegame plans (good and bad) that may result. A small bonus here is that an (unannotated) PGN file of the five games is included.

Summary of contents, with comments:

The Not-So-Boring Caro-Kann, Game 1 (Gashimov - Ivanchuk)
  • Format limitation: no board flip option in lecture, which has White at the bottom; PGN included, at least, to look at it from the Black perspective later
  • Advance Variation with 3...Bf5
  • Ivanchuk not a frequent C-K player
  • Comparison with Advance French ideas (bishop development vs. less pressure on d4)
  • Useful context on different C-K variations, with 4. Nf3 played in game (Short system)
  • Ideas clearly, succinctly explained from both sides
  • "Poisoned pawn" variation for Black and its endgame refutation
  • Good for general chess understanding / learning
The Not-So-Boring Caro-Kann, Game 2 (Balogh - Rodshtein)
  • Black displayed at the bottom this time
  • Classical Caro-Kann main line
  • Does a good job of explaining move-order effects (Bf4 vs Bd2 for White) and "newer" (1980s actually) castling short plan for Black
  • Looks at White's attacking plan with Ng3-f1 and then g2-g4
  • Black has an amazing sacrificial defense
  • Narration is a little confusing towards the end, as it's not always clear what is analysis and what is the actual game being looked at
The Simple Caro-Kann, Game 3 (LaRocca - Vigorito)
  • How to win with technique; pay attention to details, but not a sharp line like the previous game
  • Demonstrates how a higher-rated opponent can win with it (IM Vigorito vs a master-strength opponent in a club game); somewhat one-sided, but no big blunders
  • Classical Caro-Kann main line
  • More move-order insights, for example regarding the issue of what to do with White's Ng3
  • Discusses best plans for both sides, in terms of piece placement; exactly the kind of explanations that are most valuable, looking at different ideas and their results (including not only the best moves)
Losing the Must Win Game, Game 4 (Ivanov - Vigorito)
  • Tournament position (last round) dictated IM Vigorito (Black) had to try to win to be in the prize money
  • Picked Caro-Kann as his defense due to the lack of (draw) forcing lines; hadn't played before against GM Ivanov, so was a surprise
  • Caro-Kann Exchange variation with 5...Qc7
  • Black ends up with IQP position in the chosen continuation, but with easy development and White has some positional issues (pawns on f3, c3 blocking normal knight development)
  • As with other games, talks about different plans/ideas for early middlegame, including ones that aren't the best, providing insight on what not to do and why
  • Good insight into thinking and evaluation process during the game
Waving a Red Flag at a Bull, Game 5 (Nakamura - Mamedyarov)
  • White displayed on the bottom of the board
  • Advance variation, Short system; discussion of fundamental ideas
  • A follow-up to game 1, with delay of "poison pawn" capture on b2
  • Black overextends in a slightly awkward yet solid position; White in response employs an instructive attacking line

10 May 2020

Annotated Game #243: Battle in the center

This next first-round tournament game features a strategic and tactical battle over the center. Both my opponent and I make a number of key choices about how we fight for it in the opening and early middlegame, with some key points being:
  • The early choice of 3...Nc6 by Black can be solid, but it means the c-pawn will not be involved in the central fight.
  • 8. b3!? would have been an improvement for me, allowing recapture on c4 if necessary and maintaining influence over d5, as well as developing the dark-square bishop.
  • 9. c5! would have created a queenside and central bind in space. 
  • 10. d4 would have controlled e5 and reduced Black's counterplay, but at the time I valued more having an open long diagonal.
  • 11...Ne4 is the root of my opponent's difficulties for much of the game, as the knight looks good there but is too easily undermined, with the game becoming tactical after this.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "75"] {A17: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...Bb4} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 Nc6 { normally Black plays ...d5 or ...Bb4 here, aiming respectively for a QGD or Nimzo-Indian type setup.} 4. e3 {White has a large number of options here, with d4 probably being the most straightforward.} Bb4 5. Qc2 {keeping with standard Nimzo-Indian type ideas, to recapture on c3 with the queen if needed.} O-O 6. Be2 Bxc3 7. Qxc3 $14 {the queen now has a great diagonal and is unopposed by the dark-square bishop.} d5 8. O-O {I figured I would castle eventually anyway, so did it here, but there are other ways to improve the position first.} (8. b3 $5 {would prepare to recapture on c4 with a pawn, helping control d5, and also open a path for the Bc1 development.}) 8... Qd6 ( 8... dxc4 9. Bxc4 $11) 9. a3 {a missed opportunity. I was concerned about restricting Black's knight, but can do that in a more aggressive manner.} (9. c5 Qe7 10. b4 $16 {Black's remaining bishop is now sealed off from the action and White can implement a bind on the queenside and/or center.}) 9... a5 { this restrains b2-b4, but there were more active options for Black.} (9... e5 $5) 10. b3 {sticking with flank play. I wanted to keep the long diagonal open for the bishop.} (10. d4 $5 $14 {would control e5.}) 10... e5 11. Bb2 Ne4 $6 { a one-move threat against the Qc3 which also puts the knight in a precarious position.} (11... Re8 {would proceed with developing the rook and reinforcing the center.}) 12. Qc2 $16 {a simple retreat that strongly threatens cxd5, undermining the Ne4.} Bf5 {perhaps hoping for some tactics involving the bishop (such as ...Ng3). It would have been best just to retreat with ...Nf6.} (12... f5 $2 {fails to} 13. cxd5 Ne7 (13... Qxd5 $4 14. Bc4) 14. Bxe5 Qd7 15. Qxc7 $18) 13. Bd3 {I spent a lot of time here evaluating the different possibilities, to try and figure out the best way to pressure the Ne4 and use the cxd5 idea that undermines it. I ended up playing the text move as it increased pressure on the b1-h7 diagonal against both e4 and the currently hanging Bg6. It also takes away tactical ideas for Black such as ...Ng3 in some variations, which would otherwise simultaneously attack the Qc2, temporarily protect f5 and attack the Rf1.} (13. d3 {would have been the best "safe" choice.} Nc5 14. cxd5 Qxd5 15. e4 Qxb3 16. Qxb3 Nxb3 17. exf5 Nxa1 18. Rxa1 $16 {material is roughly equal, but White's two bishops confer an advantage.}) (13. cxd5 {is the tactical choice, which I wasn't able to fully calculate.} Qxd5 (13... Ng3 14. d3 Nxe2+ (14... Nxf1 15. dxc6 Nxh2 16. Nxh2 Qxc6 17. Qxc6 bxc6 18. Bxe5 $18) 15. Qxe2 Ne7 16. Bxe5 Qg6 17. e4 Bh3 18. Bg3 $18) 14. Nh4 (14. d3 {goes into the other main variation}) 14... Ng3 15. Nxf5 Nxf5 16. Bd3 $18 {winning a pawn, with the two bishops and White queen running rampant.}) 13... Rfe8 $6 {this does nothing to address the tactical vulnerability of the Bf5/Ne4/d5 structure, so now I am able to find a solution. } ({Better is} 13... Bg6 $1 {and the bishop no longer hangs.}) 14. Nh4 $18 { Black now loses a pawn, but finds a way for the Ne4 to escape.} Bg6 $2 { right idea, just played a move too late.} (14... g6 15. f3 Nc5 16. Nxf5 gxf5 17. Bxf5 d4 18. Bxh7+ Kg7) 15. Nxg6 {this is good enough for a significant advantage, although again cxd5 is a better idea.} fxg6 $2 {this opens the a2-g8 diagonal and weakens the center.} 16. cxd5 {now I play the key tactical idea.} Nc5 {I admit that I didn't initially see the retreat when I began the sequence calculation on move 14, which was a blind spot in my visualization. Backwards moves like these are simply harder to spot, especially when it puts the piece concerned en prise. Although the Nc6 is still hanging - what I saw later - taking it by dxc6 would now expose the underprotected Bd3 to capture, which I missed.} 17. Bc4 {I took some extra time here as well. This move is winning, although not optimal.} (17. dxc6 {is not as good.} Nxd3 18. cxb7 Ra7 $16 19. Qc4+ Kh8 20. Bc3 $18 {here White is two pawns up, but I thought it simplified things too much.}) (17. Bb5 {wins more material, as the Nc6 is now pinned against the Re8.}) 17... Na7 {while this doesn't block one of the defenders of the e5 pawn and allows Black to think about playing ...b5, I can immediately challenge the other knight and pre-empt this idea.} (17... Ne7) 18. b4 axb4 $6 {opening the a-file does not help Black.} (18... Nd7 {immediately is better, although it loses a pawn.} 19. bxa5 Kh8 20. d4 $18) 19. axb4 Nd7 { although I'm only a pawn up, my two bishops are far better than Black's knights, with great diagonals that I can threaten to exploit. My pawn structure gives me a space advantage, and I have various targets to potentially go after, including the Na7, c7, and e5.} 20. Ra2 {the b4 pawn is tactically protected, so I decide to go with a simple plan of increasing pressure along the a-file against the Na7, since it has nowhere it can go without losing material.} Qb6 (20... Qxb4 $2 21. Ba3 Qb6 22. Rb1 Qf6 23. d6+ Kh8 24. dxc7 $18) 21. Rfa1 Kh8 {removing the king from the threat of d5-d6 with a discovered check.} 22. d4 e4 {my opponent makes the best choice in response, as exchanging on d4 would bring my dark-square bishop to life.} 23. Qb3 {without an immediately obvious best way to continue, I choose to generally strengthen my queen position. The b4 pawn is now protected and I have a battery on the a2-g8 diagonal, strengthening the bishop's effectiveness. This in fact proves decisive later on.} Rf8 {my opponent seeks counterplay against f2, with the evident idea of following up by ...Qf6.} 24. Bc3 {this move overprotects b4 and is designed to continue ratcheting the pressure up on the queenside, with the idea of following up by b4-b5 and playing the bishop to either b4 or a5.} Qf6 {an understandable bid for counterplay, including a trappy offer of the Na7. However, I now have a largely forcing continuation that leads to material loss for Black.} 25. d6 {this move wins, although in a more complicated way. I recognized that the pawn could be mobile and the sacrifice would open key lines.} (25. Be1 $5 {is the simplest path to victory, as by protecting f2 the Na7 now truly hangs.}) 25... cxd6 26. Be6 $6 {good enough, although the threat is still not enough to lose a piece for Black, given the continuing weakness on f2.} ({Avoid the trap} 26. Rxa7 $2 Qxf2+ 27. Kh1 Rxa7 $19) 26... Nb6 $2 (26... Rad8 $18 {defends for the time being, although Black is still losing.}) 27. d5 {the point of this move is that now Black can no longer maintain his queen on the f-file. With the threat to f2 gone, the Na7 is now truly hanging and Black must lose a piece. My opponent missed the discovered attack on his queen, having focused on saving the knight on d7.} Nb5 {this would have worked if there was no attack on the queen, as the Ra8 is also now sufficiently protected, but...} 28. Bxf6 Rxa2 29. Bxg7+ $1 {I figured I should buy the bishop's life as dearly as possible; this is known as a desperado tactic.} Kxg7 30. Rxa2 {the game is now effectively over.} Ra8 31. Rxa8 Nxa8 32. Qb2+ {leading to a forced mate. I didn't bother trying to calculate the absolute quickest path, which seemed like a waste of energy by that point.} Kh6 33. Qh8 Nb6 34. Bg8 Kg5 35. Qxh7 Nc4 36. h4+ Kf5 37. Qf7+ Ke5 38. Qe6# 1-0

04 May 2020

Book completed: The Stonewall Attack


In searching for an alternative opening as White (although I expect to continue to use the English Opening as my primary), I eventually settled on learning the Stonewall Attack, largely because I had put a good deal of time into studying the Dutch Stonewall as Black. While the defense has a robust if not particularly large collection of book and video publications dedicated to it, the White side has relatively few - really, almost none - professional-level ones. The Kenilworthian's 2012 blog post on "The Stonewall in Black and White" is probably the best compilation of resources on the Stonewall, although now somewhat dated from the Black perspective. (It's not dated for White because so little has been done on it.)

Andrew Martin's Foxy video on the Stonewall Attack and Colle Zukertort is still being produced (my summary of the e-DVD content is in the link), but the only dedicated book by a GM is The Stonewall Attack by Andrew Soltis (Chess Digest, 2nd edition, 1993). I recently completed it using the legit downloadable (PDF) version you can find on Scribd.com; the book itself has been out of print for some time. The Kenilworthian post mentioned above praised it as a resource, but offered no details.

It was interesting to see that the structure and recommendations of Andrew Martin's video closely parallel those of Soltis, although to be fair Martin focuses on more recent example games that are not included in Soltis' work. I expect it would be better to read the book first when beginning a study of the opening, since it provides a deeper conceptual foundation, then look at the video presentation for additional commentary and updated modern examples.

I have to say that The Stonewall Attack has become one of my favorite chess opening books - probably chess books in general - because it is both enjoyable to go through and effective in its presentation. Soltis is a prolific and excellent writer; here he clearly enjoys his subject, digging into some of the opening's history - games from Capablanca, Marshall, Pillsbury and other top players from the first part of the 20th century are featured in the chapters - while discussing the various setups and approaches. There is for me a near-ideal balance of conceptual explanations, variations and examples. Some repetition of material occurs from certain example games, but from a learning perspective I felt this was actually a good thing, to help reinforce particular ideas.

Soltis also does certain things I appreciate, such as not sugar-coating things (the Stonewall is respected but not over-sold as a wonder weapon for White), highlighting move-order options that are often neglected, and calibrating his annotations and explanations to an amateur audience, including explanations of variations and moves which are bad/losing, not just focusing on best play for both sides. For improving players, I find this to be a crucial point in gaining chess strength, since rarely will both sides follow the "best" plan in an opening below master level (or even then).

I find studying the Stonewall Attack to be useful for both general chess skill and as a practical opening weapon. It's not just for historical purposes, either, as I was reminded when I saw Anand using it as White to beat an expert-level player in the recent Indian GM online simul at Chess.com (see the game vs. Fllinc, with a full transposition by move 14). Maybe Anand wouldn't play it at a top-level GM tournament, but he nevertheless knows how to play it successfully.

Below is a summary of the contents of the book, for those who may be interested in taking a closer look. It's worth noting that this is not a repertoire book, so both White and Black sides get examined from a number of different perspectives, with many options presented in the text.

INTRODUCTION
This is a narrative introduction to Stonewall Attack ideas and history, covering five games from 1890 (Gunsberg-Tchigorin) to 1992 (Mohammed-Denker).

CHAPTER ONE: The Matter of Move Order
This is a more sophisticated introduction to early concepts and move-orders, for example using a Colle System to start and later playing Nf3-e5 and f2-f4. One point is that the Stonewall Attack should not be treated as a "system" opening in which the same moves are always made in the same order, regardless of what your opponent does, although Soltis recommends beginning with 1.d4 followed by 2. e3 and 3. Bd3. The chapter also contains the high-level clash Yusupov-Anand, Linares 1991.

CHAPTER TWO: Stonewall Strategies
(1) Simple Kingside Attack
(2) Good vs. Bad Bishops
(3) Queenside Play: The Open and Half-Open C-file
(4) The Pawn Re-Capture on d3
(5) Double Stonewall
(6) The Advance of the e-Pawn

CHAPTER THREE: The "Theoretically Best" Defense
Here Soltis deals with the primary theoretical recommendation for Black (3...Nc6) and also points out the move 3...Bg4 as a strong alternative idea.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Traditional Defense
This covers what most Black players are likely to play if not very familiar with the Stonewall Attack, which is a Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) formation with ...c5 included.

CHAPTER FIVE: Black Fianchettoes
Here we see Black going into either a reversed Dutch Stonewall, where standard plans/ideas apply, or setting up a King's Indian Defense (KID) or Queen's Indian Defense (QID), which require different treatments from White.

ILLUSTRATIVE GAME SECTION
Although these games are sometimes quoted in the main text, here Soltis presents them in full. It's great fun to play over these old games and feel that they are still relevant to our understanding of the positions.
#1: Sultan Khan - A. Rubinstein, Prague (Olympiad) 1931
#2: Marshall - Rubinstein, Vienna 1908
#3: Horowitz - Amateur, New York 1950
#4: Kmoch - Nagy, Budapest 1926
#5: Santasiere - Adams, United States 1940
#6: Lipke - Zinki, Leipzig 1894
#7: Lipke - Schiffers, Leipzig 1894
#8: Pillsbury - Hanham, New York 1893

29 April 2020

Annotated Game #242: Making it harder

This final round tournament game, an Exchange Slav, has as its main theme how I made it a lot harder on myself than necessary to secure a draw. Highlights:
  • 7...Qd7?! starts digging a positional hole for Black, as the queen development interferes with better minor piece placement. I was relying too much on transferring this idea from a Caro-Kann Exchange structure, which isn't quite the same. In that case, 7...Na5 is dubious (here it's better). However, White doesn't try to keep up the pressure and I equalize in several moves.
  • 14...a6 was OK, but unnecessarily weakening of the queenside pawn structure.
  • A classic Class player error is not developing the rooks in the early middlegame. I committed this sin by passing over the idea of 15...Rfc8 and later, until it was too late and White dominated the c-file. This was due to some sort of hallucination that White would control the file regardless. It still wasn't too late to contest the c-file on move 21.
  • I manage to get out of my problems, both earlier and later, thanks largely to my opponent's lack of patience and willingness to exchange pieces on favorable terms.
In the end I'm at least satisfied that I played some fighting chess and didn't despair in the endgame, even if it wasn't accurate chess.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "81"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 {the Exchange Slav historically has a drawish reputation, but I'd say it's as good a way for the White player to fight for the initiative as any, if they want to.} cxd5 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. Bf4 Nc6 6. e3 Bg4 { this scores significantly better (about 50 percent) than the alternative bishop development to f5 (about 45 percent for Black).} 7. Qb3 {the majority of games in the database feature this natural queen sortie, hitting b7 and adding to the pressure on d5.} Qd7 $6 {in a somewhat similar Caro-Kann Exchange variation, this is a perfectly good move. Here, however, the queen is misplaced as it blocks a path back for the Bg4, plus the Nc6 is better on another square.} (7... Na5 {is best here, as it cannot be driven from its post on a5 and eyes c4, while protecting b7 and hitting the Qb3. A sample high-level game:} 8. Qa4+ Bd7 9. Bb5 e6 10. Nf3 a6 11. Bxd7+ Nxd7 12. Ne5 b5 13. Qd1 Nxe5 14. Bxe5 Nc4 15. Qe2 Nxe5 16. dxe5 Bb4 17. Rc1 Rc8 18. Qd2 Qa5 19. a3 Bxc3 20. Rxc3 Rxc3 21. Qxc3 Qxc3+ 22. bxc3 Kd7 23. Kd2 Rc8 24. Kc2 Rc4 25. f3 f6 26. exf6 gxf6 27. Rd1 Kc6 28. g4 a5 29. Kb3 e5 30. h4 Kd6 31. Rg1 Ke6 32. Kb2 Kf7 33. Kb3 h5 34. Kb2 e4 35. f4 hxg4 36. Rxg4 b4 37. axb4 {Ni,H (2671) -Eljanov,P (2711) Riadh 2017 1/2-1/2 (65)}) 8. Bb5 $14 {a perfectly logical move, but not in the database's small sample.} e6 9. h3 Bf5 10. Nf3 Bd6 { here I want to exchange off White's effective bishop and complete my development.} 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. Ne5 O-O {by this point I feel White's initiative is largely spent and I've survived the opening pressure.} 13. Bd3 ( 13. Bxc6 $5 {is really the only way to try to fight for a (small) advantage. My opponent probably did not want to trade bishop for knight on principle, however.} bxc6 14. O-O {White has a slight pull on the queenside and the backwards c-pawn is a potential weakness, although Black should be able to keep things balanced with} Rfb8) 13... Bxd3 14. Nxd3 $11 a6 {taking the b5 square away from the knight, but also weakening b6. The b7 pawn is tactically protected.} (14... Qe7 $5 {also covering b7 looks simple and good.}) 15. O-O ( 15. Qxb7 $4 Rfb8 $19) 15... Rab8 {a solid choice, but it might be better to get the other rook into the game.} (15... Rfc8 {activates the rook and also contests the open c-file, the neglect of which causes me problems.}) 16. Rac1 Na5 17. Qb4 {a good choice by my opponent. White's pieces are a little better positioned than mine to fight on the queenside after the exchange.} Qxb4 { there is no good alternative, as retreating the queen just puts it in the way of my other pieces.} 18. Nxb4 Nc4 $6 (18... Rfc8 {it's still not too late for this.}) 19. Rc2 h6 $6 {played as a waiting move to give my king 'luft', but I could have put the tempo to better use.} 20. Rfc1 $14 Nd6 21. Na4 {now White's positional advantages are obvious, as he dominates the only open file and his knights can invade. With correct play, though, they are still too small to make a difference.} a5 $6 {forcing the knight to a better square.} (21... Rbc8) 22. Nd3 b5 23. Nac5 b4 $6 {I was having trouble coming up with a useful plan here, because I continued to fail to contest the c-file. With the Nd6 helping protect c8, however, that is the correct way to play.} 24. Ne5 {threatening the fork on d7. Now the pressure is really on.} Ra8 25. Ncd7 {my opponent lacks patience here. I'm perfectly happy to exchange off one of my worse knights.} Nxd7 26. Nxd7 Rfd8 (26... Rfc8 27. Nb6 Rxc2 28. Rxc2 Ra7 $14) 27. Ne5 a4 {I felt that this was my only source of counterplay, potentially opening the a-file or causing White some problems with the advanced pawns.} 28. Nc6 b3 {a bit desperate, but otherwise I thought White would gobble the pawn and just crush my position.} 29. axb3 axb3 30. Rc3 Rd7 31. Rxb3 {here I felt reasonably good about my drawing chances in a double rook ending, in part because White's pieces are no longer coordinating well. Komodo agrees, but not after the next move.} Nc4 (31... Rc7 $5 {is a very annoying pin on the Nc6.}) 32. Ne5 { again I'm happy to exchange.} (32. Rb5) 32... Nxe5 33. dxe5 $14 Ra2 {this abandons the 8th rank for the 2nd, unfortunately a worse placement for my rook, as all it does right now is be blocked by the b-pawn.} 34. Rb8+ {a mostly pointless check.} Kh7 35. b4 $6 {now my Ra2 is worth much more and can get in behind the pawn, where it ideally belongs.} Rb2 36. b5 Kg6 {adding a protector to the f-pawn and getting away from any ideas of a check on h8.} 37. b6 d4 $11 {this now activates the rook on the d-file.} 38. exd4 Rxd4 39. Rc3 {I thought for a while now and played a mistake.} Rdb4 $6 (39... Rd1+ 40. Kh2 Rxf2 41. b7 Rb1 {holds, for example} 42. Rh8 Rxb7 43. Rg3+ Kf5 44. Rxg7 Kxe5 45. Rxh6 $11) 40. Rg3+ $14 Kh7 41. Rf3 {here my opponent offered a draw, believing that the rook ending is drawn. After I take on b6, rooks are exchanged and White takes on f7. I'm still a pawn down but my more active rook should largely compensate and my king should help hold the kingside together.} 1/2-1/2

28 April 2020

Training quote of the day #30: Mark Dvoretsky

Chessplayers are not accustomed to changing the pattern of play abruptly except in cases of extreme need, and so certain moves sometimes quite simply fall outside our field of vision.
From "A Chessplayer's Strengths and Weaknesses" in Training for the Tournament Player 

27 April 2020

Functional fixedness

I would say that the #3 thing that holds me back in chess - following the top two things - is functional fixedness. One general definition of this phenomenon is "A mental block against using an object in a new way that is required to solve a problem". In the chess context, this means an inability to see possible moves by pieces beyond their "assumed" current function. Some common examples of this in tactics are:
  • Where one side is able to force a break of a pin (not against the king)
  • Material sacrifices, especially large ones (queen sacrifices tend to be the most surprising)
  • Inserting a key intermediate move in a sequence (for example postponing an "automatic" recapture).
In all cases, these tactics appear because the other side had not considered the move "possible" - even though, of course, the rules of chess say otherwise.

This cognitive fixedness can be a significant problem when coming up with candidate moves and also in the subsequent visualization process while doing calculation. Our brains fundamentally tend to be lazy. (This is in fact a survival trait that cuts down on unneeded energy for processing.) They therefore like to make assumptions, which help simplify whatever task is in front of us to solve. Fighting this tendency requires both a conscious awareness of your cognition - in chess, this means consistently following a suitable thinking process - and enough energy to keep your brain functioning at a high enough level.

It may seem a little backwards, but I've found over time that focusing on energy management has had the biggest payoff in my quality of play. It makes it that much easier to focus and actually implement your thinking process, especially when there is a need to erase previous assumptions in order to uncover the new possibilities in a position. Just looking at two basic questions - 1) What did my opponent's last move change about the position? and 2) What CCT (checks, captures, threats) are available? - can go very far in finding opportunities for both your opponent and yourself.