25 December 2020

Commentary: 2020 U.S. Championship, Round 6 (Nakamura - Liang)

The next commentary game, from this year's U.S. Championship, made something of a sensation at the time, given the upset by Black. It shows the strengths of the Caro-Kann Classical and how Black can play sound positional chess and punish White if he is too aggressive. There are a number of other insights that can be gleaned from both sides' decision-making throughout the game, so this was a valuable one to review in detail. 

[Event "U.S. Championship"] [Site "Online"] [Date "2020.10.27"] [Round "6.1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Liang, Awonder"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "2829"] [BlackElo "2397"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "113"] [EventDate "2020.??.??"] [WhiteTeam "United States"] [BlackTeam "United States"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 e6 { this move-order with an early ...e6 can have independent significance, or transpose back to the "main" main line Caro-Kann. Usually Black plays ...Nd7 here, to prevent Ne5.} 8. Bd3 {this early bishop development deviates from White's standard ideas of h4-h5 or an immediate Ne5. However, in many lines it is normal for White at some point to exchange off the light-square bishop and develop the queen.} Bxd3 {there is no good alternative to exchanging bishops.} 9. Qxd3 Nf6 10. Bf4 Qa5+ {this is the standard reply to the Bf4 development. Black asks White if he wants to maintain the bishop on f4, in which case the c-pawn will have to block the check, or if the bishop will give up its more active placement on f4 and retreat to d2.} 11. c3 Be7 {developing the bishop before the b8-knight, but this seems reasonable, since there is no other good square for it. Liang by doing this gives himself some additional options with the knight, beyond going to d7.} (11... Qa6 {is another idea, but may be more drawish.}) 12. Nf1 $146 {this (new) idea is to redeploy the knight and advance with g2-g4, while leaving the king in the center. While the idea of attacking down the g-file is now standard in some variations, this is an accelerated version of it. White does not seem quite ready to back it up, however.} c5 { Black is able to play this thematic break while his own king is still in the center, since White has no way of taking advantage of it. The light-square bishop is off the board, Black's Qa5 prevents White's queen from using the f1-a6 diagonal, and White's own king is still in the center as well.} 13. N1d2 Qa6 {...O-O and ... cxd4 also look like good options here. The text move pressures White to exchange queens, which is difficult to avoid.} 14. Nc4 { White blocks the queen trade, but at some positional cost. White's queen is now hanging, it is useful to observe, and the Nc4 will also have to be protected.} O-O 15. g4 $6 {White is not as well positioned to back up this kingside aggression as in other lines. Liang nevertheless chooses to avoid taking the g-pawn, which would open up the file.} Nd5 $15 {this is a solid move, anticipating g4-g5 and hitting the bishop.} (15... Nc6 {is recommended by the engines, who have no problem taking the g-pawn in the subsequent variations. White maintains material equality, but Black ends up with an edge.} 16. dxc5 (16. g5 Nh5 17. Bd2 cxd4 18. gxh6 dxc3 19. Bxc3 Nb4 20. Bxb4 Bxb4+ 21. Kf1 Rad8 22. Qe2 g6 $17) 16... Nxg4 17. Rg1 f5 18. Bd6 Bxd6 19. cxd6 Rad8 $17) 16. Be5 (16. Bg3 $5 {is the engine recommendation, preserving the bishop and staying solid on the kingside, but solidity was not Nakamura's original intent with g2-g4.}) 16... Nc6 {Black develops the knight, connects the rooks, and hits the bishop all at once.} 17. g5 h5 {another solid option for defense, reducing the complexity and number of targets for White to go after.} (17... f6 $5 {would be the way to take advantage of White's exposed bishop. For example} 18. gxh6 Nxe5 19. dxe5 Nf4 20. Qe4 Ng2+ 21. Kd1 (21. Ke2 $4 f5 {and the Nc4 is lost.}) 21... f5 $17) 18. g6 $2 {White decides to go all in and try to continue the attack, but Black is now winning. The engines point out the least worst variation, which however would have meant no more dynamic play for White and a solid positional advantage for Black.} (18. dxc5 Bxc5 19. Bg3 $15) 18... cxd4 {despite the pawn thrust, White is not in fact urgently threatening anything on the kingside, so Black can go ahead and start his own counterplay. The text move undermines e5 and starts opening lines for Black's pieces.} 19. Nxd4 (19. cxd4 $2 fxg6 20. Qxg6 Nxe5 $19 {and White has too many open lines to his king.}) 19... Nxd4 {Liang again chooses a more straightforward option, reducing material on the board before proceeding with his ideas.} (19... Rac8 $5 {could be played immediately, but is a more complex line.}) 20. Qxd4 (20. Bxd4 Nf4 21. gxf7+ Rxf7 22. Qf1 Bf6 $19) 20... Rac8 {pressuring the weak Nc4 and controlling the squares on the half-open c-file.} (20... fxg6 $19 {also looks very good.} 21. Bxg7 $2 Rf4 $19) 21. Ne3 Bc5 22. Qe4 Bxe3 {an exchange that reduces White's attacking capability and gives him an isolated e-pawn.} 23. fxe3 fxg6 (23... f6 $5 {would seal off the kingside for good.}) 24. Bd4 ( 24. Qxg6 Rf7 25. Bd4 Ne7 26. Qe4 (26. Qxh5 Nf5 27. Qe2 Qa5 $19 {preparing ... e5.}) 26... Nf5 $17) 24... Rf5 $19 {blocking the attack on g6 and preparing to double rooks. Black is now a pawn up and has much better piece placement and coordination. In particular, the Bd4 is centralized but blocked in and White has to worry about ...e5.} 25. a3 {preparing to castle, but weakening the light squares further.} Rcf8 (25... Kh7 $5 {to protect the g-pawn and free up the Rf5.}) 26. O-O-O Kh7 27. Rhg1 Nf6 {Black is now able to powerfully reposition the knight and cut off any attacking possibilities down the g-file.} 28. Qc2 Ng4 29. e4 Rf1 {Black would be happy exchanging on f1.} 30. c4 R1f3 { here the engines prefer simply exchanging down, given Black's material and positional advantages.} 31. e5 Rc8 {switching targets and prompting White's next move, which unblocks the f1-a6 diagonal and further blocks in the White bishop.} 32. c5 Rcf8 {Liang is not in a rush to press his advantage, possibly due to time control considerations. Several other possibilities exist to make progress.} (32... Rd8) (32... b6) (32... Rh3) 33. Kb1 Rf1 34. Ka2 Rxd1 { now Black goes for the simplifying exchange.} 35. Rxd1 Rd8 {Black's good knight vs. bad bishop situation is now even more clear on the board, along with his material advantage. Although he has doubled g-pawns, later he can get rid of them and have strong passed pawn(s) on the kingside.} 36. Rd2 Qc6 { physically blockading the c-pawn and moving to the more central diagonal.} 37. b4 Rd5 38. Bc3 Ne3 {the engines agree with this idea, which passes up taking the e-pawn in favor of a more dominating central position for Black.} (38... Nxe5 39. Qd1 Rxd2+ 40. Qxd2 $19 {still leaves Black with an advantage, but White has more mobility and the road to victory would likely be harder.}) 39. Qc1 Nf5 40. Qe1 {protecting the h4 pawn, although Black can win it by force if he chooses.} Rxd2+ 41. Bxd2 Qd5+ {comparing this position with the above variation, it's clear that Black's pieces are more dominant.} 42. Kb2 Qd3 ( 42... Nxh4 $5 {apparently Liang did not want to go into a pure queen ending, even two pawns up.} 43. Qxh4 Qxd2+ $19) 43. Bg5 Nd4 44. Qc3 {protecting against further queen penetration. Black now picks up the e-pawn, however.} Qe2+ 45. Kb1 Qxe5 46. a4 {White is desperately seeking counterplay at this point, trying to mobilize the queenside pawn majority.} a6 {the simple way to restrain White's pawns.} 47. Kb2 Qe2+ 48. Qd2 Qe4 {leaving the way open in front of the e-pawn and laterally pressuring the h-pawn, keeping the bishop tied to its defense.} 49. Qc3 e5 50. Qc4 Qg2+ 51. Kb1 Qc6 {using the full power of his queen to influence both sides of the board.} 52. a5 {now Black fully dominates the light squares and White cannot hope to make progress.} Nb5 53. Kc1 Qh1+ 54. Kd2 Nd4 55. Qd3 Qg2+ 56. Kc3 Qa2 {threatening to mate on b3.} 57. Qd1 {White apparently saw the b-pawn would now fall anyway after ...Nb5+ and subsequent Black queen checks, so the game is over.} 0-1

05 December 2020

Videos completed: "Why You Should Study Master Games" by Tatev Abrahamyan


"Why You Should Study Master Games" (parts 1 and 2) are the final videos in the Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. I've made a point of periodically doing "commentary" annotated games of master (usually GM) level games on this blog, including collecting them in a PGN database available for download on the sidebar link; I posted some previous thoughts on the process in "Analyzing master games for training".

Part 1: Abrahamyan introduces the video with the observation that by studying master games, we will see more ideas and also be able to avoid known mistakes, thereby not having to reinvent the wheel in our own games. Studying historical games therefore is relevant for today's training.

The first example game given is Capablanca - Treybal, in an inferior Stonewall type position for Black. Capablanca fixes the pawn structure and then, as is common in closed positions, can take his time to organize pawn breaks and put his pieces on optimal squares to make progress. Also illustrated are the benefits of a space advantage and White's avoidance of exchanging pieces, which would just make Black's life easier.

The second game is Petrosian - Ledic. The structure is very similar, but without queens on the board. Black gets frustrated and loses more quickly than necessary, but White could have won in any case, with his ability to play on both sides of the board and target Black's weaknesses faster than they could be defended.

Part 2: the theme of modern relevance is continued, with the first example game being again from Capablanca and the second from Carlsen. Capablanca manages to win an even-looking double rook ending, by staying patient and flexible and working to provoke weaknesses, using a minority attack on the kingside to open up the h-file for a rook. 

The second example game is Radjabov-Carlsen from 2012. The structure is again very similar, with the addition of light-squared bishops on both sides. Black wins the endgame using a strategy reminiscent of Capablanca's.

I found the examples useful in both video parts, which together total around 20 minutes, but I felt the broader theme was treated rather perfunctorily. To do it properly, though, would take a lot more content.

12 November 2020

Commentary: 2019 National Open, Round 5 (Ramirez - Sorokin)

This next commentary game is a nice example of how strategic, positional play in the English Opening can lead to a tactical finish, sometimes rather quickly. With these master games, I save interesting ones periodically and then get to them whenever I can. GM Alejandro Ramirez recently had a disappointing 2020 U.S. Championship, so I decided now would be a good time to look more deeply at this instructive and clean win of his over FM Aleksey Sorokin, as compensation. (Original ChessBase report and analysis on the 2019 National Open from Li Ruifeng can be found here.)

[Event "National Open 2019"] [Site "Las Vegas USA"] [Date "2019.06.14"] [Round "5"] [White "Ramirez, Alejandro"] [Black "Sorokin, Aleksey"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2574"] [BlackElo "2536"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "51"] [EventDate "2019.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 d5 {this simplifies White's opening choices, as it makes little sense not to exchange the c-pawn for Black's central d-pawn.} 3. cxd5 Nxd5 4. g3 {the most popular continuation. The more flexible Nf3 also scores as well, around 57 percent in the database.} e5 {staking out territory in the center (which Nf3 would have prevented).} 5. Bg2 {forcing Black to choose what to do with the Nd5.} Nb6 {preferred and best scoring option (around 50 percent) .} 6. d3 {still avoiding committing the other knight. Moving the d-pawn seems necessary in any scenario for White.} Be7 7. Be3 {the bishop development to e3 is a standard idea in some lines of the English. Here, f4 and g5 are out and d2 would be more passive. The Black king's knight is also on b6 rather than f6 as normal, so cannot harass it.} O-O 8. Rc1 {activating the rook on the half-open c-file.} Re8 9. Nf3 {the knight is finally developed.} (9. a3 { is often played here.}) 9... Nc6 {the e-pawn must be protected.} 10. O-O Bf8 { overprotecting the e-pawn and choosing to give the bishop a defensive role on the kingside, which is lacking the usual protection of a knight.} 11. a4 { White has played a variety of moves here. Normally one would expect an a-pawn thrust to be more consistent with a White rook on a1. One recent high-level alternative:} (11. Bg5 Qd7 12. a3 h6 13. Bd2 Qd8 14. Ne4 a5 15. Nc5 a4 16. Qc2 Ra7 17. Rfe1 Nd4 18. Nxd4 exd4 19. e4 dxe3 20. Bxe3 c6 21. Ne4 Be6 22. Bc5 Ra8 23. Bxf8 Rxf8 24. Nc5 Bc8 25. Re4 Re8 26. Rce1 Rxe4 27. Rxe4 Ra5 28. h3 Kf8 29. d4 Ra8 30. Re1 g6 31. Qd2 Kg7 32. Qf4 Nd7 33. Ne4 Ra5 34. Nd6 Nf6 35. Re8 Qd7 36. Rxc8 g5 37. Qd2 Ra6 38. Qb4 c5 39. dxc5 Rxd6 40. cxd6 Qxc8 41. Bxb7 Qxh3 42. Qxa4 h5 43. Qd4 Qd7 44. Bf3 h4 45. gxh4 gxh4 46. Qxh4 Qf5 47. Kg2 Kf8 48. a4 Qg6+ 49. Qg3 Qf5 50. b4 Nd5 51. Qg4 Qe5 52. Qc8+ Kg7 53. Qg4+ Kf8 54. d7 Ke7 55. Qe4 Qxe4 56. Bxe4 Nxb4 57. Bf5 Nc6 58. Kf3 Kd6 59. Kf4 f6 60. Be4 Nd8 61. Kf5 Kxd7 62. Kxf6 Kd6 63. a5 Ne6 64. a6 {1-0 (64) Caruana,F (2835) -Nepomniachtchi,I (2784) chess24.com INT 2020}) 11... a5 $6 {Black blocks the a-pawn's further advance, but this was not currently threatened. Perhaps it was a deliberate invitation to exchange on b6 and give Black the two bishops, although White seems to inflict enough structural damage to more than compensate for that.} 12. Bxb6 (12. d4 $5 {is the engine line and actually has been played in a few games. The point is that exchanges on d4 favor White's piece activity.} exd4 (12... Nc4 {is what the engines give} 13. Nb5 Nxe3 14. fxe3 $14) 13. Nxd4 Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Qxd4 15. Bxd4 $16) 12... cxb6 13. Nb5 { now White has b5 as an excellent outpost for the knight.} Be6 {this seems to unnecessarily weaken the e-pawn, by blocking the Re8.} 14. d4 {now Black cannot maintain the pawn on e5.} e4 (14... exd4 {is the other option, which likely will lead to wholesale liquidation:} 15. Nfxd4 Bg4 16. Nxc6 bxc6 17. Bxc6 Bxe2 18. Qxd8 Raxd8 19. Bxe8 Bxf1 20. Kxf1 Rxe8 $11) 15. Ne1 {this is the most challenging option for White, avoiding a piece exchange and activating the strong Bg2. The knight will later emerge via g2.} (15. Ne5 {is less ambitious and gives Black more play.} Nxe5 16. dxe5 Qxd1 17. Rfxd1 Bb3 18. Rd4 Rxe5 $11) 15... f5 (15... Rc8 $5 {may be better, but is a typical complicated engine line.} 16. Bxe4 Nxd4 17. Rxc8 Bxc8 18. Qxd4 Qxd4 19. Bxh7+ Kxh7 20. Nxd4 $11) 16. f3 {a forcing move which causes Black to go wrong.} Bd5 $2 {this will allow White to force a favorable structure in the center.} (16... exf3 17. Bxf3 {and White should have a comfortable game after e2-e3 and Ng2, but the engine rates it as equal.}) 17. fxe4 fxe4 (17... Bxe4 {would give White too much of a free hand in the center.}) 18. e3 {White's d-pawn is now protected and passed, while Black's isolated e-pawn requires defending.} g6 {Black needs to activate his dark-square bishop.} 19. Bh3 {an illuminating move. White seizes a better diagonal for his bishop, as the e4 pawn is doubly protected. This leaves the Bh3 superior to its Black counterpart.} Bh6 (19... Be6 $2 {attempting to exchange bishops does not work tactically.} 20. Bxe6+ Rxe6 21. Qb3 Qe7 22. d5 $18) 20. Ng2 {getting the knight back into the action, protecting e3 and looking to go to f4. At this point White is strategically winning, as his pieces are all better placed than Black's.} Re7 21. Nf4 {this is not as forcing as some other possibilities.} (21. Rf6 $1 {is the engine move, which of course is not at all obvious. The point is that the rook threatens to go to d6, while White can also play Qg4 and Rcf1, mobilizing his heavy pieces to dominate.} Nb4 22. Qg4 $16) (21. Qg4 $5 {with the idea of Qh4 also looks very good.}) 21... Nb4 {protecting the Bd5 again.} 22. Qg4 Nd3 $4 {Black makes a bid for counterplay which fails to a tactic.} (22... Bxf4 {Black likely hesitated to give up the two bishops, even though it was best for defense.} 23. gxf4 $14) 23. Nxd5 Nxc1 (23... Qxd5 24. Rc8+ Rxc8 25. Qxc8+ Kg7 26. Qf8# { White's control of the f-file pays off.}) 24. Qh4 $1 {with a double attack on e7 and h6.} (24. Nxe7+ Qxe7 25. Nc3 {trapping the knight also should win.}) 24... Qxd5 (24... Bf8 {after the exchanges Black just ends up a piece down.} 25. Nxe7+ Qxe7 26. Qxe7 Bxe7 (26... Ne2+ 27. Kf2) 27. Rxc1) (24... Bxe3+ 25. Nxe3 Ne2+ 26. Kg2 $18) 25. Qxe7 Bxe3+ 26. Kh1 {White now threatens Be6+ with mate to follow.} 1-0

01 November 2020

Video completed: "Why You Should Never Underestimate Your Opponent" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"Why You Should Never Underestimate Your Opponent" is the ninth video in the Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. Keeping full awareness of all of my opponent's resources has been a struggle, so this topic is particularly important for me. It also reinforces the idea of focusing your play on the situation on the board, not making assumptions based on your opponent's rating.

The first example game is FM Anastasia Avramidou - GM Valentina Gunina, from the 2018 Olympiad. White was outrated by around 200 Elo. Black plays a careless move in the opening, with the apparent intent of avoiding a simplifying line, and White in response find a tactical sequence that picks up an unprotected rook. 

The second one is GM Sergey Fedorchuk - GM Andreas Kelires. At the time, Kelires was not yet a GM and White had around a 600 Elo advantage. The opening is a Najdorf Sicilian and follows an aggressive line with opposite-side castling. White trusts his attack too much and ignores how Black can turn the tables, defending his king position while making multiple threats.

The last example is GM Fabiano Caruana - GM Zviad Azoria, from the 2018 U.S. Championship. White had around a 200 Elo advantage and it was a good year for Caruana, so perhaps he felt he could/should win. In this particular case, however, a very equal R+N+pawns endgame was reached. Caruana passes up a chance to wrap up the draw and tries for an unbalanced pawn race position. Instead, he ends up a pawn down in a lost knight ending after the rooks and other pawns are exchanged.

The common thread in all of these is the negative consequence of relaxing your guard and not worrying about what your opponent can do. This is never good practice, even if your rating is higher than your opponent's.

21 October 2020

Video completed: "Why You Should Always Muddy the Waters When Losing" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"Why You Should Always Muddy the Waters When Losing" is the eighth video in the Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. This is an excellent practical idea, both for while you are at the chessboard and to keep in mind during post-game analysis of your own games. You do not in fact get any points for losing more correctly, as the engine analysis scores of your games might imply. So to give yourself a chance to turn the game around - which means giving your opponent more chances to blunder - you may need to take more risks, in order to make your opponent's path to victory less clear. Specifically, this involves trying to generate the possibility of some counterplay, in order to complicate the situation. (This idea is also closely allied to the art of swindling.)

The first example is from a classic game, Amos Burn - Frank Marshall. Marshall, in trouble, gave up a rook on a8 (which wasn't doing anything anyway) in order to open up the center and further expose White's king. Black is lost in the long term, in terms of counting material, but moves in the short term from defender to attacker and effectively takes the White queen out of the game. Abrahamyan points out that for psychological reasons, these kinds of inflection points in games can sometimes trigger immediate blunders, since your opponent will have trouble adapting to the new situation and mentally switching gears.

The second example is GM Nana Dzagnidze - GM Marie Sebag, from the 2019 Cairns Cup. Here Black's position is "miserable", with one bishop completely out of the game in the corner and the other not doing much, with White about to penetrate on the queenside threatening to win a pawn. Instead of opting for static defense and continued positional torture, Black sacrifices a knight for two center pawns, immediately giving her excellent control of central space and activating her two bishops. Again, White goes from attacker to defender and has to completely rethink things. In the actual game, White eventually won, but as Abrahamyan puts it, Black was at least alive for much longer and was playing for three results rather than just two (loss or draw, with no counterchances).

The last example is IM Davaademberel Nomin-Erdene - GM Irina Krush (the video graphic intro reverses the order, although the audio makes it clear Krush has the Black pieces), from the 2018 Olympiad. Black is up a pawn, but similar to the previous example she has a bishop locked away at a8 and White is bearing down on the queenside, this time with two advanced connected passed pawns. Black (according to post-game discussions) felt she had messed up the game and just making natural moves would lose. Black pitched a pawn to try and gain activity, which gave White the opportunity to capture it with the wrong piece. Because of this, Black was able to sacrifice a second pawn, opening up her bishop on the long diagonal and getting her queen into a kingside attack, after which White blundered under pressure.

16 October 2020

Training quote of the day #33: Axel Smith

The best way to practise endgames is to decline draw offers, play long games and analyse the endgames afterwards...There are between a dozen and a hundred endgames that are, depending on your level of ambition, useful to know by heart...As I see it, it's enough to carefully study those endgames once and later review them just once a year or something like that.

From Pump Up Your Rating by IM Axel Smith 

14 October 2020

Video completed: "Why You Should Always Pause during Your Calculation" by Tatev Abrahamyan

"Why You Should Always Pause to Calculate in Chess" is the seventh video in the Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. (An alternate title, a little more reflective of the actual content, is given in the series list, "Why You Should Always Pause during Your Calculation"). The main point she introduces is that you should not make assumptions about your opponent's responses while calculating a line - for example, by assuming that "automatic" recaptures will happen. To minimize blunders and maximize your own opportunities, instead take pauses to mentally visualize these positions and check for more options.

The first example game is GM Alejandro Ramirez - IM John Bartholomew. In the actual game, Black (who lost) played an "automatic" recapture of a minor piece, thereby missing the opportunity to play an in-between move that would have protected his en prise b-pawn, while still keeping White's bishop trapped and defenseless.

The second game is GM Hikaru Nakamura - GM Ding Liren, from the Ivory Coast Grand Chess Tour 2019. Ding quickly played a forcing line involving piece exchanges in the center and an attack on White's queen, but missed a back-rank tactic where Nakamura could leave his queen en prise and recover a pawn, ending up with a winning position.

The third example is a 2019 game featuring GM Evgeny Shtembuliak and Abrahamyan herself. White has what looks like an overwhelming attack in exchange for having sacrificed two pawns. Black looked at a couple of tactical defensive tries, calculated that they did not work, then lost quickly. Post-game analysis showed that she could have combined the tactical ideas with a brilliant intermediate move - admittedly, a difficult-to-find queen sacrifice - that would have resulted in a drawish rook endgame.

This video at 7 minutes is shorter than most in the series, but I think it is the right length to highlight the concept and help make it stick as part of a player's thinking process. Previously I've highlighted the problems involved in always playing "automatic" or "obvious" moves without examining other possibilities, especially the role of powerful in-between moves that are not necessarily obvious.

12 October 2020

Annotated Game #254: Experimenting is never a complete failure

This last-round tournament game was my first experiment with 1. d4, with the intention of playing the Stonewall Attack. Not entirely unexpectedly, I never actually got to that particular opening, but into a sideline more like a Colle System. The positive aspect of the experiment was getting a nice opening advantage by around move 9. The negative aspect was not understanding what to do after that in this type of position and losing a miniature. 

I recall reading an account of GM Viktor Korchnoi being asked by someone, who was experiencing some trepidation, when would be the right time to play a new opening for the first time in a tournament. That person was afraid they would not be sufficiently prepared and would lose. Korchnoi's reply was along the lines of "You play it, you lose, so what? Just go out there and play it!" He himself had a wide repertoire and played a number of different openings, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. His point was that there is never a perfect time to start playing something new, so you might as well go do it and start learning from experience. Remembering that, I didn't feel so bad.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "36"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "5"] {[%mdl 8192] D00:1 d4 d5: Unusual lines} 1. d4 d5 2. e3 {the recommended move order for the Stonewall Attack} c5 3. c3 (3. dxc5 $5 {should be strongly considered here, as Black is effectively playing a Queen's Gambit a tempo down. White actually scores poorly overall in the database, but the higher-rated players have a big plus score with it.}) 3... Nc6 4. Bd3 {looking for a Stonewall continuation. This has the advantage of controlling f5, so Black cannot develop the bishop to the b1-h7 diagonal.} c4 {this wins a tempo on the bishop and gains space. However, structurally it benefits White to close the center by better enabling kingside play, and leaves the bishop on its preferred diagonal.} 5. Bc2 b5 {yet another pawn move in the opening. White should be able to take advantage of this.} (5... e5 $5 {is the engine recommendation.} 6. b3 cxb3 7. axb3 $11) 6. Nf3 {we now have a Colle System structure, where the main idea is to play an e3-e4 break. It could have been done immediately as well.} g6 {this does not seem like the best place for the bishop.} 7. O-O {a bit too cautious.} (7. e4 {played now would take advantage of Black's lack of development, specifically White's better control of the e4 square.} Bg7 8. O-O $14) 7... Bg7 (7... Nf6 $5) 8. e4 {well-played now, as Black has passed up her chance to control e4.} dxe4 $2 {if one goes by the principle of just counting tempi, then this move makes sense, as it forces the bishop to move for a third time. However it greatly improves the position of the piece at the same time and is yet another pawn move by Black.} (8... Nf6 $14) 9. Bxe4 $16 Bb7 {here is where I had a good think, but did not follow up most effectively. The fact that the Bb7 is undefended can be exploited by immediate action in the center, as the Nc6 is effectively pinned.} 10. Bf4 { while this is a normal developing move and not bad in itself, it misses the opportunity for more forcing play.} (10. Ne5 {Black in fact cannot just exchange the piece to solve her problems. I did not fully investigate the possibility, dismissing it too early. The key line is somewhat complex, however.} Nxe5 11. Bxb7 Rb8 12. dxe5 Qxd1 13. Bc6+ $1 (13. Rxd1 {is also good}) 13... Qd7 14. Bxd7+ Kxd7 $16) 10... Nf6 {White may still have a slight pull here, but Black has repaired her position.} 11. Bxc6+ {a little too quick to exchange.} (11. Nbd2 $5 {would at least develop another piece while waiting to see what Black does next.}) 11... Bxc6 $11 {Black now has the pair of bishops and the position is very balanced.} 12. Ne5 Bb7 {again a long think here and an incorrect plan.} 13. b3 $6 {this is awkward and not forcing enough. The pawn advance leaves the c-pawn significantly weakened.} (13. a4 {is the way to target the pawn chain, at its base, without creating more weaknesses.}) 13... Qd5 {I saw this only after the fact. It was more of a psychological blow than a real attempt at advantage, but the surprise combination of threatening mate on g2 and asserting control over the queenside squares was nonetheless disheartening, especially considering the advantage I had in the opening.} 14. f3 $11 {the correct response, blocking the long diagonal. Opening the a7-g1 diagonal is not an issue here, since Black has no way to take advantage of it. However, it leaves the e3 square, which should have been recognized earlier.} cxb3 (14... O-O $11) 15. Qxb3 $6 {this results in an unfavorable hanging pawns structure for White. Black controls the c4 square and the White pieces are not well placed to support the c/d pawn pair.} (15. axb3 {should be investigated more closely, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} Nh5 16. Be3 $11) 15... O-O $15 {Black completes her development, leaving her with no problems and good play in the center and queenside. Meanwhile, I start falling behind in my own development, with disastrous consequences.} 16. Nd3 $6 {this unnecessarily retreats the knight and loses time. Ironically, part of my consideration for this move was to protect the Bf4, but in fact it jeopardizes the piece.} (16. Re1 $11 {is one alternative, activating the rook on the half-open file.}) (16. Na3 {looks awkward but at least would get the knight out. Putting it on d2 would actually be more awkward in reality, as it would have no good other squares to go to.}) 16... Qf5 $17 {another queen move that I missed, attacking the Nd3 and Bf4. This forces me to protect the Nd3.} 17. Qd1 $2 (17. Rd1 $17) ( 17. Nc5 $2 Bd5 $19) 17... Nd5 $19 {my opponent ably finds the killer move in response. I cannot adequately protect both the Bf4 and the e3 forking square.} 18. Bd2 $4 {covers the bishop and the e3 square, but forgets about the now-hanging knight.} (18. Be5 Ne3 $19) 18... Qxd3 0-1

09 October 2020

Using tactics training to strengthen your thought process

Chess tactics training and practice is necessary at all levels; even master-level players will often do problem sets as a warm-up before tournaments. When a player is in the process of gaining strength during their chess studies, the main purpose of learning tactics is to progressively unlock different possibilities on the chessboard. This includes:

  • Recognizing common and uncommon mating patterns
  • Fundamental tactical ideas, such as double attacks/forks, pins, bank rank vulnerabilities, and common sacrificial themes
  • Employing more advanced concepts, such as deflections, clearance sacrifices, the power of intermediate moves in a sequence, and forcing your opponent into zugzwang
Tactics training therefore feeds the pattern recognition process, which is a largely unconscious cognitive function, along with the mostly conscious and effortful process of calculation. (Temposchlucker's posts on "System 1" and "System 2" provide a number of illustrations.) Because of the complexity of chess, in most games we cannot simply remember what to do in a particular position. We can nonetheless recognize similar elements leading to tactical opportunities: poor king safety, hanging pieces, controlled files and diagonals, etc. The more we understand how these elements interact, the more detailed our "automatic" pattern recognition becomes and the easier it is to find specific tactics over the board.

The tactics training process is a necessary but not sufficient condition for gaining additional chess strength, however, past a certain point. Fundamentally, this is because the majority of positions we encounter in a game cannot be "solved" in the sense of there being a forced line leading to mate or material advantage. In many cases there is also no consensus even among professionals on the "best" positional move, as handily illustrated by the "Beat the Masters" series at The Abysmal Depths of Chess blog. This means we have to employ a more general thinking process when actually playing, as opposed to when doing dedicated tactics drills.

From longtime observation of the chess improvement community, it seems that bridging the gap between tactical problem solving and general chess thinking is one of the main hurdles in sustained chess improvement. This is especially the case in adult improvers, who tend to learn by applying systemic thought processes, rather than by intuitive mimicking of whatever works in a particular situation. This parallels how adults learn languages and other complex skills versus how children do it.

The problem is that chess contains both tactical and non-tactical positions, which have different "solutions" and therefore require different mental approaches. Or do they? Naturally it would be best to have a general thought process which takes into account all types of situations. The simplified thought process I generated and its companion, what to think about on your opponent's time, have held up pretty well for me - when I have the energy and focus to appropriately apply the principles. (Energy management in chess is another subject that is worth addressing in more depth.) One of the early positive results of having a more explicit thought process, I found, was to measurably boost my tactics puzzle ratings. This was a positive sign that I was on the right track.

Lately I have more consciously applied general thought process principles to tactics puzzles, most of which are drawn from real games, finding that it has helped both the tactics results and to reinforce the positive evolution of the thought process itself. Specifically, one of the main weaknesses I have identified in my play is an inconsistent recognition of my opponent's resources and threats. This is a common phenomenon among chessplayers, who naturally focus on their own possibilities, and is currently one of the top things holding me back in the middlegame. (Materialism is now less of an issue.)

Beginning each tactics puzzle with the question "What are my opponent's threats?" and identifying all of them has been a simple but helpful change in this regard. "What does my opponent want to do with their last move?" is a related question, also helpful in identifying their strategic plans. In the context of tactics training, you are not likely to be looking for strategically good or prophylactic moves - unfortunately, since that is a major element of gaining chess strength - but identifying threats to your position is always necessary. (Calculating your mate in three is not helpful if your opponent threatens a mate in two, in other words.)

Building the habit of looking at the opponent's moves first as part of tactics training may seem like a simple enough concept, but I expect it will have more profound effects on my general thought process as well. As with all good habits, with repetition comes improvement and greater automaticity, requiring less energy to consciously manage the thought process.

01 October 2020

Annotated Game #253: Time for a win

In this third-round tournament game, I finally get a win out of playing a move-order trick in the Classical Caro-Kann. This is not an opening trap, since the resulting positions are equal, but it is designed to take White out of known territory and get an equal game for Black without much effort. This does not necessarily make it easy to play, however, and some knowledge and experience is helpful; see Annotated Game #244 for a previous game in this line against Expert-level opposition.

In contrast with the previous game, I do well in developing and avoiding unhelpful piece exchanges. While there were a number of places where I could have improved play - move 14 is the most instructive example, for positional reasons - I did not blunder and was able to pursue logical middlegame plans that suited the position. Overall, the game is a classic example of how building up pressure on an opponent significantly increases the chances of them eventually cracking, which is what happens here.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "5"] {[%mdl 8192] B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 {this allows the following move-order trick, as Black foregoes the standard ...Nd7, which is what most White players expect.} Nf6 7. h4 Nh5 {blocking the h-pawn from further advancing and threatening to exchange on g3, which would mess up White's pawn structure.} 8. Nxh5 Bxh5 9. c3 {the pawn move reinforces d4 and opens the d1-a4 diagonal for the queen.} (9. Be2 {is what my Expert-level opponent played previously, going for normal development.}) 9... e6 {opening the way for developing the bishop. Since this and ...Nd7 are both going to be played to develop Black's pieces, move-order does not seem critical.} (9... Nd7 {instead was played in this top-level game.} 10. Be2 e6 11. Bf4 Be7 12. Ng5 Bxe2 13. Qxe2 h6 14. Nf3 Qa5 15. a3 Qf5 16. g3 Nf6 17. O-O-O Qe4 18. Rde1 Qxe2 19. Rxe2 h5 20. Bg5 Ng4 21. Bxe7 {1/2-1/2 (21) Grischuk,A (2775)-Anand,V (2767) Stavanger 2019}) (9... Qc7 {is another option here.}) 10. Be2 Be7 {immediately pressuring the h4 pawn.} 11. g3 {deciding to not worry about protecting the h-pawn, but of course at the cost of weakening the kingside light squars.} O-O 12. Bf4 Nd7 13. Qc2 Bg6 { I did not think the bishop had a great future on the h5-d1 diagonal, so retreated it with tempo, also in part to see where White would commit his queen.} 14. Qd2 {this is a slight waste of time, as the queen could have gone to d2 on the previous move.} (14. Qb3 $5) 14... Nf6 $6 {not a major error, but the knight is actually less helpful on f6 than on d7, where it guards e5 and would support a ...c5 break.} (14... Bf5 {I considered, since it would restrain a g3-g4 advance and not make the bishop a target of an h4-h5 advance.} ) (14... h6 $5 {would be a good restraining move, covering g5, while also giving the bishop a square on h7.}) 15. Ne5 $14 {my opponent correctly occupies the central outpost.} c5 {a thematic pawn break.} 16. Nxg6 hxg6 { White now has the pair of bishops.} 17. Be5 (17. dxc5 $5 Bxc5 18. Qxd8 Raxd8 $14 {and White would consolidate a small positional plus, namely the two bishops and a 3-2 queenside pawn majority.}) 17... Qd5 {in the Classical Caro-Kann, the queen sometimes is able to (or needs to) go to d5, in order to keep Black active and make threats. The queen's strength is enhanced by White's weak light squares, which likely made my opponent unwilling to castle.} (17... cxd4 {Komodo favors exchanging in the center first, to take away White's ability to exchange on c5.} 18. Bxd4 Qd5 19. O-O $11) 18. Rg1 (18. O-O $5 $14 {looks like a viable alternative.}) 18... Rfd8 $15 {this strongly activates the rook on the d-file. White now has to be careful of tactics.} 19. Qe3 {removing the queen as a d-file target and overprotecting the Be5.} cxd4 ( 19... Nd7 $5 {is another possibility, keeping the central tension.}) 20. Bxd4 Qa5 {protecting the a-pawn and also restraining White from queenside castling. It is now difficult for White to come up with a useful plan.} 21. Bf3 {White threatens to win material: Bf3xb7} Rd7 $11 {this shows a lack of creativity, as the b-pawn is tactically protected.} (21... Nd7 $5 {is an interesting move, since it now threatens ...e5, controls c5, and clears f6 for the bishop. Snatching the b-pawn is not good for White, for example} 22. Bxb7 Rab8 23. b4 ( 23. Bf3 e5 24. Bxa7 Rxb2 $19 {and Black has multiple threats that cannot be met, for example ...Nc5 followed Rdd2, or simply capturing the a-pawn if the Ra1 moves. The main problem for White is that the bishop on a7 has no squares left and cannot be further protected.}) 23... Bxb4 $1 $19) 22. a3 {freeing the Ra1 to move, while further weakening the light squares.} Rad8 {creating tactical possibilities in the center. The pin on the c3 pawn is now a factor.} (22... Nd5 23. Qe4 Rad8 $15) 23. Rd1 $2 {again, my opponent avoids castling into a weakened light square complex. However, keeping the king in the center is worse.} (23. O-O-O Bxa3 {is something my opponent may have wanted to avoid. The engine shows it as equal, but Black is going to have all the fun, as White has to find difficult moves. For example, the straightforward} 24. bxa3 Qxa3+ 25. Kc2 Qa2+ 26. Kc1 {runs into} Rxd4 27. Rxd4 Rxd4 28. Qxd4 Qa1+ 29. Kd2 Qxg1 30. Qxa7 b5 $17 {and White's less secure king gives Black an edge.}) 23... Qa4 {perhaps not the strongest move, but it increases the pressure on White, specifically on the d1 square, and poses my opponent additional problems.} ( 23... Nd5 $5) 24. Rc1 (24. Kf1 Bc5 $11) 24... Qb5 {a simple threat to the b-pawn, but giving up the potential tactical control of d1.} (24... Qb3 { is a better version of the idea. For whatever reason, I was concerned about the queen being trapped.}) 25. Rb1 $2 {this loses and is a blunder. However, it is also an illustration of how keeping strong pressure on an opponent, even if not making the "best" moves, makes their defensive task difficult and often leads to them cracking.} (25. Qe2 Qf5 $15) 25... Bxa3 {there are more complicated ways to take advantage of White's last move, but I chose the simplest path.} (25... e5 $5 {would create a number of threats, but is not that easy to see, or at least was not for me at that point in the game.} 26. Qxe5 (26. Bxa7 Rd3 $1) 26... Qd3 $1 {is the key}) 26. Bxa7 $2 (26. Be2 Qf5 27. Qd3 $19 (27. Bd3 Qa5 $19)) 26... Bxb2 $19 {here the simplest way is the best, as ...Bxc3+ is threatened and White's king lacks squares to run to, forcing the response.} 27. Rxb2 Qxb2 28. Bd4 Qb1+ 29. Bd1 Ng4 {the idea of bringing the knight into the attack is correct, although Komodo prefers to send it to e4.} 30. Qg5 (30. Qe2 {I saw failed to} e5 $1 {and the bishop can no longer block the rooks on the d-file.} 31. Qxg4 exd4 32. c4 d3 {is what I looked at, which is completely winning.}) 30... e5 (30... Rxd4 {is perhaps less complicated, but I saw the text move would win, with the same idea as in the above variation.} 31. cxd4 Rxd4 32. Qxg4 Rxg4 $19) 31. Qxg4 exd4 32. c4 Qb4+ { picking up the c-pawn is unnecessary, but I saw the simple winning strategy of just running the b-pawn up the board, which is unstoppable.} 33. Kf1 Qxc4+ 34. Kg2 b5 (34... b5 35. h5 gxh5 36. Qxh5 Qd5+ 37. Qxd5 Rxd5 $19) 0-1

28 September 2020

Video completed - Studies in: The Dutch Defense


I recently completed another ChessLecture.com DVD, Studies in the Dutch Defense. Content list:

As with other products from ChessLecture.com, the presentation technology is rather old and non-interactive, so it amounts to watching a collection of online lectures with just a low-res chessboard visible. The "PGN included" mentioned on the cover is just the unannotated game scores, except for the Kramnik-Nakamura game which has notes included; there is no PGN for IM Vigorito's "Secret Weapon" lecture.

The collection is complementary to the other Dutch Defense ones I have (Studies in the Stonewall), as all the games and lines featured here are from the Leningrad Dutch or early sidelines not related to the Stonewall. The primary point of view in all cases is White's; White is at the bottom of the demonstration board and the lectures showcase White wins or opening plans. Some of the introductory remarks also appear to be aimed at novice players who either have not heard of the Dutch or think it is not playable. That said, Black's ideas and resources are also covered well, making it worthwhile for Dutch Defense players from both sides.

Below are some comments on each lecture.

Lecture 1: Irina's Deep Strategy in the Dutch by NM Dana Mackenzie

  • Presenter says it is from Berkeley International 2008; PGN says it is an Internet Chess Club (ICC) game. 
  • Features then-IM Irina Krush vs Marc Esserman (who earned an IM norm at the tournament)
  • NM Mackenzie asked Krush which was her favorite game from the tournament, this was it
  • Shows strength of White's non-fianchetto setup (Nc3 then h2-h4-h5) and pawn sacrifice against an early commitment by Black to the Leningrad Dutch fianchetto with g6
  • Brings up some advanced middlegame concepts like positionally-related tactical sequences, looking for forcing moves (not just good ones) when pressing an advantage, and strategic piece exchanges leading to a force imbalance on the kingside and a winning attack
Lecture 2: Kramnik Faces Nakamura's Dutch by GM Jesse Kraai
  • From Wijk Aan Zee 2010 tournament
  • Bit of a weird statement to begin: "I don't believe Kramnik has faced the Dutch much in his career - it has a rather dubious reputation - but I believe it's quite playable" - among other things, Kramnik has published instructional materials on the Dutch with IM Mark Dvoretsky and knows it quite well from both sides
  • Main line Leningrad variation with 7...c6
  • Does a good job of explaining the various ideas in the positions for both sides. This includes tactical themes, strategic plans and positional keys such as fighting for particular squares.
  • Excellent example of the dynamic imbalances inherent for both sides in the Leningrad and having to play according to the needs of the position.
Lecture 3: My Miniature in the Dutch by GM Eugene Perelshteyn
  • From Perelshteyn - Onischuk, World Open 2010
  • Dutch Defense termed "very risky" and "not normally used at GM level" during the intro; of course Perelshteyn does his own "Stomping White with the Stonewall Defense" video
  • White goes into a sideline (d4/c4/Nc3/Bg5), responding to a Black move-order that avoids the early h2-h4-h5 issue from Lecture 1
  • Good explanation of early move ideas and positional/strategic factors, including focus on e6 target square and Nh3-f4 maneuver, as well as potential early middlegame plans for both sides
  • Black played overly aggressively, allowing White to open the h-file; he also lost some time in the process, being behind in development with his king in the center
  • White gets a dominating pawn-up endgame; there is a good explanation of the winning strategy and accompanying tactical possibilities
  • End of presentation is free-form analysis, without prior preparation
Lecture 4: A Cut-Throat Knight by GM Eugene Perelshteyn
  • Perelshteyn - Barron, Canadian Open 2009
  • Same sideline as #3
  • Features a bishop for knight exchange on f6, doubling Black's pawns, with positional plans for White explained; really is an inferior line for Black
  • Central idea of establishing a knight outpost on e6
  • Instructive on converting a strategic space advantage
Lecture 5: A Secret Weapon Against the Leningrad Dutch by IM David Vigorito
  • Homecooked opening analysis from 2005, featuring IM Vigorito's personal system against the Leningrad Dutch
  • Features e3 and Be2 development instead of usual g3 fianchetto
  • Illustrates similarities with a (reversed) French - King's Indian Attack position, with plan of queenside pawn storm
  • Points out flaws of standard Leningrad main line responses (7...c6, 7...Nc6 and 7...Qe8) for Black
  • 7...c5 appears to be Black's best try; White however can play an earlier b2-b4 instead of castling
  • IM Vigorito has a "tremendous" score with it OTB, largely because opponents continue with their favorite main line ideas; this is an excellent practical point about strategically selecting your opening lines
Lecture 6: Demolishing the Dutch by IM John-Paul Wallace
  • Follows game IM Richard Pert - Anonymous; not really clear why anonymous, since the game is public record (presenter said he didn't remember the name of the Black opponent); lecture was recorded day after the game
  • Extended intro about the game circumstances, which occurred in London team play; presenter was teammate of Richard Pert
  • Anti-Dutch line with 2. Bg5 played; Wallace goes over various approaches by both sides to it
  • Repeated extended stream-of-consciousness analysis, sometimes unclear, shows lack of preparation for the lecture; presenter also kept confusing Richard and his brother Nick Pert
  • In the game, Black played 2...c5; the sharp variation (poison pawn type rook sacrifice) for White was played OTB, not from pre-game preparation
  • Black amusingly only moved pawns, king and queen

17 September 2020

Annotated Game #252: Learning through gambits

Continuing with the theme of learning by doing, this second-round tournament game is an excellent example of a positional opening gambit. Komodo concurs that I (as White) have full compensation and more for the pawn given up on move 6, at least until around move 19. I consciously knew this would be something of an experiment, choosing not to avoid the challenge even though I had little experience with the resulting position. It is a characteristic of master-strength players to be able to deal with these types of positions, where there is no direct attack, but significant positional compensation for sacrificed material.

The problem, of course, is that in the long run it is easier to play the side with the extra material, since the burden of proof lies with the player who must demonstrate the compensation. Looking at the strategic alternatives on moves 17-19 is instructive in this regard, since there are significant improvements in terms of activating pieces and maintaining the pressure and space advantage. I must also give credit to my opponent, who was very close in rating, for repairing her weaknesses on the queenside and then moving to take the initiative using the pawn majority.

The complexity of the game caused us both to run low on time, which contributed to me blundering (rather than sacrificing) another pawn, but then made my opponent nervous as my rook took up position on her side of the board. She had less time than I did and took the practical exit of allowing a repetition of moves, so I ultimately escaped with a draw. A very interesting game, nonetheless, from an improvement point of view.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "72"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "5"] {A11: English Opening: 1...c6} 1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. O-O {this continuation - the most popular in the database - is an indication that White is more focused on development than on regaining the pawn.} Nbd7 6. b3 { I thought for a considerable amount of time here, having expected my opponent to play ...b5 instead, to protect the c-pawn. This would leave c6 weak, however, and not contribute much to development.} (6. Qc2 $5) 6... cxb3 $11 7. Qxb3 {now White has a pure gambit. I wasn't fully comfortable with this, but felt I should have reasonable compensation. Komodo agrees.} (7. axb3 {is the alternate way to play this and appears to be no better or worse. The strategic ideas will be different, however, and I felt more comfortable with the positions resulting from Qb3.} e6 8. d4 Be7 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Ba3 Nd5 11. Bxe7 Qxe7 12. Ne4 N7f6 13. Nc5 b6 14. Nd3 Bb7 15. Nfe5 Nd7 16. e4 Nxe5 17. Nxe5 Nf6 18. Qc1 c5 19. dxc5 Qxc5 20. Qxc5 bxc5 21. f3 Rfc8 22. Rfc1 Kf8 23. Ra5 Ke7 24. Raxc5 Rxc5 25. Rxc5 Kd6 26. b4 Rc8 27. Nxf7+ Ke7 28. Rxc8 Bxc8 29. Ne5 Kd6 30. Nc4+ Kc6 31. Bf1 Nd7 32. Na5+ Kb6 33. Kf2 Ba6 34. Bh3 Nf8 35. Ke3 Kb5 36. Kd4 Kxb4 37. Nc6+ Kb5 38. Nd8 Bc8 39. Ke5 a5 40. Kd6 a4 41. Kc7 a3 42. Nc6 a2 43. Nd4+ Kc4 44. Nc2 Kc3 45. Na1 Kb2 46. Kxc8 Kxa1 47. Kd8 Kb2 48. Ke7 a1=Q 49. Kxf8 Qh1 50. Bxe6 Qxh2 51. g4 Qf4+ 52. Bf5 Qxf3 53. Kxg7 {1-0 (53) Martinez Reyes,P (2416)-Srdanovic,J (2070) chess.com INT 2020}) 7... e6 {blunting the pressure on f7, at the cost of blocking in the Bc8.} 8. d4 {seizing the space on offer in the center.} Bd6 $6 {this turns out to be a time-waster, as the bishop can get kicked off d6, so it is better developed to e7.} 9. Nbd2 { I thought for a while here on the best development scheme. The text move gets the knight out, covers e4 and eyes the c4 square, while not blocking the long diagonal.} (9. Ba3 {I rejected the bishop development at this stage, because of being a pawn dawn and not wanting to trade pieces. However, I missed the idea of recapturing with the knight, and trade anyway later.} Bxa3 10. Nxa3 $14 {with the idea of Rc1, Rfd1 and Nc4 if possible.}) 9... Nb6 {this guards c4, but loses some more time in the opening by moving the piece again.} (9... O-O 10. Nc4 Be7 11. a4 $11) 10. e4 $14 {a good follow-up, seizing space in the center and threatening the pawn fork on e5, which makes Black lose additional time in avoiding it.} Be7 11. a4 {now that the d5 square is covered, this threatens a4-a5 driving the knight backwards; it also restrains Black's b-pawn. } a5 12. Ba3 {the exchange here makes sense, trading White's bishop in one move for Black's which has made several, although the capture is not forced.} Bxa3 13. Qxa3 Qe7 {Black would be happy with the exchange of queens, reducing White's compensation for the gambited pawn in terms of space and piece activity.} 14. Qb2 {it was not clear to me what the best square for the queen was. On b2, it influences the b-file and is on the long diagonal.} (14. Qe3 $5 {is perhaps better, supporting the center and leaving the job of putting pressure on the queenside files to the rooks.} O-O 15. Rfb1 $14) 14... Nbd7 15. Rfe1 {activating the rook to support the center, overprotecting the e-pawn.} O-O 16. Nc4 {long thought here. In the end, I decided it was a good place for the knight, regardless of anything else. The engine agrees.} Qd8 {this controls b6, but the backwards queen move lessens Black's influence on the center.} 17. Rab1 {another long thought here. I didn't think this was a particularly effective move, although it increases pressure along the b-file, but I was unable to come up with anything more concrete as a plan.} (17. Nfd2 $16 {is Komodo's preference. This does multiple things, such as overprotecting e4 again, clearing the f-file for a potential pawn advance, and giving the option to reposition the knight to b3 or c4}) 17... Rb8 (17... b5 $5 {would give back the pawn in exchange for dissipating the queenside tension.} 18. axb5 cxb5 19. Qxb5 $11) 18. Qd2 {getting the queen out of the sights of the Rb8, while pressuring a5 and establishing a presence on the d-file.} (18. Nd6 $5 { looks like the obvious choice, but I was concerned about} Ne8 {The engine evaluates the knight for bishop trade as not bad for White, however. The Bg2 will become a strong piece, unopposed on the light squares.} 19. Nxc8 Qxc8 $14) 18... b6 {taking control of b6 by occupying it, as well as protecting the a5 pawn. Now White needs a new plan, besides continuing to try to pressure the b-file, but I have trouble finding one.} 19. Rb2 {this is more a waiting move than anything, although not bad in itself. The problem is that the e-pawn is not sufficiently protected, so Reb1 is not possible as a follow-up.} (19. Nd6 Ne8 20. Nc4 {invites repetition with} Nef6) (19. e5 $5 {would mark a change in strategy, giving up the d5 square but gaining space and opening the long diagonal for the Bg2. White remains active and retains full compensation for the pawn.} Nd5 20. Nd6 Nb4 21. Ng5 h6 22. Nge4 $11) 19... Ba6 $11 {a good freeing move from Black, getting the bishop developed to a useful diagonal and connecting the heavy pieces on the back rank. I didn't consider this move, which is always a bad sign.} 20. Nce5 $6 {again, played without much of a plan. Things start to go downhill from here.} (20. Nd6) 20... Rc8 $15 {now Black can start thinking about mobilizing her queenside pawn majority, well supported by her pieces.} 21. h4 $6 {lashing out rather crudely on the kingside. I could see the queenside pawn roller coming.} (21. Bh3 $5 {would at least partially activate the bishop, which otherwise is doing nothing.}) 21... c5 22. Nxd7 Nxd7 23. Reb1 $2 {this was the point of the decision to trade knights on d7, in my thinking at the time, so I could swing the rook over. However, Black now clarifies the center and my space advantage and other compensation are gone, leaving Black both materially and positionally better.} (23. dxc5 $5 {should be considered} Rxc5 24. Qd6 $15 {with at least some annoying pressure.}) 23... cxd4 $17 24. Qxd4 Qc7 25. e5 {played primarily to open the long diagonal, although the pawn is better on e5 as well.} Rfd8 (25... Bb7 {would immediately contest the long diagonal.}) 26. Qf4 Qc4 $6 {here Komodo is patient and assesses that improving a position of one of White's pieces would be better, letting Black do the exchanging.} (26... Bd3 27. Ra1 Nc5 28. Nd4 $19) 27. Qxc4 $6 {I exchanged here, believing that Black's queen was better than mine and that the backwards b-pawn gave me good chances of drawing. The problem is that Black's rooks are very active.} (27. Rd2 $5 {should not be overlooked} Qxf4 28. gxf4 $15 {the pawn structure looks strange, but reinforcing the e5 strong point is worth the doubled pawns.}) 27... Bxc4 $17 28. Nd2 $2 {this is just a calculation blunder. The idea was to get rid of the b-pawn in exchange for the e-pawn, with a 4v3 kingside majority for Black harder to convert in the endgame.} Nxe5 $19 29. Nxc4 Nxc4 {I failed to mentally see how the knight would cover b6 when calculating move 28.} 30. Rc2 g6 {creating luft for the king.} 31. Rbc1 {a one-move threat...} Nd6 {simply solved.} 32. Rc6 Rxc6 33. Rxc6 Nc8 $6 {with a two-pawn advantage, my opponent plays it safe by defending. However, this passes up the opportunity to create a passed pawn.} (33... b5 34. axb5 Nxb5 35. Rc5 Rd1+ $19) 34. Rc7 $2 {completely overlooking the advantage of keeping the knight tied to the defense of b6.} (34. Bf1 $5) 34... Nd6 { now the knight is back to a good square.} 35. Rc6 {nothing better.} Nc8 { because of major time trouble (on both sides), my opponent decides to go for a repetition of moves.} 36. Rc7 Nd6 {and I escape with a draw.} 1/2-1/2

07 September 2020

Annotated Game #251: Repeated patterns and learning through analysis

This first-round game was played nearly a year after my previous tournament experience (Annotated Game #250), so I expected to have some mental rust and was not disappointed in that regard. It is a hard-fought game nonetheless, against a high Class A opponent, and provides a number of valuable lessons through analysis. One recently-highlighted pattern in my play is the failure to adequately contest open files, particularly the c-file as Black, which plays a central role in the strategic element of this loss; see also Annotated Game #242. It's this sort of revelation that makes analyzing your own games such a useful practice.

Other useful highlights:
  • A simpler way for Black to meet this sort of London System / Exchange Slav setup is given on move 5.
  • Neither side benefited from moving their f-pawns in the early middlegame. For me as Black, it was an erroneous strategic idea, as my play should have been focused on the queenside and center, given the structure. The classic "pawn-pointing" theory of determining which side of the board to play on works here, with my f7-e6-d5 pawn chain.
  • Stubborn defense has its rewards, as I fought hard in a strategically lost position and created the move 51 opportunity to reach a drawn position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "123"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "5"] {[%mdl 8192] D10: Slav Defence: 3 cxd5 (without early Nf3) and 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Bf4 {with the early bishop development, I felt that this had more of the flavor of a London System with a pawn exchange, rather than as a Slav Exchange variation.} Nc6 {this is played the most often, according to the database. It develops a piece and blocks the a4-e8 diagonal.} 5. Nc3 Bf5 {I spent a good amount of time on this and on the last move. The bishop development is fine to play, but because of it I worried a lot about potential Nb5-c7 vulnerabilities.} (5... Nf6 {followed by ...a6 seems like an easier approach and is popular at top levels.} 6. Nb5 $2 {is premature because of} Qa5+) 6. e3 e6 7. Rc1 {this is a less common move here, but a logical placement of the rook.} (7. Bb5 Nge7 8. Nf3 a6 9. Be2 Nc8 10. O-O Be7 11. Rc1 Nb6 12. Ne5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 O-O 14. Qb3 Rc8 15. Na4 Nxa4 16. Qxa4 Bf6 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. Qb4 Qd7 19. Qd2 Qa4 20. a3 Qb3 21. Qb4 Qxb4 {Ubilava,E (2560) -Komljenovic,D (2495) San Sebastian 1992 1/2-1/2}) (7. Qb3 Qd7 8. Nf3 f6 9. Be2 g5 10. Bg3 h5 11. h4 g4 12. Nd2 Kf7 13. O-O Bg6 14. Bb5 Kg7 15. a4 Nh6 16. Ne2 Nf5 17. a5 Nxg3 18. Nxg3 a6 19. Bd3 Bb4 20. Bxg6 Kxg6 21. Qd3+ f5 {Bulatova,K (2154)-Diakonova,E (2214) Loo 2019 1/2-1/2 (38)}) 7... Bd6 {there is no reason not to place the bishop here.} 8. Bxd6 Qxd6 $11 {the position is very equal, as White no longer has any immediate targets - the pin on the Nc6 is easily dealt with - and both sides need to develop further.} 9. Bb5 Nge7 10. f4 { indicates White will continue aggressively. This weakens the light squares on the kingside, but since Black's knight is on e7 instead of f6, this is not immediately exploitable.} O-O 11. Nf3 {with the pawn on f4, the knight will be better supported if it moves to e5 or g5.} a6 {taking control of b5} 12. Bxc6 Nxc6 {Black can now think about play on the queenside, with ideas of ...Nb4 or ...Na5-c4. The Bf5 would also be well-positioned to support this, which is why White decides to get rid of it.} 13. Nh4 Ne7 {in a change in plans, the knight is re-routed back to the kingside. The f5 square will be an excellent place for it.} 14. Nxf5 Nxf5 $15 {attacking e3, weakened due to the f-pawn advance.} 15. Qd2 Qe7 {the thinking behind this is to improve the position of the queen. It belongs on the dark squares and posted on e7 it has access to the useful d8-h4 diagonal, as well as helping control the 7th rank.} (15... h5 $5 { Komodo approves of the text move, but slightly favors this pawn push. The point is to secure the Nf5 from a g2-g4 pawn advance. While this violates the general rule of not moving a pawn in front of your king, these types of moves are common at master level.}) 16. O-O Nd6 {I unfortunately start "losing the thread" of the game here, by not coming up with a suitable plan. I thought the knight would be better placed on d6, which is true if not urgent. I was also thinking about the option of playing ...f5, which is not really beneficial to me. By moving the knight yet again, it also neglects rook development in the late opening/early middlegame, which is a typical Class player issue.} (16... Rfc8 {getting a presence on the c-file and the rook into play is strategically better.}) 17. b3 {a prophylactic move to control c4, denying the knight an outpost there.} f5 $6 {with ideas of a Rf6 rook lift that never materialize, so this is an ultimately weakening strategic error. I should be playing in the center and queenside, not trying to create something out of nothing on the kingside.} (17... Rfc8 {with the simple but effective plan of doubling rooks on the c-file makes sense.}) 18. Na4 $11 b5 {while not technically bad in itself, this move just makes it easier to play as White, driving the knight to its best square.} (18... Ne4 $5 {is a great square for the Black knight and it influences c5 as well.}) 19. Nc5 a5 {this at least is a correct idea, fighting for space on the queenside and being happy to open the a-file for my rook if White seeks an exchange.} 20. a4 b4 {Komodo rates both this and the pawn exchange equally. With White having a better-placed knight, I thought it was better to seal the queenside rather than open it up. It should also simplify planning.} 21. Rc2 Ne4 $6 {yet another move by this knight instead of mobilizing the a8 rook, which now has nothing to do. This ends up giving White too much control over the c-file, although it is not yet decisive. It also creates an additional pawn island for Black.} (21... Rac8 $5 $11) 22. Nxe4 $14 fxe4 {we now have a Dutch structure with queen and rooks. From playing the Dutch, however, I should have better known that when there is an open c-file, this favors White.} 23. Rfc1 $6 (23. Qe2 Rac8 24. Rfc1 $14) 23... Ra7 $6 { the start of a flawed defensive plan. Ironically, having pursued a Dutch-type strategy, the best continuation would be to play the thematic Dutch ...g5 break.} (23... g5 $5 $11 {would allow for counterplay on the kingside. Now instead White has the initiative.}) 24. Rc6 {my opponent does a good job of identifying the most vulnerable target in my camp. The problem is that there is no easy way to defend the e-pawn in the long term.} Rd8 $6 {I took a long time here to try to find a good defense. Time trouble starts to make an impact now.} (24... g5 {is probably still best, although now of course the e-pawn falls.}) 25. Qc2 (25. Qe2 {would be more to the point, threatening to come to g4.}) 25... Rdd7 {the defensive idea of controlling the 7th rank was the point behind the earlier rook move to d8.} 26. Rc8+ Kf7 27. Qe2 Qh4 {I spent a long time here as well, trying to figure out how to cover the kingside.} (27... g6 $16 {would be a better way to hold out on the kingside.}) 28. g3 Qh6 $2 { this error is a good (if painful) lesson on piece mobility and activity: the Black queen is now almost literally painted into the corner. I considered going to h3, which Komodo validates is best, but I erroneously thought it would be worse off there.} (28... Qh3 $16 {prevents the White queen from penetrating and also covers h7 and e6.}) 29. Qf2 {I could still go to h3, but instead play the ...g6 idea too late, making things worse not better.} g6 $2 30. R1c6 (30. Kg2 {would cover h3 and ensure zero counterplay for Black.}) 30... Ke7 $2 {still ignoring h3} 31. Qe2 $6 {my opponent also is ignorant of this idea.} Rd6 $4 {this was a blunder played in time trouble, but my opponent missed the finishing continuation.} 32. Qg4 (32. Rxd6 $1 Kxd6 33. Qb5 $18 { and Black's king and rook are too exposed to be defended.}) 32... Rad7 { White is still winning here, but has a lot more work to do.} 33. Rc5 Ra7 { still trying to desperately defend everything} 34. Kg2 Rdd7 $2 {this allows an interesting tactical idea, which I spotted after I moved, but my opponent did not. Given the length of the calculation required, however, practically speaking it probably did not make sense to play.} (34... Kf7 $18) 35. R5c6 { a simpler route to victory} (35. Re8+ $142 $1 {deflection tactic} Kxe8 36. Qxe6+ Kd8 37. Qg8+ Ke7 38. Rc6 $18 {and Black gets mated or has to give up too much material, for example} Rd6 39. Rc8 Kf6 40. Rf8+ Qxf8 41. Qxf8+ Ke6 42. f5+ gxf5 43. Qh6+ Ke7 44. Qxh7+ Ke6 45. Qxa7) 35... Rd6 36. Re8+ Kxe8 37. Rxd6 Re7 38. Rxe6 Qf8 {being as stubborn as possible in the defense.} 39. Rxe7+ Qxe7 40. Qc8+ Kf7 41. Qc6 (41. Qh8 {would be more to the point.} Qe6 42. Qxh7+ Kf6 $18) 41... Qd8 {around here I started feeling better, if not exactly good, about my situation. The queen defends both d5 and a5 and White no longer has as easy a win.} 42. Qc5 h5 {the idea being to restrain the g-pawn and White's mobilization of his 3-2 kingside majority.} 43. h3 {supporting a g4 push.} Ke6 {trying to take some of the defensive burden away from the queen.} 44. Qc6+ { driving away the king.} Kf7 45. Kf2 Kg7 46. h4 Kf7 47. Kg2 Kg7 48. Kh3 { I have no counterplay and am looking at an eventual zugzwang situation, where anything I do will allow White to realize his advantage.} Qg8 49. g4 Qf7 { still trying to fight hard on defense and give myself a chance. I in fact do this, but unfortunately I miss it in time trouble and under pressure.} 50. Qc8 {White prepares the advance f5} Kh7 51. f5 $2 (51. Kg3) 51... Kg7 $2 {this loses (again).} (51... gxf5 $1 {was possible and I had thought about it, but did not properly calculate and evaluate its consequences.} 52. gxf5 (52. Qxf5+ Qxf5 53. gxf5 Kg7 $11 {the K+P ending is drawn.}) 52... Kg7 $11 {White's queen is tied to protecting the f-pawn and cannot take the time to grab the a-pawn now.}) 52. Kg3 Kh7 (52... gxf5 {does not help much due to} 53. g5 $1) 53. Kf4 Kg7 {now White has multiple ways to win and is in no danger. As long as the queens are still on the board, I keep fighting, but the result is assured.} ( 53... hxg4 54. Kxg4 Kg7 55. Qe6 gxf5+ 56. Qxf5 $18) 54. gxh5 gxh5 55. Qe6 Qf6 56. Qe5 Kf7 57. Qxd5+ Kf8 58. Qc5+ Kf7 59. Qc7+ Kf8 60. Kg3 Qxf5 61. Qf4 Qxf4+ 62. Kxf4 1-0

03 September 2020

Training quote of the day #32: Artur Yusupov

 From Training for the Tournament Player by Mark Dvoretsky and Artur Yusupov

What enables a chessplayer to be successful? In response to this question two essential factors are usually singled out: talent and hard work. But it is not sufficient just to be talented and hard-working. Physical condition, competitive character and the ability to concentrate during play are also very important. No less important is the ability to choose correctly the decision that such work should take and to be able to reach the required standard. Needless to say, this task is far from easy...

Of course, in order to be able to choose a direction leading to self-improvement it is necessary to have a critical understanding of one's game. The authors are totally convinced that the serious study of one's own games is an essential requirement for any chessplayer who wishes to improve. Therefore the theme 'analysing one's own games' occupies a central place. 

28 August 2020

Annotated Game #250: Learning an opening the hard way

This final-round tournament game is an excellent illustration of how most new openings are learned: the hard way. Learning openings is not really about memorizing variations, it's much more about knowing the standard early middlegame plans and how to handle common tactical and positional themes. 

In the Dutch Stonewall, one theme is the pawn exchange on d5, if White initiates it. The usual rule (retake with the e-pawn rather than the c-pawn) applies here, and as Black I get a comfortable game out of the opening. The next key move occurs in the early middlegame, on move 11, and is the main teaching point: the potential power of the White pin on the a2-g8 diagonal. Here I ignore it and it makes itself felt immediately, then also later in the game on move 21. There are other useful lessons and observations that I got out of analyzing this game, but now I'll be very sure to recognize that theme in the future.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A90"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "61"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 c6 {this is a committal move, but I was planning to play the Stonewall in any case.} 3. g3 e6 4. Bg2 f5 5. O-O Nf6 6. c4 Bd6 {we now have the standard Modern Stonewall starting position from theory.} 7. Nc3 O-O 8. cxd5 exd5 {the general rule for an exchange on d5 in the Stonewall is to recapture with the e-pawn. This keeps the c-file blocked, allows Black to use the e-file for the heavy pieces, and gives the Bc8 more potential scope.} 9. Bg5 h6 {the direct approach.} (9... Qe8 $5) 10. Bxf6 Qxf6 11. Qb3 {this move should set off an alert, both for the pressure on b7 and the presence of the queen on the a2-g8 diagonal, which means the d-pawn is now pinned.} g5 $2 { I thought about sidestepping with Kh8, but didn't understand the urgency of doing so. The text move of course is what Black wants to play, but needs to better prepare it.} (11... Re8 $5 {is an active way of addressing White's threat to advance the e-pawn, while developing the rook. The king can subsequently go to h8.}) 12. e4 $1 $16 {now White gets in this strong pawn break for free, as the d-pawn is no longer controlling e4.} fxe4 13. Nxe4 { now this knight, which was effectively doing nothing on c3, is quite strong. White also has better prospects for controlling the e-file.} Qe6 {breaking the pin} 14. Nxd6 {by eliminating the dark-square bishop, this weakens Black's ability to defend the entire dark-square complex, including the central square e5.} Qxd6 15. Rfe1 Qf6 {I thought for a long time here and couldn't find anything better. The alternative would have been to start developing minor pieces, but I assessed that the text move would pose White more practical problems, given the pressure down the f-file.} (15... Nd7 {is what Komodo prefers, trying to catch up on development.}) 16. Re2 Bg4 17. Re3 Nd7 {White grabbing the pawn on b7 would be OK by me, giving me some more counterplay with the undeveloped rook.} 18. h3 $6 {this is essentially prompting me to play the best, equalizing move. Which of course I do not do.} (18. Qxb7 Rab8 19. Qa6 Rxb2 $14 {and now} 20. Qxa7 $6 Nb6 $11 {with full positional compensation for the pawn, as the knight will go to the strong c4 outpost and the rook on the 2nd rank is very good.}) (18. Rae1 $16) 18... Bf5 $2 {an example of how a piece can look nice visually, in this case on the h7-b1 diagonal, but it is not in fact doing much useful there. It even blocks the f-file pressure.} (18... Bxf3 $1 {an illustration of the power of piece exchanges. This should be a rather obvious choice, getting rid of Black's "bad" bishop - look at all the pawns on light squares - for White's good knight.} 19. Bxf3 Nb6 $11) 19. Rae1 (19. g4 {would have pressed the advantage.} Bg6 20. Qxb7 {now the Nd7 is hanging, so White can profitably take the pawn.} Nb6 21. b3 $18) 19... g4 {pinning my hopes on active play rather than passive defense with ...Rab8.} 20. Nh4 gxh3 $2 {this ignores my opponent's tactical threats involving the d5 square, but in practical terms it does encourage his next move, which gives away the advantage.} (20... Nb6) 21. Nxf5 $6 (21. Bxd5+ $1 {again we see the problems related to having the king remain on this diagonal.} cxd5 $18 {and White now has the pleasant choice between the simple Qxd5 or Rf3.}) 21... Qxf5 $11 22. Rf3 Qh5 23. g4 {I thought for a while here, but could not calculate the best plan properly, already being stressed and fatigued.} h2+ (23... Qh4 $5 {I seriously considered, but I was too wedded to keeping the h-pawn. Komodo gives} 24. Bxh3 Rxf3 25. Qxf3 Rf8 {and White has nothing better than to simplify into an ending.} 26. Qg3 Qxg3+ 27. fxg3 Nf6 $15 ) 24. Kh1 Qh4 $6 {here I did not consider the capture on f3, because of the threat to the queen; however, it is a dynamic (if complicated) way of dealing with the position.} (24... Rxf3 25. Qxb7 Rb8 26. Qxb8+ Nxb8 27. gxh5 Rxf2 28. Re8+ Rf8 {and White has a slight edge, but nothing more.}) 25. Qd3 {my opponent prefers active threats on the kingside (Qg6+) to snatching the b-pawn. } Rxf3 {this is still good and should be equal.} 26. Bxf3 Nf6 {this is OK, but unnecessarily complicated.} (26... Nf8 $15 {nothing wrong with good defensive play, taking away the g6 square from White.}) 27. Qg6+ Kf8 $4 {when calculating this, I missed my opponent's next follow-up, which wins. Fatigue dulled my ability to properly calculate the two sequences.} (27... Kh8 28. Re7 {I mistakenly thought won for White, but Black holds after} Rg8 $1) 28. Re6 $18 Ng8 29. Qf5+ Kg7 30. Rg6+ Kh7 31. Qf7+ 1-0

22 August 2020

Bad chess attitudes #3: My losses are too painful; everything is good in my wins; draws are just boring; so no need to look at my games

I'm highlighting in a short series of posts some bad chess attitudes that can harm our 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.

Bad attitudes #1 and #2 both involved reacting in an unhealthy manner to your opponent's choices - in openings and time management, respectively - which in turn meant not focusing not enough on your own play. Here, it's about your game results and what you do with them.

Bad attitude #3 (expanded version): my losses are due to blunders too painful to look at; everything must have been good with my wins; draws are indecisive (and boring); so there is no need to analyze my games afterwards.

The above sentence I think sums up well my own (superficial) attitude about my games for the majority of my chess career, starting at the scholastic level. This sort of reaction to our results I believe is fairly common and is even understandable, while unproductive.
  • It is in fact difficult to relive losses, especially ones involving painful blunders. This is the first hurdle to get over. Giving yourself a bit of time before fully reviewing the game can help, as after a day or a week the emotional reaction is lessened and you can look at the game score more objectively.
  • A certain amount of work and energy is necessary. This means saving full game analysis until after a tournament, for example, when you are more hungry for chess again. Recording some initial comments and thoughts can help capture your thinking process in the moment - a good time for this is while you are putting a game into your personal database - but it will be more productive to save the heavy lifting for later.
  • Feeding games to an engine in order to see where you and your opponent blundered, then filing them away does not count as analyzing your games. This was part of my own practice for over a decade of non-improvement (see "The Long Journey to Class A"). It is now even easier to do this, thanks to the capability for near-instant "analysis" of games on major chess sites (such as Chess.com). In reality, this consists of a single engine pass that evaluates positions at a relatively low ply (move) level. This may have some use as an immediate blunder-check tool, along with its entertainment value; however, judging from public comments, many players take it far too seriously.
  • Your wins and draws contain just as many lessons for improvement as your losses. Serious work will reveal flaws in your wins, sometimes even more so than in your losses. (This may be part of why people avoid performing an objective analysis of all of their serious games.) It will also highlight strong moves and ideas that you found, as well as general patterns of your strengths and weaknesses over time. This type of self-knowledge and increased chess understanding cannot come from any other source.
The basic problem with bad attitude #3 is that if you keep on doing the same things without understanding why, you will end up getting the same results. "Why don't I progress if I play a lot?" is a common refrain. I do think that relatively frequent play, especially with opponents near or (ideally) somewhat above your current level, is necessary for improvement. Once you reach a certain point where simply playing more is not teaching you enough, however, it is time to go deeper in your understanding of chess, which of necessity includes analyzing your own games

19 August 2020

Video completed: "Why You Should Always Have a Plan" by Tatev Abrahamyan


"Why You Should Always Have a Plan" is the seventh video in the Chess.com series by Tatev Abrahamyan. I've resumed going through them after being distracted by various things. The main point of this lesson is to continue to actively plan at all stages of the game, including while playing with a winning advantage. In other words, don't just assume that once you achieve a comfortable position, even one where you should win, you can just coast for the rest of the game.

The first example game is Akobian-Caruana from the 2017 U.S. Championship. Caruana is up two connected passed pawns in the late middlegame, which should be enough to win. A apparently careless move by Black drops a pawn, then after a rook exchange they end up in a Q+N endgame with just the one extra passed pawn for Caruana - which again should be enough to win. Black passes up a chance to grab back a pawn and then White is able to get an annoying pin on his knight. Getting out of this, Black opens himself up for a knight sac tactic that would result in a perpetual check. White did not in fact play this, which turns out to be lucky for him, as later Black blunders and drops his knight, losing. It's not mentioned whether the two are in time trouble or not - which seems likely - but the game is still a good illustration of why even strong players cannot simply go on autopilot with what should be a winning advantage.

The second game is GM Alejandro Ramirez vs. GM Le Quang Liem, from round 5 of the 2019 Gibraltar Masters tournament. Abrahamyan points out how White followed an incorrect plan in the early middlegame starting on move 15, moving his knights without much purpose around the queenside instead of focusing on available kingside targets, with complex play. The outcome was poor placement of the White knights and giving some free improving moves for Black, who then was able to target White's weaknesses and collapse his position relatively quickly.

The final example is FM Carissa Yip - FM Annie Wang from the 2019 U.S. Women's Championship. Abrahamyan highlights how well White has set herself up in this Classical Sicilian, but in the middlegame she does not find a good plan to go from there. Black in contrast has a clear plan to play on the queenside, attacking White's castled king position. White decides to force the issue in the center, where she has built up her forces, but the resulting exchanges actually give Black better central pawn control and free up her pieces as well. The resulting attack is instructive, with Black bringing all her pieces into play while White's pieces all end up on the kingside, providing little help.

In each example game there are opportunities to pause and look at some key positions, which helps make the lessons more engaging beyond the overall theme, which underlines how drifting planless in the middlegame (or endgame) is a bad idea.

17 August 2020

Annotated Game #249: Hanging in for counterplay

This next tournament game in part illustrates Bad Chess Attitude #1, as I try to immediately punish my opponent for his deviant opening play. In this case, the move (6...f6) in fact is not good, but it is not so bad that I can generate a winning attack by immediately sacrificing material with 7. Nxe5? I therefore end up in the classic situation of having given up a piece for two pawns and an insufficient attack.

Rather than give up, I continue playing on, actively looking for counterplay. As Komodo points out, objectively I was lost, but I knew that certain weaknesses in my opponent's position - primarily his exposed king - gave me the possibility of some practical opportunities, if my opponent was not careful. By hanging in, I was eventually able to take away much, if not all, of his advantage, finding a skewer tactic to roughly even the material balance.

The endgame was still a big challenge, first with the tactically tricky 2R v R+2B, then a second nail-biting phase with R v 3P, which I deliberately entered. Although we were both tired from the long game and in the secondary time control, I feel I did well overall in finding the right continuations, with the exception of missing (as did my opponent) a winning idea for him.

Game analysis highlighted several of my weaknesses, as it should, but on a more general level it also showed one of my strengths, which is identifying potential avenues for counterplay when losing, then hanging in the game until my opponent opens one up. Part of the reason for this is the added mental focus that one gets when in trouble - which I naturally would prefer to start applying earlier, before I get into trouble.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "128"] {[%mdl 8256] A28: English Opening: Four Knights Variation} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 f6 $6 {as is usually the case in the opening, an early ...f6 can only be bad for Black. But how bad?} (6... Nxc3) 7. Nxe5 $2 {this attempt to punish Black's opening inaccuracy does not work, as White will not have enough of an attack for the sacrificed material.} (7. d4 $14 {scores 100 percent in the database. The added pressure on e5 and Black's now airy king position give White an edge.}) (7. O-O $14 {scores over 90 percent, if White wants to emphasize king safety first.}) 7... fxe5 8. Qh5+ Ke7 9. Bxc6 {this seemed necessary to continue the attack and pick up the pawn on e5, getting a bit of material back, but it also removes the good White bishop from the board.} (9. d4 $5) 9... bxc6 10. Qxe5+ {now I started getting worried, as it is more evident looking at the board that White cannot bring enough pieces to bear on Black's exposed king.} Be6 (10... Kf7 $5) 11. Ne4 {trying to bring more force into the attack, but it's just not there.} Nf6 (11... Nb4 $5 { is what I was most worried about, since now the c2 and d3 squares are targets.} ) 12. b3 {this is a logical developing move, getting the bishop activated, but now Black smartly exchanges down material. The less pieces on the board, the greater his advantage.} (12. Ng5 $5 Qd6 $17) 12... Nxe4 13. Qxe4 Qd5 $19 { powerfully centralizing the queen, with an x-ray attack on g2, as well as offering to exchange pieces to Black's benefit.} 14. Qh4+ {the only way I saw to keep the queens on the board. According to the engine this worsens White's evaluation, but having the queens off in an endgame where my opponent has the two bishops to my one would just be a tortuous loss. With Black's king still in the center, I felt I had better practical chances with the queens on.} Kd7 ( 14... g5 $5 {and Black can already relax, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} 15. Qg3 Kd7 16. Bb2 Bd6 $19) 15. O-O Be7 16. Qg3 Bf6 {a minor slip, but it gave me a bit of hope that my opponent would start getting overconfident.} (16... Kc8 {evacuating the king from the center would consolidate the position.}) 17. d4 c5 $6 {my opponent seems intent on winning more material, but this is not necessary. He appears to ignore the fact that opening up the central files with his king there could give me counterplay.} 18. Ba3 (18. Bb2 $5 $17 {is more active than it looks, not only protecting the d4 pawn, which however is worth doing in itself.}) 18... cxd4 19. exd4 { my opponent naturally does not fall into the obvious trap of recapturing on d4, which would allow me to pin the piece with a rook.} (19. Rac1 $5 {developing with tempo, as the c7 pawn is targeted.} Rhc8 20. exd4 Ke8 $17 {preserves Black's advantage, but is tricky for him.}) 19... Qg5 $19 20. Qd3 Bd5 { blockading the d-pawn and centralizing the bishop with a mate threat on g2.} 21. f3 Rhe8 22. Kh1 {at this point it's clear that I have no compensation for the material, other than Black's king position, which however is quite defensible. However, I played on, since my opponent still had a chance of slipping up. This in fact occurred on the next move.} Re3 $6 (22... c6 $5 $19 { would shut down White's hopes of counterplay.}) 23. Qb5+ {this creates multiple threats, including an unavoidable skewer tactic with Bc1.} Bc6 (23... c6 $2 {of course loses the rook on a8.} 24. Qb7+ $18) 24. Qxg5 Bxg5 25. Bc1 Rae8 26. Bxe3 Bxe3 $17 {material is now roughly equal, but Black still has a significant edge due to the two bishops. Unfortunately I have a problem coming up with an appropriate plan here, in part due to lack of endgame understanding and in part due to exhaustion from having been fighting to stay in the game to this point.} (26... Rxe3 27. Rfe1 Rc3 $17) 27. a4 $4 {causes further problems for White, is Komodo's verdict. The text move just creates a backward pawn on an open file, which really makes no sense. The (superficial) idea was to take away the b5 square from Black, but that ignores the downside of the move.} (27. Rfe1 $17) 27... a5 (27... Rb8 {keeps an even firmer grip} 28. d5 Bxd5 29. Rfd1 $19) 28. Ra2 $6 {not the bravest move, comments the engine.} Bd5 29. Rb2 $2 { played under the illusion that the d4 pawn is tactically protected.} Bxd4 $19 30. Rd2 c5 {I simply missed this, a sign of exhaustion.} 31. g3 {back to desperation again. I felt I needed to get the king into the game.} Bxb3 32. Kg2 Re3 33. Rc1 {threatening to take on c5. I still haven't given up searching for counterplay.} Bd5 $6 {getting greedy by targeting the f-pawn. Black is still winning, but I can at least strike a blow in revenge.} 34. Rxc5 Bxc5 35. Rxd5+ Kc6 36. Rd8 {with the idea of harrassing Black from the 7th and 8th ranks.} Ra3 {preparing to wrap up the a-pawn.} 37. Rc8+ Kd5 38. Rc7 Bd4 39. Rd7+ Kc4 40. Rc7+ Kb4 {my opponent is becoming fixated on the a-pawn.} 41. f4 {with the idea of taking away the e5 square from Black's bishop. Also hoping for my opponent to not see the tactical risk behind...} Kxa4 $2 (41... Rxa4 {and the rest is a matter of technique} 42. Rc8 Ra2+ 43. Kf3 a4 $19) 42. Rc4+ {I had spotted this potential tactic earlier, although did not expect my opponent to fall into it. We had just made the time control, though, and he obviously was impatient to win.} Kb3 43. Rxd4 $11 {the ending is now a theoretical draw. However, given that only Black really has winning chances at this point, of course I expected my opponent to continue trying to win.} a4 44. Rd3+ Kb2 45. Rd4 Kc3 46. Rd7 {in general it is good to have the rook active in the back ranks like this, but here maintaining the defense on the 4th rank might have been a safer practical choice. With the text move, I deliberately go for a R v 3P ending.} (46. Re4) 46... Rb3 {Black can be proud of that piece} 47. Rxg7 a3 48. Rxh7 a2 49. Ra7 Kb2 50. Rxa2+ Kxa2 {I knew that this should be a theoretical draw, but have no real idea of how to actually play it. At the end of a long game and in the secondary time control, neither my opponent nor I play it out accurately.} 51. h4 $2 {any other available move is better, according to the engine.} (51. g4) (51. Kh3) 51... Rb8 {this keeps things level.} (51... Kb2 $5 {and now Black can more rapidly centralize his king, moving along the long diagonal.}) 52. h5 Kb3 53. Kf3 Kc4 {correct now would be to advance the king in front of the pawns, with either Ke4 or Kg4.} 54. g4 $2 { weakening the position} Kd5 $17 55. g5 Ke6 {now it's clear that Black's king is very well placed, controlling f5, while my king cannot support the further advance of the pawns.} 56. Kg4 $2 {this could have been a losing blunder. The correct response for Black would be to bring his rook into my rear.} (56. Kg3 $17) (56. h6 $17) 56... Rb5 $2 (56... Rb1 $19 {secures victory, as the combination of Black's king and rook being in their most effective placements means that Black can block ideas of queening and eventually pick up a pawn with the rook. For example} 57. h6 Rg1+ 58. Kh3 Ke7 59. Kh4 Kf7 60. Kh5 Rf1 61. g6+ Kf6 62. g7 Rh1+ 63. Kg4 Kf7 64. Kg5 {and Black just moves the rook back and forth on the h-file until White runs out of f-pawn moves.}) 57. h6 $11 { now I am a tempo up on the lines in the previous variation. I was even hoping for a win at this point, if Black messed up. Both of us still need to calculate carefully.} Kf7 58. f5 Rb4+ 59. Kh5 Rf4 60. g6+ Kf6 61. h7 {now Black cannot capture the f-pawn without allowing the h-pawn to queen.} Kg7 62. Kg5 Rf1 63. f6+ {one final potential trick} Kh8 (63... Rxf6 $2 64. h8=Q+ Kxh8 65. Kxf6 Kg8 66. g7 Kh7 {and White wins.}) 64. f7 {forced, otherwise Black starts gobbling up the pawns.} Kg7 {now neither side can make progress.} 1/2-1/2