09 May 2021

Commentary: London Chess Classic 2017, Round 7 (Nepomniachtchi - Anand)

 This game continues the recent theme of an English Opening with e3/b3 development from last time (Carlsen - Giri), but here GM Ian Nepomniachtchi as White plays the provocative yet thematic 7. g4!? to completely change the character of the game. Pitching the g-pawn in this manner is one example of similar themes appearing across different openings - as occurred in a previous Caro-Kann commentary game - so the idea is well worth studying. I'm not sure if I would play it myself, but improving your chess strength requires having a more open mind to study ideas that are outside your normal comfort zone. In my previous (pre-blog) chess career, for example, I never would have looked at this game in depth, one of the reasons I stagnated at Class B strength for so long.

Of course 7. g4 does not magically win straight out of the opening, but White does well for himself in gaining the initiative and minimizing his positional weaknesses, with his king position being reasonably solid in the center. Anand does eventually equalize, but then Nepo strikes back and is able to pick up material for no compensation. Black, left with the prospect of a losing endgame with no counterplay, resigns. I doubt this would happen at the club level, but it's worth seeing in the final position what a 100% sure win looks like, even with a fair amount of material still on the board.

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.09"] [Round "7"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [WhiteElo "2729"] [BlackElo "2782"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo Dragon"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 {now Black could just as easily go into a Nimzo-English hybrid with ...Bb4, but it seems most often a QGD formation is set up from here.} d5 4. e3 {White has committed to central play and there is no longer a potential gambit situation on the queenside, now that the c4 pawn is protected.} a6 {the move actually scores pretty well, leaving Black around 50 percent in the database, but it seems a little slow, given White's flexibility here.} 5. b3 {by far the most played. White develops his dark-square bishop and protects c4 again, allowing him to choose to retake with a pawn in case of an exchange and exert more control over d5.} Bd6 { a good square for the bishop, also signaling that Black will look to use his control of e5 strategically.} (5... c5 {is the usual reaction by Black. Here's an instructive and tactically fierce game featuring GM Mamedyarov as an example:} 6. Bb2 Nc6 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Rc1 Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 10. Na4 Nd7 11. Be2 b5 12. Nc3 Nf6 13. O-O Be7 14. a4 Bxf3 15. Bxf3 Rb8 16. axb5 axb5 17. Ne2 Qd6 18. Nf4 Nb4 19. Ba3 Na6 20. d4 b4 21. Bb2 O-O 22. Bxd5 Nxd5 23. dxc5 Nxc5 24. Nxd5 Rfd8 25. Qg4 Bf8 26. Nf6+ Kh8 27. Qf5 g6 28. Ne4+ {1-0 (28) Mamedyarov,S (2801) -Georgiadis,N (2526) Biel 2018}) 6. Bb2 O-O 7. g4 $5 {this was a novelty in tournament play, although it has been tried several times since with good results. The idea of sacrificing the g-pawn to open the file in this manner is a theme encountered in other openings.} Nxg4 {Black chooses to accept the challenge head-on.} (7... dxc4 {is an alternative.} 8. g5 Nfd7 9. Bxc4 $11) ( 7... c6 $5 {is suggested by Komodo Dragon as another way to decline the pawn. The point is to reinforce d5 while supporting a potential ...b5 pawn thrust.}) 8. Rg1 f5 {Black maintains the knight outpost, at least temporarily, while still allowing for ...Nf6 in the future. It also opens the 7th rank to lateral defense. However, it leaves the kingside a little loose and weakens e6, a fact which White later exploits.} 9. cxd5 e5 {Anand has given the pawn back immediately, but now maintains the advanced e5/f5 pawn duo.} 10. h3 Nf6 11. Ng5 {even with material equality, White needs to play actively to justify his uncastled king and isolated h-pawn. The knight gets into the game - not being very effective on f3 - by eyeing e6 and also clearing the diagonal for the queen.} Qe7 {covering e6 and g7.} (11... h6 $2 {this might be the obvious move played at the club level, in order to kick the knight. Let's see what would happen.} 12. Ne6 Bxe6 13. dxe6 {while at first glance White's pawn looks weak, Black has no immediate way of dealing with it and his own f-pawn has similar problems.} Nc6 14. Qf3 {and White has threats of Bc4 and Qg2 coming up, along with queenside castling as a possibility.}) 12. Qf3 {this allows the queen to move to the g-file, pressures f5, and also places it on the long diagonal. This last point is shortly used to good effect.} (12. Ne6 {the engines agree that this is best played immediately.} Bxe6 13. dxe6 {and the pawn is temporarily immune from capture due to the Bc4 skewer tactic. White can then follow up with Qf3.}) 12... Kh8 (12... e4 $5 13. Qg2 Nbd7 14. Ne6 Rf7 15. O-O-O $14) 13. Ne6 Bxe6 {now b7 is undefended.} (13... Rg8 {is the engines' preference. Again, leaving the strong Ne6 in place looks counterintuitive, but White still does well from the exchange.}) 14. dxe6 Qxe6 15. Qxb7 {White now has the bishop pair and his pawn structure overall is no worse than Black's.} Nbd7 16. Bc4 {a logical move, but hitting the queen is of limited utility for White here.} (16. Bxa6 {pawn snatching may be possible, but Black should get some compensation in terms of the half-open a-file and a strong center, while White's king starts looking a bit vulnerable.} e4) (16. O-O-O) (16. Qc6) 16... Qe7 17. Qg2 Nb6 $11 {White has no more immediate threats to make and Black has equalized. White will need to do some maneuvering to start playing dynamically again.} 18. Be2 a5 {looking to break up White's pawns and make inroads on the queenside.} 19. Bb5 {a good example of prophylaxis. It feels a bit strange to move this bishop yet again, but it is the best way to prevent ...a4.} Rad8 20. Qg5 {prompting Black to respond with} g6 {and now} 21. Qh6 {prompts} Ng8 22. Qg5 {White would be fine with an exchange here, so Black returns the knight.} Nf6 (22... Qxg5 23. Rxg5 {and now White's king position is much improved, lacking a queen to threaten it, and with two bishops and the half-open c-file to play with.}) 23. Rd1 {at this point queenside castling would not seem to be an improvement for White's king, so the center is reinforced.} e4 {this logical-looking move causes Black a few headaches, after White's next. The long diagonal is opened and Black loses control of d4 and f4, although gaining space.} (23... Qe6 {maintains Black's grip in the center.}) 24. Qh6 {pinning the h-pawn and threatening Rxg6.} Rg8 25. Ne2 {Black now immediately moves to contest the open long diagonal.} Be5 26. Bxe5 Qxe5 27. Nf4 $1 {the key move to give White the initiative. The Bb5 is hanging, but White has counterplay on the kingside if that happens.} g5 {an excellent defensive pawn sacrifice by Anand, echoing Nepo's original one.} (27... Qxb5 28. Nxg6+ Rxg6 29. Rxg6 Rg8 30. Rxg8+ Nxg8 31. Qe6 $14) 28. Rxg5 Rxg5 29. Qxg5 Rg8 30. Qh6 {the position is still tricky here and perhaps Anand was under time pressure, as his next move effectively loses.} Rg7 $2 {this looks like a solid defensive move, but in fact it leaves White's queen too active.} (30... Rg1+ 31. Bf1 Nbd7 32. Ne2 Rg6 {and Black should be fine, his space advantage and piece activity compensating for the pawn deficit.}) 31. Bc4 {a subtle move that even looks positionally wrong at first, trading off White's good bishop.} Nxc4 (31... Nfd5 {is the engines' recommendation, but White retains an endgame advantage after} 32. Ke2 Nxf4+ 33. Qxf4 Qxf4 34. exf4 Nxc4 35. bxc4 $18 {as Black can do nothing about White's plan of Rb1-b5, for example} a4 36. Rb1 Rg6 37. Rb5 Rc6 38. Rxf5 Rxc4 39. Rg5 {with what should be a winning rook endgame, as White can transfer his rook back via g3.}) 32. bxc4 {the b-pawn finally fulfills its destiny. From a strategic perspective, the opening of the b-file is also potentially very good for White, if he can get the rook on it.} Qb2 {Black looks to get his pawn back, but has to keep defending the Nf6.} (32... Qd6 { does not help much either, as after Ne2 and Rb1 White is taking over the game.} 33. Ne2) 33. Ke2 {White now has no real weaknesses and his pieces are in a much better position to go after Black's king.} (33. Ne2 {also works, protecting g1.}) 33... a4 34. Ne6 {White goes back to the weak e6 square, this time unchallenged.} Rf7 35. Nf4 {this is sufficient to win without the complications of attempting a direct attack.} (35. Nd8 Rg7 36. Rg1 $6 {allows Black to keep fighting} (36. a3 {as in the game}) 36... Ng4 37. hxg4 Qa3) 35... Rg7 36. a3 {physically blocks Black's ...a3 and is untouchable, due to the hanging Nf6. Essentially Black has no good moves at this point.} Ne8 {Black tries to cover everything, but is not successful.} (36... Qb6 {is the engines' best try} 37. d3 Qb2+ 38. Rd2 Qc3 39. Ne6 $18) 37. Qc6 {forking the Ne8 and the a4 pawn, so after the next move White will be up two pawns, one of which is the passed a-pawn, with no compensation for Black.} 1-0

02 May 2021

Commentary: Tata Steel Masters 2018, Round 14 tiebreak (Carlsen - Giri)

In keeping with a thematic approach to commentary games, this next one features an English Opening with a b3/Bb2 development. It is a different structure than Tarjan - Kosteniuk, however, as Black (GM Anish Giri) here adopts a Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) approach, while Carlsen uses a more central strategy with e3 instead of a double fianchetto for his light-square bishop.

This was actually a tiebreak blitz game, which however doesn't make it any less instructive for how Carlsen chose to strategize his play and the numerous positional decisions made along the way. The overall strategy for White was to get a comfortable game with no weaknesses and then keep pressuring the obvious Black targets. Giri as a result was always struggling for equality with less harmonious piece placement, not a position you want to be in regardless of the time control.

[Event "Tata Steel Masters TB"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee"] [Date "2018.01.28"] [Round "14"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Giri, Anish"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2834"] [BlackElo "2752"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo Dragon"] [PlyCount "109"] [EventDate "2018.??.??"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 {now we are in an English Opening, unless White plays an early d4.} e6 3. b3 d5 4. Bb2 Be7 {QGD setup} 5. e3 {with this move, White chooses to exert more direct control over the center, particularly the d4 square, and develop his bishop accordingly.} O-O 6. Nc3 {this directly pressures d5 and is in keeping with the opening's focus on the center.} c5 { now that Black has increased his influence on the d4 square, White exchanges in the center.} 7. cxd5 {exchanging the c- for the d-pawn is a standard idea. It will give White a numerical advantage in center pawns, increase the scope of the light-square bishop, and open up the c-file for White's rook.} Nxd5 ( 7... exd5 {is just as frequent a choice here. After} 8. d4 {play will be similar, but with the extra pair of minor pieces.}) 8. Nxd5 exd5 (8... Qxd5 { has been played more often, but White has a much higher score in the database, at 68 percent. After} 9. Bc4 {and the queen retreats, White has a pleasant game with a small lead in development.}) 9. d4 {now White challenges with the pawn, to force an isolated queen's pawn (IQP) structure.} Qa5+ {a novelty. Carlsen however is fine with the queens coming off the board.} (9... Nc6 { is the more familiar way to play, with some more options for White.} 10. dxc5 ( 10. Be2) 10... Bxc5 11. a3 (11. Bd3)) 10. Qd2 {forced} Qxd2+ 11. Kxd2 Nc6 ( 11... b6 {is the engines' preference here. White would not want to go for a hanging pawns structure after a pawn exchange on c5, since he does not have enough firepower to sufficiently pressure the c5/d5 pawns.}) 12. dxc5 {we now have the IQP structure on the board.} Bxc5 13. Bb5 {this bishop development gives the option of exchanging on c6, to inflict a backwards c-pawn on Black, while allowing the king to go to e2 and not block the bishop after the upcoming check. Bd3 was also a good possibility.} Bb4+ 14. Ke2 Be6 { reinforcing d5, although this makes the bishop a "big pawn" in effect.} 15. Rac1 (15. Bxc6 {is the engines' preference. After} bxc6 16. Ne5 Rfc8 17. Rhc1 c5 18. Nd3 {White has a more concrete slight positional plus. In the game, Carlsen avoids committing himself, however.}) 15... Rac8 {"It's always the wrong rook" is a common refrain. Here, Black's Rf8 is less active and the engines prefer him committing it to the queenside. Perhaps he had thoughts of . ..Re8 and ...d4 at some point, however.} 16. Rhd1 {getting the other rook into the game and pressuring the d-pawn.} (16. Bxc6 $5) 16... Be7 {Black decides the bishop is not doing anything useful on b4 and retreats it. This also covers the g5 square, preventing White's knight from landing there.} 17. h3 { preventing ...Bg4} a6 {putting the question to the bishop. Now the exchange on c6 seems less favorable and White retreats it.} 18. Bd3 (18. Bxc6 Rxc6 19. Nd4 Rxc1 20. Rxc1 Rc8 $11) 18... Nb4 19. Bb1 {these types of retreats are common in master play. Here of course it protects the a2 pawn, but the larger positional point is that the scope of the bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal is not diminished, so White loses nothing by having the piece on the back rank.} Rxc1 20. Rxc1 Rc8 21. Rd1 {Carlsen again avoids committing himself to the major piece exchange. Black's rook cannot penetrate on the c-file and White's rook is doing good work pressuring the d-pawn again.} Nc6 {Black's strategic problem is that he has nothing very useful to do. He would like to liquidate the d-pawn, but White has an ultra-firm grip on the d4 square, blockading the pawn's advance.} (21... Nc2 {doesn't get Black anything.}) (21... g6 {might be a somewhat useful waiting move.}) 22. g4 {one different between masters and amateurs is that masters have a much better sense of when to advance pawns, particularly kingside ones. Here the pawn advance does not impact White's king safety and restricts Black by controlling the f5 square; note the role played by the Bb1. This seizure of territory will help a future f-pawn advance as well.} h6 {getting "luft" for the king and also controlling g5.} 23. Nd4 { physically blockading d4 and clearing the way for the f-pawn.} Nxd4+ 24. Bxd4 ( 24. exd4 $6 {would negate the whole point of White's strategic play against the IQP.}) 24... Ba3 {controlling the c1 square, which could theoretically be used by either Black's rook or bishop. This is still a case of Black not having much useful to do, however.} 25. f4 {in contrast, White is now seizing space.} f6 {this gives the bishop the f7 square to retreat to if necessary, in order to maintain its guard over d5. It does inflict long-term weaknesses on the kingside pawn structure, however, which become important later.} 26. Bg6 { immediately taking advantage of the hole left behind by the pawn advance. Now White could exchange off bishops after ...Bf7 and e8 is also controlled.} Kf8 { moving to centralize the king, now that we are essentially in the endgame.} 27. Kf3 {likewise advancing his king to a more influential square.} (27. Rg1 { is liked by the engines, with the plan of further advancing the kingside pawns with the rook pressuring the g-file.}) 27... Ke7 28. h4 {at this point White still has the easier game, but with the material left on the board, it looks pretty even. This can still be dangerous for the side without a real plan, however.} Bb4 29. Bd3 Bd7 {the bishop can now go to c6 if it needs to.} 30. e4 {Carlsen decides to simplify the situation with this pawn break. Time control may have been a factor here.} (30. Rg1 {would keep the IQP tension.}) 30... Bc3 {Black would be happy to trade off pieces on c3, giving him a nice place for the rook and getting rid of his relatively worse bishop.} (30... dxe4+ 31. Bxe4 b5 $5 {looks fine for Black, for example} 32. Bb7 Rc2 $11) 31. Bf2 {safely avoiding the trade.} Bc6 $6 {Komodo Dragon identifies this as the move which gives White an advantage. Let's see how.} (31... d4 $5 {looks like it would pose White more problems, as he cannot win the d-pawn immediately.} 32. Be2 ( 32. f5 $14) 32... b5 33. Bxd4 Bxd4 34. Rxd4 Rc2 {and now Black can recover the pawn, for example after} 35. a4 Rc3+ 36. Rd3 Rxd3+ 37. Bxd3 bxa4 38. bxa4 Bxa4 $11) 32. exd5 Bxd5+ 33. Be4 Bxe4+ 34. Kxe4 {White's positional advantages here are twofold: a better king position and Black's weaker kingside pawn structure, which White's king is threatening to penetrate and White's bishop has the potential to attack. Tactically, Black has to watch out for his Bc3 getting pinned against the Rc8.} Ke6 {this looks reasonable, but White's next move is obvious as well.} (34... Bb4 {is preferred by the engines, but White still has an edge after} 35. Rd4 {followed by Rc4, thanks to his more advanced and centralized king.}) 35. f5+ $16 Ke7 36. Rc1 {now the only way to un-pin the bishop is to protect the rook. There are multiple ways to do this.} Rc6 $2 { the losing move, as identified by the engines. Let's see why.} (36... Kd7 37. Kd3 Be5 38. Rxc8 Kxc8 39. Bc5 {is favorable for White, who has pawns he can target with his bishop, but would it be enough to win?}) 37. Kd3 Bb4 38. Rxc6 bxc6 39. Kc4 $18 Bd6 40. Bc5 {By now we can see Black's problems more clearly. The isolated pawns on the queenside must be defended from White's king, while the kingside pawns need to be defended against an incursion from White's bishop. White will benefit from the creation of a zugzwang situation as well. Exchanging pieces would simply give White a won K+P ending.} Kd7 (40... Bxc5 41. Kxc5 {and Black's a-pawn is doomed.}) 41. h5 $1 {Making the zugzwang even more apparent. White can therefore focus on increasing the pressure.} (41. Bxd6 $2 {this exchange does not work, because White's king is in a worse position and Black has the added resource of ...h5 to undermine White's pawn structure. For example} Kxd6 42. b4 h5 43. gxh5 Ke5 $11) 41... Bf4 (41... Kc7 $2 {now the bishop exchange works.} 42. Bxd6+ Kxd6 43. Kb4 $18 {it would take too long for Black to demolish White's kingside, as White gobbles up the queenside.}) 42. Bf8 Ke8 {hoping to trap the bishop if it captures on g7.} 43. Bc5 Kd7 44. Kb4 { heading to penetrate on the queenside.} Bd2+ 45. Ka4 Kc7 46. b4 {now the White king's way up the a-file is clear again.} Bf4 47. Bf8 {Black can no longer hold both sides of the board.} Kb6 (47... Kd7 48. Ka5 $18) 48. Bxg7 Bg5 49. Bf8 Bf4 50. Be7 Bg5 {Black attempts to hold out with a fortress. The problem is that if the bishop is exchanged, White gets a passed pawn and it's game over.} 51. Kb3 Kc7 52. Kc4 Kd7 53. Bc5 Kc7 54. Kd3 Kd7 55. Be3 {Black loses another pawn or sees White create a passed pawn now, which is losing either way.} 1-0

21 April 2021

Looking at others' paths to mastery

There's a lot of advice about learning chess out there, but there are relatively few detailed paths to mastery described. (This blog doesn't count, since so far it's been about a Class B player becoming a Class A player with some hopefully useful observations presented along the way.) For those of us who are serious about improving, especially for players without a regular coach to map things out, I do think it's helpful and occasionally even enlightening to look at the paths others have taken.

In that vein, I'd like to mention two that I've found particularly entertaining, one that was recently posted and one from several years ago. Things they have in common: they are amateurs; were not brilliant child prodigies; consistently worked hard over a number of years; and bad things happened to them along the way where they could have quit, but chose not to. 

I think something similar can be found in a few of the books about masters or GMs' careers, but most of these tend to focus on their play at the international level (post-mastery), so while instructive they do not say much about the process of achieving master-level (2200-2300) strength in the first place.

10 April 2021

Video completed: Winning with the Dynamic Caro-Kann (The Deadly Bronstein-Larsen System)

I recently completed "Winning with the Dynamic Caro-Kann (The Deadly Bronstein-Larsen System)" - Foxy video vol. 162, by IM Andrew Martin. Like others in the Foxy series, it is a collection of recorded lectures, in this case centered on selected games that are narrated all the way through by IM Martin. There is no extra content (game data files, interactive quizzes, etc.) It was published in 2014 and although it contains several classic Bronstein-Larsen games, it focuses more on contemporary master-level examples from international tournaments, typically with players in the 2400+ Elo range.

The video display quality unfortunately is poor, as the demo chessboard is low-res. That said, the strengths of the annotated game format in explaining and demonstrating opening and middlegame ideas outweigh the technical minuses. Full games are presented, so it's a useful product for overall chess training as well, since tactics and strategic ideas are discussed all the way through the endgame. Video presentations by knowledgeable commentators like Martin help bring the material alive, much more than studying lists of variations, and I think the format also aids future recall of specific ideas and maneuvers.

There are 15 separate videos included, with a total running time of 2 hours 7 minutes. The first several look at various alternative move 6 options for White, before moving on to provide examples in the main theoretical 6. c3 line; however, later there are also a mix of options shown (primarily with 6. Nf3). The first 12 videos, containing narrated games, Martin at one point refers to as "introductory", and the last three supposedly contain his specific repertoire recommendations in the different move 6 White lines (6. Nf3, 6. g3 and c3 combination, and 6. Bc4). However, these are really just more example games, although he does present them based on his preference for 6...Bf5 in all cases.

It's worth noting that the "alternate" (to 6. c3) White lines are very important to study for a Black player, since they will likely be the most commonly faced. Especially at club level, 6. c3 - which develops no pieces and only moves the pawn forward one square - may not even occur to your opponent as an option. Other move 6 options, particularly the normal-looking 6. Nf3, are likely to appear on the board from White opponents (of whatever strength) who are not familiar with the Bronstein-Larsen. This probably means the majority of White players, in practical terms.

I found the most useful aspect of going through the narrated example games to be Martin's introduction and explanation of typical ideas and maneuvers, although concrete variations are of course also presented. Key recurring concepts highlighted include:

  • Development of Black's light-square bishop to g4 vs. f5
  • Deployment of black's rook to g8 along the half-open file, or alternatively using it to support an early h-pawn advance
  • The typical development plan of ...e6, ...Nd7, and queenside castling followed by a kingside attack
  • Alternative kingside castling for Black and ...Bf5-g6 ideas
  • Formation of Bd6/Qc7 battery when possible
  • Ideas involving ...Qa5+ and moving along the 5th rank subsequently
  • Disruptive ...Bb4 opportunities
  • Timing the pawn breaks/advances ...e5 (either in one go, or after a preliminary ...e6) and ...c5
  • Black's requirement to play actively with threats and counter-threats in the center and on the kingside, while not being afraid of calculating tactical defense ideas on the queenside.
Various Black responses to White's different move 6 choices are given in the introductory videos. The 6. c3 line responses include 6...Qd5 (recommended by Martin as a good alternative), 6...h5 (more chancy), and the standard 6...Bf5.

In general, these types of video lecture resources help fill in gaps when learning openings, since they do more than just go through book variations and give an evaluation at a certain cut-off point. Where to ideally place your pieces and the trade-offs involved in making these kinds of development decisions are what really underpin opening theory and practice. However, these concepts are too rarely explained in simple, practical terms in most opening theory books. Martin here does a good job at highlighting these ideas for the Bronstein-Larsen, across a number of example games.

Although there is a substantial amount of material covered, with Martin at least looking at the main options in each line, I would still consider this product as complementary in nature to more comprehensive "book" materials (in whatever format) and your personal annotated opening repertoire database. Despite the "Winning with..." title, Martin in my view does a decent job of not over-hyping Black's play, which he summarizes as designed to make White feel uncomfortable. He is also careful in his assessments to highlight practical vs. theoretical considerations. Looking at the Bronstein-Larsen variations in depth will require further research and your own evaluation of them, as is the case with all opening study.

30 March 2021

Commentary: 2017 Isle of Man International, Round 9 (Tarjan - Kosteniuk)

This next commentary game contains some themes for improving players at several different levels of analysis - meta, strategic, and tactical. "Meta" in this case refers to the overall context - the fact that GM James Tarjan, one of the best US players in the 1970s, was at the time of this game in the third year of his chess career comeback and at age 65 defeated both GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (below) and super-GM Vladimir Kramnik during the 2017 Isle of Man International. This was no fluke, as he had also played for the US in the 2016 chess Olympiad. Seeing these kinds of examples helps combat the "inevitable decline" narrative associated with the aging process, or at least provides fewer excuses for not undertaking effortful study.

While we (or at least I) may not have Tarjan's level of inherent talent, his approach and the example of play here are understandable and instructive. My top observations from the game:

  • Tarjan's opening choice is designed to allow White to "play chess" rather than debate opening theory. This strategy used to be frowned upon in general, with purists insisting White always play for a forced if slight advantage. However, Carlsen's repeated use of it over the years has lent it more legitimacy; one game of his is in a similar variation is included in the game notes.
  • Master-level choice of candidate moves. I highlight multiple instances where White's move choice probably would not occur to an amateur. I find these to be one of the most important aspects of studying and analyzing master-level games, as they demonstrate how new ideas can be introduced into your own play.
  • The interplay of tactical and strategic considerations is evident throughout, especially when Black - probably under time pressure - starts missing key tactics in the latter part of the game. Using tactics to achieve more of a strategic/positional advantage was also possible at several points in the game for both sides.

[Event "Chess.com Isle of Man Open - Masters"] [Site "Douglas (Isle of Man)"] [Date "2017.10.01"] [Round "9.32"] [White "Tarjan, James"] [Black "Kosteniuk, Alexandra"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A22"] [WhiteElo "2412"] [BlackElo "2552"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo Dragon"] [PlyCount "99"] [EventDate "2017.09.23"] 1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. Nc3 Nb6 6. b3 {this move takes the game out of reversed Sicilian territory. Nf3 is the most played in the database.} Be7 {Black commits the bishop early. The following top-level game shows an alternate plan of development.} (6... Nc6 7. Bb2 Be6 8. Bxc6+ bxc6 9. Nf3 Bd6 10. d4 exd4 11. Qxd4 f6 12. Qe4 Kf7 13. Qxc6 Qe8 14. Qe4 h5 15. Nd4 Bd7 16. Qxe8+ Rhxe8 17. f3 c5 18. Nc2 Be5 19. Nd1 Bxb2 20. Nxb2 Bb5 21. e4 f5 22. Ne3 fxe4 23. f4 Red8 24. Rd1 Rd4 25. Nf5 Rad8 26. Nxd4 cxd4 27. a4 Ba6 28. a5 Nc8 29. Nc4 Ne7 30. Kf2 Nf5 31. Rhe1 e3+ 32. Kf3 Bb7+ 33. Ke2 Ke6 34. Rg1 Be4 35. Ne5 Rb8 36. Nf3 Bxf3+ 37. Kxf3 Rxb3 38. Ke4 e2 39. Rd3 Rb5 40. Re1 Rxa5 41. Rxe2 g6 42. Kf3+ Kd6 43. h3 Ra4 44. g4 hxg4+ 45. hxg4 Ne7 46. Ke4 Nc6 47. Rh2 Ra1 48. Rh6 Re1+ 49. Kf3 Rf1+ 50. Kg3 Rg1+ 51. Kh4 Rh1+ 52. Kg5 Rxh6 53. Kxh6 Kd5 54. Kxg6 Ke4 55. Rd1 Kxf4 56. g5 Ne5+ 57. Kh5 Ke4 58. Re1+ Kf5 59. Rf1+ Ke4 60. Re1+ Kf5 61. Kh6 Nf7+ 62. Kh5 Ne5 {1/2-1/2 (62) Carlsen,M (2863) -Nepomniachtchi,I (2784) Lichess.org INT 2020}) 7. Bb2 {the bishop must develop here and there is no reason to postpone it. It also gives White a look at Black's next developing move before making any other decisions about piece placement.} Nc6 (7... O-O {seems more consistent with the early Bishop move, also waiting to see where to go with the Nb8.}) 8. Bxc6+ $5 {Tarjan is the only one in the database to play this, sending the game on to a different strategic path. It is a classic trade-off decision, eliminating the strong White bishop but inflicting permanent structural damage on Black and providing White with relatively easy targets to work against. The engines evaluate the position as equal.} (8. Nf3 {is of course the conventional move.}) 8... bxc6 9. Nf3 {developing and attacking e5.} Qd6 (9... f6 {would be the more standard way to protect the pawn in similar Black structures.}) 10. O-O {tucking the king away before Black can play ...Bh3. Interestingly, the engines do not consider this such a problem.} (10. Rc1 $5 {immediately moving to increase pressure on the c-file.} Bh3 11. Qc2 $11 {White's king is in no danger and the rook can go to g1 and still be useful.}) 10... Bf5 $6 {this fights for the e4 square, but not very effectively, considering White's next move.} (10... Bh3) ( 10... O-O) 11. d3 $14 {now White is threatening Ne4, with a discovered attack on the e5 pawn.} Qe6 {avoiding a double attack on the queen after White's next. } 12. Ne4 {Black now has an important strategic decision to make. Her choice to castle queenside is very imbalancing and appears to go against the position's needs. Kosteniuk must have felt that either the king was safe enough there, despite the weak pawns, or that she would be able to attack White first.} O-O-O $6 {Black tactically protects e5, as the Ne4 is now hanging due to the pinned d-pawn. However, White gets out of the pin by moving his queen to a better square, lining up on the c-file, so it is a net minus for Black.} (12... f6 {is the engine recommendation, protecting the pawn.}) ( 12... Bxe4 $6 {looks like a reasonable idea, inflicting some pawn structure damage on White in return. However, Black's c-pawns are still worse than White's e-pawns and Black would no longer have the two bishops.}) 13. Qc2 $16 f6 14. Rfc1 {putting a rook on c1 is clearly a good idea, creating a battery with additional pressure. An argument could be made for moving the other rook, since the a-pawn will not need its support to advance, but White evidently wanted to put both heavy pieces on the queenside.} Kb7 {a reasonable-looking defensive move, but Black may be better off looking for some counterplay.} ( 14... Bg4 $5 {is the engines' preference, threatening to exchange on f3 and undermine White's d-pawn.}) 15. b4 $5 {a move that no amateur would be likely to consider, as it just appears to lose a pawn.} (15. a4 {is the more obvious way of launching operations on the queenside.}) 15... Bxb4 16. Rab1 {now we see the idea of the pawn sacrifice, to attack down the b-file. It appears to be slower than alternatives, though, as Black looks to equalize with ...Rd5 or exchange off an attacking piece with ...Bxe4. In practical terms, it is still difficult to meet, however.} (16. a4 Rd5 17. a5 Nd7 18. Bxe5 $5 fxe5) 16... Be7 {withdraws the bishop from its current vulnerable square, eliminating tactics involving a discovered attack after the Bb2 moves (for example Bd4 or Bxe5). This does little to impede White's attacking ideas, however.} (16... Rd5 { this defends along the 5th rank, although White still has pressure and tactical ideas in the center against the rook and bishop. For example} 17. Bd4 Ba3 18. Nc5+ Bxc5 19. Bxc5 e4 20. Nd4 Rxd4 {the defensive exchange sacrifice is necessary} (20... Qd7 $2 21. dxe4) 21. Bxd4 {at this point the engine shows complete equality, despite the material difference, meaning that with accurate defensive play Black will be all right. If Kosteniuk calculated this far, however, it would hardly look appetizing.}) (16... Bxe4 $5 {may be the best practical choice here, eliminating an attacking piece and reducing complexity.} 17. dxe4 a5 {physically impeding White's future a-pawn advance} 18. a3 Be7 $14) 17. a4 {with the idea of pushing away the knight. Bringing another piece into the attack might boost its effectiveness.} (17. Nfd2 {appears to be a useful preparatory move, as the Nf3 now is not doing much otherwise.}) (17. Bc3) 17... Ka8 {getting off the open file.} 18. a5 Nd7 {although Black has been pushed around, White does not have anything decisive and now looks to recover the pawn. However, there is no rush to do so and he ends up in a slightly worse position with the move played, so alternatives are worth looking at.} 19. Qa4 ( 19. Ra1 $5 {with the idea of Ba3 and trading off White's worse bishop, helping fight for the dark squares onthe queenside.}) (19. Qxc6+ Qxc6 20. Rxc6 { regains the pawn more forthrightly and seems to give Black less leeway than the game continuation.}) 19... Rb8 {challenging on the open file and giving back the pawn for equality.} (19... Nb8 $6 {is a move amateurs might play, defending the c6 pawn at all cost. This would renew White's attacking chances, however. For example} 20. Nfd2 Rd5 21. Ba3 Bxa3 22. Qxa3 Na6 23. Rc4 {followed by Rbc1.}) 20. Rxc6 {this forces Black's next move, otherwise the c-pawn is lost.} Qb3 21. Qxb3 Rxb3 22. Nfd2 {finally the knight gets into the action.} ( 22. Rxc7 $2 {greed is punished by} Rhb8 23. Rc2 Ba3 $19) 22... Rb7 {now Black is doing fine and the open b-file is more of a benefit for her than it is for her opponent.} 23. Rc2 {this overprotects the Bb2, freeing the Rb1 to move, but seems a bit passive.} (23. a6 $5 Rb6 24. Rxc7 Rhb8 25. Rc2 Rxa6 {with a slight advantage to Black, with the passed a-pawn.}) 23... Rhb8 24. Nc4 { overprotecting the Bb2 again and getting the knight further into play.} a6 { physically blocking the further advance of the White a-pawn.} 25. Rbc1 { moving the rook out of the pin and doubling pressure on the c-file. White has managed to rearrange his pieces to be less awkward and can look to exchange off his worse dark-square bishop with Ba3.} Rb3 {this temporarily stops the bishop exchange idea, but White could still insist on it.} 26. Bc3 (26. Ned2 R3b5 27. Ba3 Bxa3 28. Nxa3 Rxa5 29. Nac4 Rc5 30. Ra2 Rc6 31. Rca1 $11 {with play against the a-pawn.}) (26. f4 $5 {could also be played immediately.}) 26... Be6 {Black again passes up the chance to exchange on e4. This seems to help validate White's previous move, though, as the bishop is now more useful on the a5-e1 diagonal protecting the a-pawn.} (26... Bxe4 27. dxe4 Nc5) 27. f4 $6 {one of the common cases where playing the right idea at the wrong time - one tempo later, in this case - could result in a setback.} exf4 {Black makes the obvious move, to avoid losing the e-pawn (attacked three times, defended twice).} (27... Bxc4 {this possibility is the difference.} 28. dxc4 exf4 29. gxf4 Nc5 30. Ng3 Bd6 31. e3 $17 {now White has three weak pawns (a5, c4, e3) to defend and Black's pieces are much better placed.}) 28. gxf4 {this allows Black to play ...Bxc4 again, but she overlooks this.} (28. Ncd2 {is the engines' recommendation, sacrificing the pawn for vigorous piece play.}) 28... R3b5 29. Bd4 $11 {now White is completely equal.} Bb4 {attempting to pick up the a-pawn. Komodo recommends to simply ignore it, as White's rooks could then make threats on the c-file.} (29... Bxc4 30. Rxc4 $11) 30. Bc3 {an equal defensive move. Given the repetition of moves that occurs here, it appears both players were likely low on time.} (30. Ne3 $5 {this unleashes the rooks.} Bxa5 31. Rc6 Bb6 32. Bxb6 R8xb6 33. Rxc7 $16) 30... Be7 31. Bd4 R8b7 32. Kg2 { White appears to be just marking time here. Perhaps this succeeded in provoking Black's next, which is a non-obvious blunder.} Kb8 $2 {this appears to be a reasonable move, getting the king out of the corner and reinforcing the pawn on c7. It has a tactical problem, though, which Tarjan finds.} (32... Bd5 {or moving to f7 or g8 would avoid the problem, which is created by the king making itself vulnerable to a back-rank check, physically blocking the rook from coming back to b8.}) 33. Ncd6 $1 {an example of a reloader tactic on d6, made possible by the threat of Rc8+} Bxd6 (33... Rb1 {the engines suggest leaving the bishop on the board rather than exchange it, but it's still a win for White, who is up the exchange with no compensation for Black.} 34. Nxb7 Rxb7 (34... Rxc1 35. Rxc1 Kxb7 36. Nc5+ $18) 35. Kf2 $18) 34. Nxd6 {and now Black loses material.} Rd5 35. Nxb7 Rxd4 36. Nd8 Bd5+ 37. e4 Kc8 38. Nc6 Bxc6 39. Rxc6 Rxd3 40. Rxc7+ $18 {at the end of the sequence, White is simple an exchange up with a dominating rook pair.} Kd8 41. Ra7 {both getting behind the a-pawn and leaving the c7 square potentially available for the other rook.} Rd6 42. Kf3 g5 {attempting to get any counterplay possible, by breaking up the pawn shield in front of White's king, or getting a kingside pawn majority.} 43. Rg1 h6 {this looks like it is reinforcing the g-pawn, but ends up giving another pawn to White.} 44. h4 {another interesting master idea, although an amateur might have more of a chance of spotting this tactic. The h-pawn cannot be taken due to the mate, and Black's g-pawn cannot be further reinforced, so it is lost.} Ke7 45. hxg5 hxg5 46. fxg5 fxg5 47. Rxg5 Kf6 48. Kf4 Ke6 49. Rg6+ Nf6 {allowing one final tactic.} 50. Rxf6+ {and now the pawn forks on e5 after the rook is recaptured.} 1-0

18 March 2021

"How I won more games by improving my chess thought process" - article

NM Dan Heisman has posted an article by one of his students on his Chess.com blog - "How I won more games by improving my chess thought process" - that is one of the better practical descriptions I've seen of the central importance of your thought process to gaining chess strength. The main issues described, constantly calculating variations while also missing good candidate moves, are common ones and unlikely to be overcome unless the improving player is self-aware enough. Of course, once you are aware of the problem, it is then useful to have some concrete guidance on how to address it, which the article offers.

In my own chess improvement process, through analyzing my own games, I early on identified the lack of a consistent thought process as a significant handicap, resulting in the Simplified Thought Process (That Works). More recently, I've had some success in better identifying my opponent's resources (i.e. their candidate moves which result in threats) using tactics training to strengthen the thought process.

16 March 2021

Training quote of the day #36: Jacob Aagaard

Grandmasters know that a positional advantage is better than a material advantage

In my experience amateurs are reluctant to take extra material when they should, but have a tendency to do so when they should not. I think it is all about confidence. When you are under pressure from a grandmaster, it can be psychologically difficult to accept a pawn or a piece on offer. Often amateurs choose to take a worse position with material equality, and subsequently get hammered. At the same time amateurs have a tendency to cash in on a positional advantage far too soon, instead of maintaining the pressure. Again it is a matter of confidence. If you don't believe in your own abilities, you are less likely to trust your evaluation of the position and consequently seek some sort of security outside yourself, such as an extra pawn.

From Grandmaster Versus Amateur, Chapter 1

09 March 2021

Commentary: 2017 U.S. Championship, Round 10 (Zherebukh - Nakamura)

Here we continue with the theme of Caro-Kann Classical wins by Black at the top level, with this game featuring dynamic opposite-side attacking play by GM Hikaru Nakamura from the 2017 U.S. Championship. Unlike the 2020 commentary game in which he lost as White to Awonder Liang, here Nakamura plays actively, even aggressively, but in a way that is in tune with the position's characteristics rather than attempting to force an attack. His opponent, GM Yaroslav Zherebukh, had been having a great tournament up to that point, but apparently was caught out by Nakamura's opening choice and subsequent play.

White's problems stemmed from his choice on move 14 to prematurely exchange minor pieces. This resulted in the h-file being opened for Black's rook, and he was also able to start pushing around White in the center, seizing the initiative and conducting a punishing attack. Nakamura's execution of it is particularly instructive. The variations show the interplay of various tactical ideas, revolving around fixing White's vulnerabilities around the king position - particularly the h1 and f2 squares - and taking advantage of loose/awkward piece placement. A devastating win in only 21 moves, showing that the Caro-Kann Classical can be a fighting choice as well as a solid one for Black.

[Event "U.S. Championships Men 2017"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2017.04.08"] [Round "10"] [White "Zherebukh, Yaroslav"] [Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B18"] [WhiteElo "2605"] [BlackElo "2793"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo Dragon"] [PlyCount "42"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nh3 {this has the same idea as the "book" N1e2, namely deploying the knight to f4. It does not seem to have independent significance and is not mentioned in theory books, although it is interesting to see that it is roughly equivalent in the database - actually with a few more games - to N1e2.} Nf6 (6... e6 {is the other main response.}) (6... h6 {is the third most popular, but scores very well for White. There is no need to prevent the knight from going to g5 and preparing to retreat the Bg6 loses time for Black.}) 7. Nf4 Nbd7 (7... e5 { has been the traditional antidote to this variation since the Tal-Botvinnik matches in the 1960s, but the line can be drawish, so likely was avoided by Nakamura for this reason. Here's a high level example:} 8. Nxg6 hxg6 9. dxe5 Qa5+ 10. Bd2 Qxe5+ 11. Qe2 Qxe2+ 12. Bxe2 Nbd7 13. O-O O-O-O 14. Rad1 Nb6 15. Bc1 Bd6 16. Rfe1 Kc7 17. h3 Rhe8 18. Bd3 {1/2-1/2 (18) Radjabov,T (2735)-Anand, V (2799) Morelia/Linares 2008}) 8. Bc4 Qc7 9. O-O e6 10. c3 {while structurally sound, this is a rather passive move.} (10. Re1 {is a more typical White idea in this position, pressuring the e-file and threatening some tactical ideas if Black gets careless with development.} Bd6 {and now White can sac on e6, but it only maintains equality if Black defends correctly. However, it could certainly be a good practical try, Ivanchuk lost a blitz game against Duda in this line.} 11. Rxe6+ fxe6 12. Nxe6 Qb6 13. Qe2 Ke7 { and now the defensive idea is to play ...Rae8, perhaps after a4 and ...a5 are inserted. That way the king can flee via d8 and not lock the rook out of the game.}) 10... Bd6 11. Qf3 {Defending the Nf4. Also, by placing his queen on the h1-a8 diagonal, he influences e4 and d5 and eyes b7 in the event Black goes for the typical ...c5 break, which Nakamura does play immediately.} c5 { after an exchange on c5, recapturing will help activate Black's minor pieces. White could also push the d-pawn in response, but Black does not have any problems there.} 12. dxc5 (12. d5 {there are not in fact any database games with this line. White players likely do not want to give up the center so easily.} e5 $5 {may be the easiest way to neutralize White's chances.}) 12... Bxc5 (12... Nxc5 {no one plays this way, since the knight will just have to go back.} 13. Bb5+ Ncd7) 13. Bb3 {White takes care of his hanging bishop, otherwise ...Bxf2+ is threatened.} O-O-O {by castling opposite sides, Black signals further that he is looking for winning chances. It is also the engines' top choice. While Black's king position looks more open, he has effective local superiority on the queenside, as White is much better positioned for action on the kingside. The half-open c-file and queenside pawn majority are also not immediate problems, as it will be tough for White to mobilize anything there. Finally, White's dark-square bishop is currently out of the game, something which is corrected shortly, but still leads to problems. } 14. Nxg6 $2 {positionally, this allows for the bishop to come to a more active square, but ignores the even more significant extra activity that Black gains as a result, most notably through the opening of the h-file. Tactically, White needed to prepare the piece exchange more, as now he gets pushed around and gives Black the initiative.} (14. Be3) (14. Qe2) 14... hxg6 $17 {this is exactly what Black wanted with queenside castling, now the Rh8 is ideally placed to exert pressure on White's king position.} 15. Bf4 e5 {now Black is firmly in control.} 16. Be3 e4 {I think it likely that White underestimated or missed this move, attacking the queen with tempo. The Ng3 is pinned against the mate threat on h2, is the problem.} 17. Qe2 {abandoning the kingside to its fate.} (17. Qf4 $5 {would put up more resistance on the kingside.} Bd6 18. Qg5 Ne5 $19) 17... Bxe3 (17... Rxh2 {is also possible immediately, but trading bishops simplifies the calculations.}) 18. Qxe3 (18. fxe3 {would avoid the threat of a K+Q fork on h2 and e3, but has its own problems, namely that the Ng3 will no longer be protected after the sacrifice on h2.} Rxh2 {and the rook still cannot be taken, due to} 19. Kxh2 Rh8+ 20. Kg1 Qxg3 {with a winning attack, thanks to the Nf6. Eliminating it is not enough, either.} 21. Rxf6 Nxf6 22. Bxf7 Kb8 {and Black wins material after ...Qh2+, thanks to the hanging Ra1. Trying to defend with Qf2 loses to the deflection tactic ...Rh1+}) 18... Rxh2 { this thematic sacrificial breakthrough idea should always be looked at when the other rook is available to immediately come to the h-file.} 19. Rfd1 { nothing better than to give White's king a path to run.} (19. Kxh2 $2 Ng4+) 19... Rdh8 {Black is now simply up material with a strong attack and dominating position. He does not have an immediate combinational win, but White is going to have to drop material or worsen his king position considerably.} 20. Qxa7 {re-establishing material equality at least, in the hopes that Black cannot carry through with his attack.} (20. Rxd7 Nxd7 21. Rd1 Kb8 22. Qxe4 {and now Black can win easily by entering a material-up endgame with} (22. Bxf7 {and White looks like he might have some compensation, but a nice sacrificial winning line for Black is} Ne5 23. Be6 Nf3+ $1 24. gxf3 Qxg3+ 25. fxg3 Rh1+ 26. Kf2 R8h2#) 22... f5 23. Qe7 Nc5 24. Qxc7+ Kxc7 $19) (20. Kf1 Kb8 {and now White has no good defense, as Black's knights can mobilize further to c5, e5 and g4 and White's king is too open. For example} 21. Qd4 Ne5 22. Bc2 e3 {similar to the game} 23. Qxe3 Nfg4 $19) 20... e3 $1 {now the threat is ...Qxg3, and the queen cannot be taken because of the mate on h1; the e3 pawn covers the f2 flight square.} 21. Qxe3 (21. Qa8+ Nb8 22. Rd4 R2h4 23. Rad1 (23. Rxh4 exf2+ 24. Kxf2 Rxh4 $19) 23... e2 $19) (21. Rd4 Qxg3 22. Qa8+ Qb8 23. Rc4+ Kd8 24. Qxb8+ Nxb8 25. Rd1+ Nbd7 $19) 21... Ng4 {because the knight replaces the black pawn in covering the f2 flight square, the ... Qxg3 threat is renewed, along with mate threats on h1, and they can no longer be met without White losing his queen.} 0-1

07 March 2021

"Developing New Skills and Habits Using Root Cause Analysis" - article

Worth a read is the "Developing New Skills and Habits Using Root Cause Analysis" article at Chess.com by NM Hans Schut. Despite the didactic title, it contains some very practical counsel and examples focusing on adult improvers. The central idea is to be aware of your repeated problems and their root causes, through analyzing your own games. According to Schut,

Some of the top root causes identified in the lessons with my students are:

- I do not know the plan behind the opening that I play, I feel lost after the opening;

- I reduced tension by trading instead of building the activity of my pieces into an attack;

- I do not know how to play this opening;

- I do not use the blunder check (capture, checks, threats) at every move;

- I do not calculate variations, I play moves based on the characteristics of the position and my gut feel;

- I am overlooking the possibilities of my opponent;

- Endgame: lack of calculation skills and knowledge of general endgames principles including rook activity, king activity, pawn breakthroughs;

- Get into time trouble and blunder (this can have different root causes).

Any of these sound familiar? My top current ones are still the lack of knowledge of opening (really early middlegame) plans, failure to consistently apply blunder check/CCT, overlooking my opponent's possibilities, and endgame weakness. On the other hand, I would say I've been aware of all of these areas for improvement and have actually improved my performance in them, although not to where they need to be. In the past, reducing tension by exchanging pieces was something I noted repeatedly in analysis, and now pay much more attention to this in my games, so it's no longer an issue.

The main takeaway is therefore to know why you are losing and work on not repeating the same mistakes over and over. This often requires replacing bad habits with new ones, including deliberate modifications of your thinking process. Simply reducing the frequency of common mistakes will up your game and eliminating them can result in a significant leap in strength.

05 March 2021

Training quote of the day #35: Max Euwe

In the middlegame the pieces seldom exert their full powers, since they are obstructed by other pieces, both hostile and friendly. The aim must always be to give every piece its greatest possible radius of action; and this is really the hub on which turns all positional and combinational play.

From The Middlegame, Book One: Static Features by Dr. Max Euwe and Hans Kramer  

27 February 2021

"The Attacking Set-Up That Always Wins" - article

In the context of studying the Stonewall, it was interesting to see the article by GM Gregory Serper "The Attacking Set-Up That Always Wins" on Chess.com. Despite the clickbait title, it's actually a useful conceptual breakdown of some opening and middlegame ideas using the structure, focusing primarily on White's prospects with it (which he terms the "Pillsbury Attack"). Some highlights and observations:

  • The article intro examines the core setup (Ne5, Bd3 with pawns on d4/e3/f4) using a classic Pillsbury game (above image) from a Queen's Gambit opening. The main difference between it and a "pure" Stonewall Attack is the location of the Bg5. Other ideas seen (Qf3-h3 transfer, sacrificing the light-squared bishop, exploitation of the half-open f-file, etc.) are standard Stonewall ones.
  • Even more unusual paths to the formation for White are possible, including via 1.e4, as in the exciting games Bronstein-Zamikhovsky (see move 12 onwards) and Tal-Leonov (move 13 onwards), both from Caro-Kann (!) variations. In these the e-pawn is missing, but the other characteristics remain.
  • Black is given a nod with the citation of one classic attacking Dutch Stonewall game (Maroczy-Tartakower) that features a thematic rook sacrifice for White's h2 pawn, an idea (in reverse) which is also seen in one of the White example games (Steinitz-Mongredien).
The article is well worth the read for anyone looking at how to succeed by employing the Stonewall formation to attack. It also shows how this approach is not necessarily the result of formulaic "system" opening play, rather the idea is to reach specific position-types which can be very effective if their advantages are understood.

23 February 2021

Chess Computing Resources (2021)

The recent release of the Stockfish 13 engine is a good peg point for an updated post outlining available chess computing resources for improving players. This is intended to be a streamlined look at key resources grouped around two main functions - Database/Analysis and Gameplay/Training - along with some observations on how to effectively use these computer tools. It is not intended to be a comprehensive review of everything that is available on the internet. Rather, it reflects the products/sites with which I have some familiarity, and have found more (or sometimes less) useful. For a deeper dive into specific software functionality, although the references are somewhat dated, see Chess Computing Resources for 2015.

I. Database/Analysis packages: the core training functions

Based on the recommendations of top-level trainers and my own personal experience, the two most important practices for progressing in chess strength are analyzing your own games and studying master games. Building your personal databases - I maintain two, one containing my tournament games and one with my training/online games - is fundamental to this. Using computer tools to help analyze and compare your games to master-level ones then becomes a powerful and efficient training practice. 

To maintain full control over your data and for ease of use, having your own software package often makes the most sense. This will consist of three parts: 1) a database program GUI (graphical user interface); 2) databases (your own and at least one general reference one); and 3) chess engine(s) for assisting analytic evaluation. Below we'll look at what's available in each of these categories. Mixing and matching is very possible, so it is worth carefully considering what you actually need for your own training purposes, especially if your budget is limited.

Database/Analysis GUI programs (free)

Scid vs. PC
A very good free option for database software is Scid vs. PC, which also has a Mac version and a related Android mobile app (Scid on the Go). The above screenshot displays the program loaded with the PGN file of the Ruiz Castillo - So commentary game, with the "Commentary - ChessAdmin" database (linked in the sidebar) loaded into the database tree reference tab. The engine analysis window is displayed at the bottom, showing the top three lines being calculated by the (free) Stockfish 13 engine. The text moves in the PGN window are fully annotatable using a right-click menu. The software is quite powerful and has many database, search, and game editing functions available.

Other top free database GUI programs include: Arena; a version of the original Scid; and ChessX. It costs nothing to check them out and one may work better on your particular computer platform (PC/Mac/Linux).

Training methodology: the above layout reflects my core setup for game analysis functions, except that I would also have open a general reference database and my opening repertoire database. Stepping through a game from the beginning then allows you to examine in detail the key decision points, in a computer-assisted manner, while exploring and recording different options. In the opening phase, the databases are the primary reference points for comparison and further investigation. While move statistics (% winning, frequency played) can be helpful guides as to what works best in a position, it is also important to look at related master games in a more in-depth fashion, especially to see what is going on in the early middlegame. Once that point is reached, the engine becomes your primary assistant, especially in highlighting alternative candidate moves that you may not have otherwise considered; this is why I have it set to display the top three lines. Of course along with the benefits, it is useful to keep in mind the pitfalls of computer analysis.

Database/Analysis GUI programs (commercial)

ChessBase 15
Above is displayed the same game in the ChessBase 15 program. The configuration is similar, showing the board, game text, and engine window, in this case running the (commercial) Komodo Dragon engine. One significant addition is the lower right "Let's Check" window which is proprietary, showing the top three engine evaluation lines from the ChessBase cloud database for the position. This is a useful way of automatically tapping into others' analytic efforts, using a variety of different engines. (You automatically contribute your own engine's evaluation by accessing the function, as well.) The feature is included with the latest ChessBase versions, which also have a large suite of advanced analytic database functions, as previously documented. These can be very useful for study and preparation purposes, but are not required for the core practice of game analysis using a reference database, analytic engine, and annotation tools.

Other commercial database GUIs include: Hiarcs Chess Explorer, Chess Assistant 21 and Aquarium 2021. These are all powerful products, but the reality is that ChessBase is considered the commercial standard, including for its proprietary database file format (CBV). Which means that if you want access to a variety of large databases in CBV format, you will need a ChessBase program.

Databases

In contrast with database GUI software, it's difficult to find comprehensive, good quality free games databases, which makes having some type of commercial product more necessary, at least in terms of a general reference database. That said, there are still multiple options available and searching the internet for public domain PGN databases that are currently available is always an option. I would advise being very careful about any advertised "free" file sources, however, to avoid downloading malware onto your system.
  • TWIC (The Week in Chess) since 1994 has been publishing international tournament games on its website and has weekly game files freely downloadable in both PGN and CBV format. According to the site, a PayPal donation will get you the full collection in CBV format.
  • Chess Games Links is a comprehensive site for finding downloadable and online games databases.
  • PGN Mentor is often cited as a games source and has a number of databases broken down by opening, player and event.
  • The standard commercial ChessBase products (sold by many retailers) are its Mega Database and Big Database programs, released as comprehensive general reference databases for international OTB (over-the-board) tournament and match games, with yearly updates. The primary difference is the professionally annotated games contained in the Mega version. Both use the proprietary ChessBase format to facilitate generating reports by player, event, etc. and to take advantage of the advanced search and analytic capabilities of the ChessBase GUI software. The company also publishes a separate Correspondence Database.
Chess engines

In contemporary times, free chess engines are among the world's top performers, so there is no reason not to have one (or more) in your analysis toolkit. A bit of internet background research - for example this non-partisan blog post on Chess.com - will also reveal which engines are essentially clones of publicly available ones. You can then make the decision to go for the free download, or instead choose a slightly tweaked, perhaps even weaker commercial version of an engine.
  • Stockfish is the gold standard chess engine that is freely available. Many internet sites incorporate a version of it as a live analysis engine.
  • Lc0 (Leela Chess Zero) is the main open source neural network based chess engine, also freely available. Stockfish and other top engines now incorporate NNUE (efficiently updatable neural network) evaluations, so the neural network distinction is less important than it used to be.
  • Komodo is a commercial engine that has been developed since 2007 by GM Larry Kaufman and his team. It typically has some extra/unique features and settings included, which are described on the site. The latest (Dragon) version has also incorporated NNUE technology. Previous Komodo versions are available for free download on the site.
It used to be that chess engines had significantly different strengths and demonstrably varied in their evaluation functions; for example, Fritz was notorious for its materialism. Now that the top engines are well over 3000 Elo in strength, there are still differences between their evaluations and approaches, but the practical significance of this is relatively minor, especially at the amateur level. Nevertheless, I believe that the "feel" of an engine's move choices is at least psychologically important for an improving player, so which engine you select as your primary assistant is still a personal decision. Historically I've been able to understand and relate better to Komodo's top 3 choices - the standard number of candidate moves I have displayed during the analysis process - so that has been my go-to engine for a while now.

It's worth highlighting the use of the word "assistant" for an engine's role in the training process. They can't be called coaches, since they do not provide explanations for their recommendations. The assistance provided to your thinking process by their showing different possibilities in a position can be very valuable, however. Engines will also help hone your evaluation skills, since as part of the analytic process you will need to articulate to yourself why a position is +/- for a particular side. Finally, your own judgment cannot be replaced and sometimes - perhaps even relatively often, in quiet positions - engine "scores" for lines can be misleading or simply not helpful, depending on how practical they would be to play in real life.

II. Gameplay/Training resources

Given the broad capabilities of modern chess software, the lines have been permanently blurred between chess database and chess-playing programs. This is in part because having some sort of database access is now considered integral to playing chess. So depending on what you want, you may not feel the need to have a different application for your playing and other training needs.
  • Scid vs. PC is a good example of this, as it comes with an engine (Phalanx) designed to be played at a user-adjustable level (strong master - beginner) and has basic time and other settings, including specifying which opening complex the computer should play and playing out a game from a particular position.
  • ChessBase deliberately separates the playing function into its Fritz GUI line of software, which has been sold with various primary engines, although ChessBase software owners have the option of playing out a particular position against an online version of Fritz at adjustable levels.
The experience of playing a computer opponent is much more personalized than the database analysis functions, as "fun" and "challenge" and other aesthetic considerations will enter into it. People also have very different goals and interests in playing, everything ranging from repeated blitz games to learn new openings, to slow games that are intended to simulate tournament conditions. Personally, I find it difficult to care about a training game against a computer, especially when there is no evident personality or "real-life" quality conveyed as part of the experience. This is why my preferred practice is to play a weekly game against a human training partner.

That said, here are some additional computer resources designed to provide higher-quality playing experiences.

Shredder 13
  • Shredder Chess is now best known for the game-playing and training features in its Shredder 13 line of commercial products, which are available for all platforms. The interface is intuitive and it offers a variety of customizable options, as well as a more human-like opponent at different strength levels. It has built-in training features for openings and endings, as well as tactics puzzles. Naturally it has an analytic and PGN database capability as well.
  • Lucas Chess is software geared towards playing and training, with special emphasis on offering a number of choices deliberately aimed at beginners, including some very low-rated engine opponents and more basic training options to develop chess skills.
  • It's a shame the old Chessmaster series died out, as especially the last edition (XI or The Art of Learning) was packed with tutorials for all levels and used an expansive range of named opponents with different chess "personalities" that made for more interesting training games. You could for example use the opponents as a "ladder" challenge or specific ones (aggressive attackers, strong defenders) to work on specific aspects of your game. The software is still floating around, but installing it on a modern system is unlikely to work well.
  • The Chess.com bots are a recent implementation of the same idea of varying chess "personalities" and strengths, in the context of an online opponent. From my perspective, they have a good range, but lack some customizable training options, for example a time control above 30 0 (why not 45 45 or 60 10 or just let you input one yourself, up to a certain range?) This makes them unsuitable for tournament-like practice games, since anything that goes into the endgame will result in a time crunch. There is also a "no time" option for casual play, but that doesn't address the issue of wanting an opponent set up for a slow game.
In terms of chess training resources, there are a lot of online sites that offer a wide variety of services. Gone are the days when chess bloggers had to rely on things like CT-ART software. Internet search, which will turn up things like YouTube videos and such, may well be your best bet for researching specific interests or applications in depth, especially free content. Nonetheless I'll close this post by highlighting some of the major commercial chess training sites, which normally include some free content as part of their offerings.
  • Chess.com has online database services, including an openings explorer, various chess puzzle challenges, and a series of its own interactive training videos on all aspects of the game. There is also a large number of recorded instructional videos from professional players hosted on the site, many behind the paywall.
  • Chessable offers a range of training courses on openings, endgames, strategy and tactics. Again, some content is free.
  • 365chess.com is primarily an online database service, but includes a number of training features for its supporters, focusing on openings and puzzles.
  • Chess Tempo is an in-depth site focusing on tactics, openings and endgames training, as well as offering online database services.
  • Forward Chess by this point has accumulated an extensive library of interactive e-books from major publishers for its app, which is best designed for tablets. If you are already using a database GUI program for your analytic work on a computer, I would recommend getting e-books (with accompanying databases) in whatever format you have your other databases, so you can use the data more easily. You can obtain free samples and excerpts of products to "try before you buy" within the app.

21 February 2021

Commentary: 2017 FIDE World Cup Tblisi, Round 1 (Ruiz Castillo - So)

I find it most helpful to group together studies of master (commentary) games and opening structures. I've been looking at the Classical Caro-Kann recently (see Nakamura - Liang) so selected for analysis the following game won by GM Wesley So as a useful follow-on. I've more or less randomly accumulated material for my commentary queue, based on reading reports of international events and seeing which games seemed most relevant, interesting and rewarding of more in-depth study.

So's victory and the choices made by both players along the way are well worth examining in detail. The first significant choice is on move 11. I expect White likely went into this variation with the idea of playing 13. a3, as an attempt to get material off the board and transition into an equal ending. However, So afterwards continually finds ways to pose small problems to his opponent and create more imbalances in the position. 

Some of the choices made by both players appear to have been more practical than objective, for example White's decision not to exchange rooks around move 30, but when playing a human in live chess, these are just as important to take into consideration. Other ideas, such as the ones behind So's moves 28 and 37, demonstrate a deep understanding of the dynamics and potential of the resulting positions.

White only makes a significant mistake on move 38, by allowing a tactic to win material, although on the previous move he sets himself up for it. This is a common psychological dynamic, as it is harder to un-commit from an idea (in this case centralizing the king) once it has already been played. By move 41, we therefore reach the point where classical annotators would simply end with "and now it is a matter of technique," but for those of us who could use some work on our endgame proficiency, So's technique is in fact worth following to its conclusion.

[Event "FIDE World Cup 2017"] [Site "Tbilisi"] [Date "2017.09.03"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Ruiz Castillo, Joshua Daniel"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B19"] [WhiteElo "2377"] [BlackElo "2792"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 13.2"] [PlyCount "118"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 Nd7 8. h5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 e6 11. Bf4 {White's first significant decision in the main line of the Classical Caro-Kann. The alternative, Bd2, prevents Black's next, but has been considered less challenging.} Qa5+ 12. Bd2 {in olden times, the expected result would have been for Black to retreat with ...Qc7 and enter into more standard lines, rendering the Bf4/Bd2 decision essentially meaningless. GMs since the early 2000s have played this position more actively, however.} Bb4 {Black has a remarkable plus score (almost 54 percent) in the database after this move.} 13. a3 {this move is the third most played, but relatively rare. It essentially offers a transition to an equal ending and should therefore be viewed as a drawing attempt for White.} (13. c3 {is standard, after which Black does best to retreat with} Be7) (13. Ne4 $5 { starts off complications if Black does not wish to trade pieces, starting with} Ngf6 14. Nd6+ Ke7) 13... Bxd2+ 14. Qxd2 {at this point, Black scores well in the database both by trading queens or by keeping them on with either ...Qc7 or . ..Qd5.} Qxd2+ {So opts to head straight for the ending, having over 400 Elo points on his opponent and no doubt both greater experience and endgame skills.} 15. Nxd2 Ngf6 16. O-O-O {castling kingside would decentralize the king and leave the h-pawn weakened after the rook transfer, so White castles queenside.} Ke7 {Black feels no need to castle at all. The king is centralized for the coming endgame, covering the d6 square, and the rooks are connected.} 17. Nde4 {re-developing the knight, uncovering the Rd1 and offering another piece trade.} Rad8 {So develops the rook and implicitly declares he will be using it on the d-file, pursuing a central strategy.} 18. Rhe1 Nxe4 {So decides to simplify the task at hand, now that White has shifted his kingside rook over. This means that Black would gain a small initiative in the event of of a knight recapture.} 19. Rxe4 (19. Nxe4 Nf6 {now the h-pawn is threatened.} 20. Nxf6 gxf6 {and after ...Rhg8 Black will have a pleasant, if small, advantage in his rook activity. The doubled f-pawns are not a weakness that White can exploit and in fact help shore up Black's central control (e5 and e6 squares).}) 19... Nf6 {the knight goes to its best square with a tempo on the rook.} 20. Re5 {on the 5th rank the rook guards the h-pawn and is not badly placed, so Black harrasses it again.} Ng4 {also threatening f2.} 21. Re2 { retreating and protecting the f2 pawn at the same time.} Rd5 {now it is Black's turn to influence the 5th rank with a rook, provoking White's next.} 22. c4 Rd7 {the point of Black's maneuver was to make the d-pawn a better target for him. The position remains equal, but is easier to play for Black, who has more obvious targets (White's h- and d-pawns).} 23. f3 {pushing back the advanced knight and removing the f-pawn from its attack. This comes at the cost of the pawn's influence over g3 and e3.} (23. Nf5+ {is the choice of the engines, taking advantage of the pin on the e-pawn to drive the king away from its ideal square.}) 23... Nf6 24. Re5 {reoccupying the 5th rank, now that the rook cannot be driven away by the knight.} Rc8 {the king's rook finally gets into the game, So choosing to line it up against his opponent's king. One potential idea that results is the ...b5 pawn advance.} 25. Nf5+ {now White chooses to drive Black's king back. However, this is not as effective now, since the rook formerly on h8 has found freedom on the other side of the board. } Kf8 26. Ne3 Rcd8 {a simple but effective doubling of rooks against the d-pawn.} 27. Nc2 {with White's pieces more awkwardly placed and restricted, Black by this point has a slightly more concrete edge than simply enjoying an easier position.} b6 {increasing Black's control of the 5th rank and preventing ideas of Ra5, for example. At this point Black can be said to have the initiative as well, since White is running out of useful moves and will have to respond to Black's ideas.} 28. Rde1 {taking advantage of the fact that the knight is anchoring the pawn on d2, also removing the under-protected rook from any potential tactics involving the d-file.} Rd6 {this potentially frees up the d7 square for the knight and provokes White's next move. These types of ideas can be difficult for amateurs to spot. Often we look, in a too-narrow fashion, to always "do something" with the piece being moved. In this case, the rook itself is no better off on d6, but it accomplishes something useful for Black's other pieces.} 29. c5 Rd5 {So was evidently fine with allowing a trade of rooks. From a practical standpoint, a player with stronger technique usually finds it easier to win a single rather than double rook ending. This move further pressures the h5 pawn, so White is forced to deal with that threat over the next couple of moves.} (29... R6d7 {also looks good, maintaining the tension on the d-file. The square d5 is now also available for the knight.}) 30. cxb6 {White chooses not to exchange rooks and by doing so has to otherwise reinforce or remove his pawns on the 5th rank.} (30. Rxd5 { is what the engines advise.} Nxd5 {here Black's knight is unassailable on d5 and clearly superior to its counterpart, so White may not have liked that board picture when calculating.}) (30. g4 {played immediately lets Black gain positionally, after} R5d7 {followed by ... Nd5 and ...Ke7, centralizing the knight and king.}) 30... axb6 31. g4 R5d6 $15 {clearing d5 for the knight and keeping the rook on the 6th rank to defend the pawns from potential attack.} 32. b4 {gaining space on the queenside and helping blockade c5.} Nd5 {at this point, simply comparing the Black and White knights' scope for action shows why the engines show a noticeable (if not yet decisive) edge for Black.} 33. Kb2 {advancing the king towards the action and clearing the first rank for potential rook moves.} Nf4 {the better knight begins to make its presence felt, forcing White to respond to the fork threat on d3.} 34. R1e3 f6 {the engines prefer the idea of ...b5 here. However, squeezing White's rook has a certain appeal to it and So uses this to open the d-file.} 35. R5e4 e5 {now White has no choice.} 36. dxe5 Nd3+ 37. Kc3 {this intuitive-looking move, centralizing the king rather than moving it to the edge, in fact offers So a way to further imbalance the position.} (37. Ka2 {is the engines' choice.}) 37... fxe5 { similar to White's previous setup with his d-pawn, now Black's knight supports a central pawn against the pressure of two rooks. The difference is that Black's knight is much better placed than White's was, and Black's rooks are more dangerous. As we will see shortly, there is also a tactical point to the e-pawn's newly-won control of d4.} 38. a4 $2 {under pressure, White goes wrong. With this move, he evidently thought that the situation in the center was stable.} (38. Kb3 {and now Black no longer has the idea of a Nf2-d1 maneuver with check.}) 38... Nf2 $1 {now White loses material, since the Black e-pawn prevents the Re4 from escaping the knight's attack and covering the d1 square with Rd4.} 39. Rxe5 Nd1+ 40. Kc4 Nxe3+ 41. Rxe3 $17 {White has a pawn for the exchange, but with R+N versus a strong two rooks, this is not enough.} Rd5 { first shutting down potential White counterplay involving a queenside pawn advance. White's king is much more active than Black's, so allowing White to get a queenside passed pawn would be dangerous.} 42. Rc3 {lining up on the Black c-pawn.} Kf7 43. Ne3 {White has done a good job of reactivating the knight, but So can temporarily ignore it to resolve the situation on the queenside, while his Rd5 is still dominant.} b5+ {Black uses White's advanced king placement against him, forcing a pawn exchange.} 44. axb5 (44. Kb3 bxa4+ 45. Kxa4 Rd3 $17) 44... cxb5+ 45. Kb3 Rd3 {Black presses his advantage, keeping up maximum pressure on White's pieces.} 46. Nf5 Kf6 {the dominating placement of Black's pair of rooks means that he should avoid exchanging one, until he can get something concrete for it.} 47. Kc2 Rd2+ {the next sequences forces the White king away and keeps Black's rooks dominant.} 48. Kc1 Rd1+ 49. Kc2 R8d2+ 50. Kb3 Rd3 {White would now lose the f-pawn with a rook exchange. Note how Black has no interest in allowing any White attempts at counterplay.} 51. Ne3 Rb1+ {forcing the next sequence.} 52. Kc2 Rxc3+ 53. Kxc3 Ke5 {although the material balance is the same, Black effectively dominates the center (and White's knight) with his king. White's weak pawns are now more vulnerable as well.} 54. Nf5 Rf1 {Black is not afraid to trade pawns in this manner, since the rook will clean up on the kingside before White can do anything useful.} 55. Nxg7 Rxf3+ 56. Kd2 {note how White's king was effectively "boxed out" of the center and is essentially out of the action.} Kf4 {going after the g-pawn next. Black only needs to keep one pawn on the board, as White will then not be able to overcome Black's K+R combo, who can keep the knight and king away from it.} 57. Nf5 (57. Ne6+ {does not help, as after} Kxg4 58. Nd4 Rf7 59. Nxb5 Rb7 {with ...Rxb4 to follow, along with the fall of the h5 pawn.}) 57... Kxg4 58. Nxh6+ {a desperate attempt to eliminate Black's pawns, but now the knight will be trapped.} Kxh5 59. Ng8 Rf7 0-1

07 February 2021

Training quote of the day #34: Alexei Suetin

The study of master games

    A player wanting to improve has to work on chess literature. This is an axiom. An opening guide, or, say, a collection of master games, is just as necessary to a chess player as a stadium is to other sportsmen.

    For this work, literature of various types is needed. This means text books on the various stages of the game, opening manuals and guides, tournament books, the best games of outstanding masters, and so on.

    A special place is occupied by the study of games from major chess events. A harmony between evaluation and calculation in your play can be achieved only if you constantly practise analysis. Therefore it is essential to analyse master games, to be able to understand correctly their ideas and the reflection of these ideas in their annotations, and also to evaluate the quality of annotation.

From "In the Player's Laboratory" in Three Steps to Chess Mastery by GM Alexei Suetin 

28 January 2021

Chess vs. Tennis - becoming the game

A recent article on Tennis.com highlighted a number of the parallels between The Queen's Gambit series protagonist (pictured above in a scene playing a racket sport) and champion tennis players. The similarities between the two sports/games are many. Notably, both are dominated by the spectacle of individual matches between highly-prepared professional players who have a supporting coaching team. However, at the same time both are accessible to amateurs at all levels. Lately I think chess has done better for itself, being able to move more of its action online.

On the positive side, both sports require both strategic and tactical mastery, which are mental skills that translate well to other situations. It's not enough to simply play a single move or point well, one has to have a consistent game plan that takes the opponent's strengths and weaknesses into account, while also capitalizing on unexpected opportunities. Here's a relevant excerpt from the article:

Since 2013, US Chess Federation senior director of strategic communications Dan Lucas, himself an avid tennis player, has organized a tennis outing for players and family members during the US Open chess tournament. According to Lucas, “The most obvious similarity is how you have to learn to build a point to be a good tennis player and the way you win a chess game is by slowly building a strong position by accumulating small advantages. Even the mistakes beginners make are similar: New tennis players just want to slam a serve as hard as they can; new chess players like to play one-move threats [which are easily parried by better players].” 

One of the other points made in the article was the nearly all-consuming nature of the game, in which a player's fundamental identity can start merging with their performance and practice. This phenomenon, while common in all sports at top levels, I think can be even more pronounced in individual sports. Even if you have coaches or play in a team scoring event, your performance is still solely up to you during a match. The negative side of this all-consuming focus can be obvious, however, when it leads to becoming obsessed with the game, to the detriment of all other aspects of life. Some aspect of balance needs to be there, even with those who are very serious about it.

Lately I've been on the other side of that coin, not having done much at all on chess over the past couple of months. This has been due to some other projects that perhaps have left me with enough time, but not really enough energy to train and play. I plan to resume this shortly, though.

See other Chess vs. Tennis posts