02 October 2022

Book quote: The Turquoise Lament

 From Chapter Ten of The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald:

"Who is Howard Brindle?"

"If that's not a rhetorical question, and if that is your starting point, I agree. But you're not going to find out tonight. The chess board is over there."

By the time Nurse Ella Marie Morse came on duty to look after him during the hours of the night, I had the game won. He had slowly worked me back into a cramped position, pressing me back against my castled king, smothering my queen side, but he had failed to see a sacrifice that gave me a very damaging knight fork and put me a piece ahead. I was trading him down to an end-game defeat, and he resigned when the nurse arrived, saying something about possibly the fever had damaged some brain cells after all. 

10 September 2022

"When Intuition is Wrong" - article

"When Intuition is Wrong" by FM Cats4Sale on Chess.com [edit: now deleted for whatever reason, but the quote below is the most important] is a helpful reminder of a common phenomenon:

Often times it happens that you play a chess game of which you're proud of your performance that was fueled by intuition, only to think up later with a level head that, in fact, you could've done better.

Ego-stroking yourself about your wins is dangerous for improving players, as it means you may be deluding yourself about the quality of your play. The antidote, however, is simple and should be a core feature of your chess practice: analyzing your own games. Some people make the mistake of only analyzing losses or only taking a superficial look at wins. An objective, open-minded approach to both is best and will strengthen your play that much more.

A personal example that immediately came to mind was a game that I was particularly proud of early in my tournament career, in which I beat a 1700 player for the first time. At the time, I felt that I had undertaken some brilliant maneuvering with my pieces, but in looking at it afterwards, it was more the case that my opponent had missed a relatively unusual long-range bishop move (Bg2-h3) that ensured he lost his pinned Nd7. With additional passage of time, I also can see my lack of understanding of central play and the resulting missed opportunities to open it to my advantage, due to stereotyped opening play and a desire to be a "positional" player and avoid playing moves like d4 or e4.

Intuition is a very important component of chess mastery, but needs to be balanced with concrete calculation and understanding. If you win a game because both you and your opponent missed a key idea that could have saved them, I think it is OK to still feel good about the win - but that does not mean you should ignore the opportunity to learn that key idea, for the next time.

30 August 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2017, Round 11 (Paikidze - Yu)

I try to pick commentary games based on thematic reasons and this next one features a Slav, so helps reinforce the material in The solid Slav Defence. It's also very interesting on its own, as this was the last round of the 2017 U.S. Women's Championship and IM Nazi Paikidze (White) was tied for the lead with WGM Sabina Foisor. Jennifer Yu (then with a 2196 rating, now an FM at 2297) goes with a solid main line Slav and Paikidze chooses the 4. Qb3 variation, which as can be seen in the game is not directly challenging, but gives White a slight initiative into the middlegame. Some of the key takeaways from the game:

  • Black made the strategic error of opening up the game for White's pieces on move 14, rather than sticking with a more solid semi-open structure.
  • White's initiative lasts for around another 10 moves, but she misses a chance to play more actively with 21. Nd5 - the idea of a strong/dominant knight on d5, either staying there or forcing a trade advantageous to White, is a recurring theme.
  • Black takes over the initiative around move 26 and masterfully works to gain space and penetrate White's position. For some time, the game is objectively equal according to the engine, but White is clearly under pressure and the best moves eventually become only moves in order to stay level. Move 35 is critical in this respect.

[Event "U.S. Championships Women 2017"] [Site "Saint Louis"] [Date "2017.04.09"] [Round "11"] [White "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Black "Yu, Jennifer R"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2369"] [BlackElo "2196"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [ECO "D23"] [PlyCount "102"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 2.6.1"] 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 {the main line of the Slav Defense.} 4.Qb3 {this is a solid choice by White, but should not pose any problems for Black after the exchange on c4. This can now also be classified as a Queen's Gambit Accepted opening.} 4...dxc4 5.Qxc4 Bf5 6.g3 e6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.O-O Nbd7 9.e3 O-O {a standard Slav-type position has been reached that is comfortable for Black. White still has a slight initiative, but Black has a solid structure and good development.} 10.Qe2 {putting the queen behind the e-pawn and on a potentially more productive diagonal (d1-h5).} 10...h6 {here the engines like ... Bg6, with full equality. Black is in no rush to commit the rooks or pawns and by retreating the bishop, the sting is taken out of a potential future e4 push by White. The text move is just fine, though.} 11.Nc3 Ne4 12.Nd2 {forcing the trade, to get rid of the well-placed knight.} 12...Nxd2 13.Bxd2 {White completes her minor piece development and will look to push with e4 and/or activate her rooks.} 13...e5 {a thematic pawn break. Black needs to challenge White's center before it becomes too strong.} 14.d5 {with the idea of e4 as a follow-up.} 14...cxd5 $6 {this helps open up the game for White's pieces, who are better placed to take advantage of the open center.} ( 14...Nf6 {is the engines' choice. The point is that after} 15.e4 Bg4 $11 {is possible, pushing the White queen around or forcing the awkward f2-f3 push blocking the Bg2.} ) 15.Nxd5 $16 Bd6 {this bishop is "bad" and the Nd5 is clearly superior to it. However, White now unnecessarily retreats the knight. Activating the rooks seems more to the point.} 16.Nc3 $6 ( 16.Rfd1 ) 16...Nc5 $6 {the idea of ...Nf6 with the same concept of allowing for ...Bg4, as mentioned earlier, is superior.} 17.e4 $14 Be6 18.Rfd1 {now White begins to get her rooks into the game.} 18...Qe7 {getting off the d-file.} 19.Be3 {placing the bishop on a more effective diagonal and unmasking the Rd1.} 19...Rfd8 20.Rac1 Rac8 21.Rc2 {White chooses slow maneuvering over changing the position's characteristics.} ( 21.Nd5 {getting the knight back to its dominant square would be the most challenging, although that would admit retreating it in the first place was not the best idea.} 21...Bxd5 {gives White the two bishops and an advantage after} ( 21...Qf8 $5 $14 {is passive but considered best by the engine.} ) 22.Rxd5 Ne6 23.Rxc8 Rxc8 24.Bxa7 ) 21...b6 {blunting the g1-a7 diagonal and removing the threat of Bxa7.} ( 21...Nd7 {redeploying the knight, which is not in fact doing much on c5, looks good as well, with the idea of going to f6 when needed.} 22.Bxa7 $6 {is not favorable, since after} 22...b6 $10 {White will have to work hard to extract the bishop.} ) 22.Rdc1 Nb7 {d7 still seems like a better square for the knight.} 23.Nd5 {although White has doubled rooks on the c-file, there is no actual threat associated with this move, so it is less effective than in earlier variations.} 23...Qd7 24.Rd1 Rxc2 ( 24...Bg4 $5 {as an in-between move looks useful, forcing White to play f3 and block two diagonals first.} 25.f3 Rxc2 26.Qxc2 Be6 $10 ) 25.Qxc2 Rc8 26.Qd2 $10 {now the game appears fully equal, as White has no more even pseudo-threats and Black can start making more active moves.} 26...Qc6 {controlling the c-file.} 27.Bf1 {reactivating the bishop, which was doing nothing except staring at the pawn on e4.} ( 27.Rc1 Qxc1+ 28.Qxc1 Rxc1+ 29.Bxc1 Nc5 {can only benefit Black, whose pieces are more active now.} ) 27...Qa4 28.Nc3 {protecting both the a- and e-pawns and covering the c-file.} 28...Qa5 29.a3 {both protecting the a-pawn and covering the b4 square.} 29...Bb3 {while the position is objectively equal, the initiative has shifted to Black, who keeps making threats and puts White in a reactive mode.} 30.Rc1 Rd8 {lining up on the queen.} 31.Qe2 Bc5 {Black would be fine with an exchange that put her knight on c5.} 32.Bd2 {White appears to have everything covered, but Black continues to apply pressure with} 32...Bc4 {offering a tactical trade of the Bc4 for the Bd2, which of course would be in Black's favor.} 33.Qe1 {White's pieces are all now on the first three ranks, showing how little progress has been made.} 33...Bxf1 34.Kxf1 Qa6+ 35.Kg2 {this preserves the material balance.} ( 35.Qe2 Qxe2+ 36.Kxe2 Bxf2 37.b4 {is the engine line with equality, but going a pawn down, even probably only temporarily, would be a difficult choice to make in an endgame.} ) 35...Qd3 $1 $15 {Black's queen now penetrates, however, and applies even more pressure.} 36.Rd1 Qc2 37.b4 Bf8 38.Nd5 Nd6 {this creates a critical position for White, with only one good defense. The e4 pawn is threatened, most urgently.} 39.Bc1 $2 {the wrong square for the bishop.} ( 39.Bc3 {this is not the most obvious move and likely quite difficult to find under time pressure.} 39...Nxe4 40.Nf6+ $1 {is the tactical point, with the Rd8 hanging.} 40...gxf6 41.Rxd8 Nxc3 42.Rc8 Qe4+ 43.Qxe4 Nxe4 44.Ra8 $10 ) 39...Rc8 $19 {the best move and relatively subtle, although White's game now collapses in short order. In contrast with having the bishop on c3, Black has full control of the c-file and White is not threatening the e5 pawn. The e4 pawn now falls without any compensation.} 40.Kg1 Qxe4 41.Qf1 {a desperate attempt to preserve some counterplay possibility by keeping the queens on, but now Black simply dominates.} 41...Nf5 42.Be3 Rc6 43.Qd3 {White evidently had no better ideas, although it allows Black to simplify the win.} 43...Qxd3 44.Rxd3 Rd6 {the pin on the Nd5 is extremely awkward, since there is no other way for White to defend it.} 45.b5 {this clears the b4 square for the knight retreat, but does not solve White's problems.} 45...Nd4 {forcing loss of material by White.} 46.Nb4 Nxb5 47.a4 Rxd3 48.Nxd3 Nc3 49.Nxe5 Nxa4 50.Nc6 a5 {The Na4 holds things together for Black and now the win is inevitable, with two connected passed pawns on the wing.} 51.Ne5 Bc5 0-1

Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

08 August 2022

Video completed: The solid Slav Defence

I recently completed the FritzTrainer "The solid Slav Defence" by GM Nicholas Pert. It provides a total repertoire for Black against the Queen's Gambit; you can see the summary of the main variations below. GM Pert as part of the introduction shares how he started playing the Slav shortly before gaining the GM title. He used to play the Dutch, he narrates, but was struggling with it against the stronger GMs. He now plays the Slav as main weapon - not just to draw, but to go for the win. As a result, he presents attacking plans for Black in most of the variations, rather than drawish lines. The idea is to get equal, even if sometimes messy positions, but aiming for chances to play for a win. This includes in the Exchange Slav, which has a very drawish reputation, but turns out to have some surprising resources for Black.

Summary of major variations covered:

A couple of things to highlight on the repertoire choices:

  • The central part of the repertoire is the Classical Slav with 4...dxc4 (not 4....a6, ...g6, ...e6 etc.) 5. a4 Bf5; the most theoretical content is in the line with 6. Ne5. 
  • In the Slow Slav (4. e3), Pert chooses the classic treatment with ...Bf5 instead of ...Bg4. 
  • With the 3. Nc3 line, ...Nf6 is selected (in contrast to IM Andrew Martin's "Sharp Slav" with ...dxc4). However, the main line in the variation involves a modern Black gambit, so it's certainly not boring.

Some general commentary and observations:

  • In addition to the games presented in each line, which include variation notes that go beyond the video narrative, a model games (100) database is included. This is a sign of a serious product that guides you in further research and study, not just presenting a canned repertoire. GM Pert is also candid about the need to do further study on your own, especially when there are messy positions like those in the main line after 6. Ne5.
  • Included are a number of GM Pert's own games, which allows for better explanations of the thinking and decision process involved. This is especially true because he has played both sides of the opening. As well as top-level GM clashes, games presented include wins against lower-level opponents, which is important to show how to exploit mistakes - not just always showing the "theoretical best" play.
  • In addition to his repertoire choices, Pert highlights some other playable lines for Black that can be investigated, for example 8...O-O instead of ...Nbd7 (his repertoire) in the old main line Slav (with 6. e3). He also explains the benefits of his chosen repertoire line, which by postponing castling allows for greater flexibility in response to some of White's standard ideas, for example if White goes Nxg6 followed by ...hxg6, thereby opening up the h-file for Black's (uncastled) rook.
  • GM Pert usefully highlights the tradeoffs involved in his repertoire choices and the ideas and plans in the positions. Logical mini-plans for piece development are consistent and knowing the usual best squares and typical maneuvers for a piece goes a long way towards achieving a true understanding of the opening and being able to give yourself a good position in practice.
  • Similarly, it's useful to have him explain why some seemingly attractive lines aren't played, for either tactical or positional reasons. This is very helpful for comprehending the position at a deeper level, and provides the general benefit of being exposed to new and different ideas in chess.
  • GM Pert's explanations come from personal familiarity, study and use of the opening in tournament play over-the-board. This gives the product a certain depth and foundation of practical knowledge that I think is lacking in most theoretical opening treatments. For example, this is a contrast with GM Erwin L'Ami's Stonewall Dutch FritzTrainer - it's a top-level product, but he doesn't actually play the defense as Black, so there's a different, more detatched and theoretical feel to it.
  • The "Test Questions" at the end run through various middlegame positions from different games/variations, which is a great way to see how the typical setups and plans work, along with explanations given for why GM Pert evaluates different continuations the way he does. It also reinforces the tactical options available in certain lines.
  • There are relatively few negatives to report, mainly the occasional (normal) verbal slip in saying an incorrect square or move during the narration, although the board shown is correct, and a few on-the-fly corrections made when presenting the game lines.
Although I don't necessarily plan on adopting all of GM Pert's recommended repertoire lines, I've been playing the Slav since the beginning of my chess career, and found this to be a new and valuable resource on the opening, as well as an excellent product for encouraging general chess improvement.

30 July 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 10 (Paikidze - Yip)


This commentary game closes out my personal review of games of interest from the 2021 U.S. Women's Championship, featuring the title-clinching win by IM Carissa Yip over IM Nazi Paikidze. This is one of those games where I assess psychology and meta-strategy played a large role.

What do I mean by "meta-strategy"? This has to do both with a player's opening selection and the type of game they want to play versus a particular opponent - really, these are synonymous things - rather than "pure" best play considerations. This type of strategic approach is often seen in top-level match play, when surprise is a factor and opponents have both a deep study of each other's games and recent practical experience. In tournaments where preparation and a player's recent games are a factor, such as the double round-robin championship format, "meta-strategy" can also enter into play.

The key to understanding this game's context is the round 7 loss by Paikidze, playing as Black in a similar Modern Defense / quasi-Hippopotamus setup. If you look at the linked analysis, it shows that Paikidze got a good game, but floundered in the middlegame and then had a somewhat traumatic ending where she could have saved a draw. Yip's selection of the Modern and then her adoption of a full Hippopotamus formation was likely a surprise and psychological shock for her opponent, both in terms of her not being prepared for Yip to use the defense, and also recalling the recent trauma of the loss. Beyond the surprise factor, the Modern/Hippo for Black is specifically designed to "turtle up" defenses via control of the 5th rank, then counterattack when the opponent overreaches. A more generally respectable version of this strategy can be seen in the Hedgehog formation.

Essentially this is exactly what happens in the game, as Paikidze plays directly into Black's strategy, with White's move 22 leading to the position breaking open and the appearance of game-winning tactics in Yip's favor. For me, this was an excellent illustration of how manipulating your opponent with "meta-strategy" can pay off on the board. Is it something that can and should be done every game? No. Can it be a successful strategy occasionally, including at key moments in a tournament? Yes.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.17"] [Round "10"] [White "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Black "Yip, Carissa"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2374"] [BlackElo "2402"] [EventDate "????.??.??"] [ECO "B06"] [PlyCount "70"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:31:54"] [BlackFideId "2090732"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:00:41"] [WhiteFideId "13603620"] 1.d4 g6 2.e4 Bg7 {In round 7, Paikidze played the Modern as Black and lost. An interesting psychological choice of Yip, to go into the same defense.} 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 {the usual choices here are Be3 and f4.} 4...a6 {Black actually has a significant plus with this line in the database.} 5.a4 Nd7 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bg5 {White scores an astonishing 25 percent in the database with this.} 7...Ne7 {Black is going for the full Hippopotamus setup.} 8.Qd2 h6 9.Be3 {the bishop returns, having provoked ...h6, which is something Black likely wanted to do anyway.} 9...b6 10.h3 Bb7 {we now have the full Hippo. The round 7 game saw an earlier deviation by Paikidze as Black.} 11.O-O Nf6 12.d5 {breaking the symmetry in the center. Now Black must decide on whether she wants a more closed game.} 12...e5 {the answer is yes. Strategically, White has a significant space advantage. However, Black with a closed center can now start operations on the kingside without worrying about a breakthrough in the center by White.} 13.Nh2 Nh5 14.Rfe1 {this clears f1 for use by White's minor pieces, but the rook is doing less on the e-file and appears misplaced there.} 14...g5 ( 14...f5 $5 {is a natural-looking pawn break, but Black evidently prefers to continue emphasizing piece play on the kingside.} ) 15.g3 {while helping control f4, this pawn move does not seem necessary and weakens h3.} ( 15.Ne2 $5 ) 15...Ng6 {getting one of Black's other pieces developed or re-deployed seems more useful, for example ...Bc8 or ...Qd7.} 16.Qd1 {e2 seems like a better square, also targeting h5 while keeping the rooks connected and also forming a battery on the more useful f1-a6 diagonal.} 16...Nf6 17.Bf1 {covering the h3 weakness and with the idea of re-developing the bishop in a fianchetto.} 17...Bc8 {bishop was doing nothing on b7.} 18.a5 {logically playing on the queenside, where White has a space advantage. However, she then turns atteniton to the kingside and it becomes Black's game strategically.} 18...b5 {consistent with previous decisions, keeping the game closed.} 19.Bg2 ( 19.Bd2 {followed by Na2 with either c4 or Nb4 is the plan suggested by the engine, mobilizing White's queenside pieces.} ) 19...Bd7 {Black has limited ways to make progress. This allows the formation of a battery on the c8-h3 diagonal.} 20.Nf1 Qc8 21.Kh2 {forced, to protect the h-pawn.} 21...h5 {White can safely ignore Black's offer of the g5 pawn on the kingside and follow a queenside strategy, as the h/g pawn duo cannot break through. However, White chooses to focus on the kingside, with diastrous results.} 22.f4 $2 {now Black can open up the game to her great benefit, with the f4 square as the pivot.} 22...gxf4 23.gxf4 exf4 24.e5 {White must have over-estimated this move, which is immediately refuted by the game continuation. However, other continuations by Black also win.} 24...Ng4+ $19 {an excellent breakthrough sacrifice.} ( 24...fxe3 25.exf6 Bxf6 26.Rxe3+ Be5+ $19 ) 25.hxg4 hxg4+ 26.Kg1 dxe5 {with three connected, advanced passed pawns for the piece Black has a won game, with White's king position also a factor.} ( 26...Bxe5 $5 {also works, with Black not having to worry about the d-file.} ) 27.Bc5 Qd8 {time to mobilize the queen, heading for h4 at the earliest opportunity.} 28.Ne4 f5 {controlling e4, although Black has to be a little careful not to take prematurely.} 29.d6 {White's last hope. This opens the long diagonal and makes possible a bishop fork on e4, of the Ng6 and Ra8. Black therefore calmly eliminates the tactic.} 29...c6 30.Bb6 {White has nothing left except to harass Black's queen temporarily.} 30...Qh4 31.Bf2 Qh5 32.Qd3 ( 32.Ned2 Kf7 {and Black can consolidate her victory at leisure.} ) 32...fxe4 33.Bxe4 Nf8 {not necessary, but anything wins at this point. No reason not to be prudent.} 34.Bd4 f3 {naturally Black does not take the sacrifice and open lines to her king. Now ...Qh1+ is threatened.} 35.Bxf3 gxf3 0-1

Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

29 July 2022

"Enter the inner sanctum of elite chess" - FT Weekend article


The Financial Times has periodic chess coverage and released an FT Weekend article "Enter the inner sanctum of elite chess" on the recent 2022 Candidates tournament in Madrid. It does an excellent job of reportage from the event's "backstage" and captures the unique flavor of it, in an accessible manner for both knowledgeable chessplayers and those with no expertise in the game.

My only minor gripes are the poetic (?) techno-lyrical references to the "Machine" (computer analysis), along with the atrocious board diagrams the FT for some reason insists on using, which appear to have been generated by a 1970s computer program.

02 July 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 9 (Krush - Nemcova)

This game features another ambiguous opening classification, since the database will tell you it's an English Opening (A10 ECO code), but one look at the board on move 7 will tell you that it's a Leningrad Dutch. GM Irina Krush as White kept her full intentions in the opening hidden until that point, but after her opponent WGM Katerina Nemcova committed to a full Leningrad setup, there was no reason not to play d4 and control the e5 square, especially after having done the early b3/Bb2 development.

From there Krush gains an small opening advantage, thanks to Black neglecting her development in favor of some premature demonstrations (7...Ne4 and 8...c5) that do not actually challenge White. Krush masterfully rides this advantage into the middlegame, although she seems to deliberately choose solid over sharper possibilities, in keeping with her general opening posture. Black's strategic weakness on d6 becomes the key feature of the game, leading White eventually to gain tactically. That said, it's worth observing that even when behind and under pressure, opportunities often present themselves - see move 31 - for the worse-off player to rally. Normally this is a feature of long endgames as well, but Krush never lets her opponent back into the game after entering a R+B v R endgame, which is instructive to see.

I did not post an evaluation chart this time, because the one generated was misleading and displays Black achieving equality (and more) around move 22, whereas longer engine analysis shows a persistent White plus. This sometimes happens with the "snapshot" type evaluation function of various programs/sites, so you should always be somewhat skeptical of anything insta-generated by a computer, until you can perform your own analysis.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.16"] [Round "09"] [White "Krush, Irina"] [Black "Nemcova, Katerina"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2429"] [BlackElo "2331"] [EventDate "????.??.??"] [ECO "A10"] [PlyCount "135"] [BlackClock "0:03:47"] [BlackFideId "322750"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:25:41"] [WhiteFideId "2012782"] 1.c4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 {committing to the Leningrad Dutch formation.} 4.b3 {this commits the bishop to develop to b2 and then to immediately fight its Black counterpart on the long diagonal, including for the key square e5.} 4...Bg7 5.Bb2 O-O 6.Nf3 d6 7.d4 {White finally commits her pawn to d4, but only after Black was threatening to get in ...e5. We now have a reasonably standard Leningrad Dutch position, where White has chosen an early b3/Bb2 development scheme.} 7...Ne4 {This is the third most played choice in the database, although the standard ...c6 and ...Qe8 are more popular. It doesn't score very well for Black, though, and seems premature.} 8.Nbd2 {the usual location for this knight in the variation, leaving the Bb2 unblocked.} 8...c5 {Black challenges the center, but is falling behind in development.} ( 8...Nc6 $5 ) 9.Qc2 {the usual spot for the queen, protecting b2 and pressuring e4.} 9...cxd4 {this exchange helps White, who has everything covered and more pieces developed.} 10.Nxd4 Qb6 11.e3 {a solid choice preserving White's central edge and restraining f5-f4.} ( 11.Nxe4 $5 {is the engine's preference and here seems a relatively simple path to advantage, limiting Black's counterplay. The knight is inadequately supported on e4, a fact which informs the next few moves of the game.} 11...Bxd4 ( 11...fxe4 {this cedes the pawn for no real compensation.} 12.Qxe4 Qa5+ 13.Kf1 $16 {the White king is well-protected and the Rh1 can still participate in the game by supporting an h-pawn push.} ) 12.Bxd4 Qxd4 13.Nc3 $16 {and after some straightforward exchanges, White has a significant lead in development and active play in both the center and kingside against Black's weak squares.} ) 11...e5 {the rule in the Leningrad Dutch is to play ...e5 whenever Black can get away with it. Here it is a little premature, because of the unstable Ne4.} ( 11...Nf6 {the engine assesses the knight retreat is best.} ) 12.Nb5 {this avoids complications and leaves White with a small plus.} ( 12.Nxe4 {immediately still works, but is messier than in the previous variation, since now the Nd4 is attacked by a pawn.} 12...exd4 13.Ng5 {and now} 13...dxe3 $2 {looks dangerous, but it is Black that is in trouble after something like} 14.Bd5+ Kh8 15.O-O-O exf2 16.Qe2 $18 {White is threatening to penetrate with Qe7 and Nf7 cannot be defended against, so Black will have to give up the exchange.} ) 12...a6 {the obvious choice, kicking the knight.} 13.Nxe4 {now White pulls the trigger on the Ne4.} 13...axb5 14.Nc3 bxc4 15.Nd5 {an excellent outpost for the knight.} 15...Qd8 16.Qxc4 Be6 {Black starts repairing her development, While pinning the knight and blocking White's tactical ideas along the diagonal.} 17.O-O Nc6 18.Rfd1 {naturally White wants to exert latent pressure on the d-file, eyeing the backward d6 pawn.} 18...Rf7 {the immediate ...e4 may have been better, waiting to commit the rook to a course of action.} 19.b4 {White intends to mobilize her queenside pawn majority.} 19...e4 {cutting off the Bg2 and opening up the long diagonal.} 20.Bxg7 {the exchange is best, as otherwise White will have to take time to defend the bishop.} 20...Kxg7 21.a4 {White could have done some other things here, for example immediately reactivating the bishop with Bf1. The engine points out a nice tactical maneuver possibility by Black that could have lead to equality, in response.} 21...Ne5 $6 {now White's queen gets out of the pin and is still powerfully centralized.} ( 21...Qf6 $5 {the point being that} 22.Nxf6 Bxc4 23.Nd5 Bb3 {and Black is fine, being able to effectively trade the weak d-pawn for one of White's queenside pawns. Otherwise, Black as a follow-up can play ...Qe5 and/or trade on d5 and be equal.} ) 22.Qd4 $16 Bxd5 23.Qxd5 Rd7 {apparently an idea behind the original ...Rf7, but Black is getting cramped defending her weaknesses.} 24.Bf1 Qg5 $6 {superficially aggressive but Black does not have an attack. White calmly defends, allowing Black to overcommit her forces, then strikes back in the center and queenside.} ( 24...Qg8 ) 25.Be2 h5 26.h4 Qe7 27.Kg2 {covering some holes and allowing the first rank to be cleared.} 27...Rc8 28.Rd2 {intending to double rooks on the d-file.} ( 28.Rac1 {seems more straightforward. Exchanging off a pair of rooks would be advantageous to White, who will have a winning 2-1 queenside majority in the endgame. If Black avoids the trade, then White has the file and can start pushing the pawns anyway.} ) 28...Qf7 29.Qd4 {White has the better queen so avoids the trade.} 29...Qf6 30.Rad1 d5 {at least this gives Black a little more room for maneuver.} 31.a5 ( 31.b5 $5 {would prevent ...Nc6.} ) 31...Rcd8 $2 {going for static defense, which does not work.} ( 31...Nc6 {gains a tempo and solves some of Black's problems in the center. For example} 32.Qb6 Ne7 $14 {and Black is close to equality, as the knight can hold d5 by itself, freeing up both rooks.} ) 32.b5 {now the Ne5 is out of the important central fight.} 32...Nf7 33.Qc5 Qd6 34.Qxd6 {White chooses to simplify closer to a winning endgame.} 34...Rxd6 35.a6 bxa6 36.bxa6 $18 {The Be2 plays a key supporting role for the pawn, even if not active otherwise.} 36...Ne5 {the knight tries to get back in the fight, but it is too late.} 37.a7 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 37...Nc6 38.Rxd5 $1 {White finds the correct tactical follow-up. With the pawn about to queen, Black cannot take twice on d5.} 38...Rxd5 39.Rxd5 Ra8 40.Rc5 Nxa7 41.Ra5 {the knight is now inevitably lost, since White can bring around the bishop to attack the Ra8.} 41...Kh6 42.Ra6 Kg7 43.Bc4 Rc8 44.Rxa7+ Kf6 {the game is now a theoretical win for White. Black knows that it still takes practical skill to win the R+B v R ending, so she keeps playing. Krush is up for it, however.} 45.Ra6+ Kg7 46.Bb5 Rb8 47.Ba4 {the bishop is now shielded from the rook's attention, as ...Rb4 is met by Be8, winning the pawn.} 47...Kf7 {the king is tied to the defense of the g-pawn.} 48.Rd6 Kg7 49.Kf1 {White decides to march her king around, which Black permits. However, she cannot really stop the idea.} 49...Kf7 ( 49...Rb1+ 50.Rd1 ) 50.Ke2 Rb4 51.Bc2 {bringing it back as a shield for the king.} 51...Rb2 52.Kd2 Kg7 53.Kc3 Ra2 54.Rb6 {note how Black's rook is beginning to get cramped.} 54...Ra1 55.Rb1 {naturally Black has zero chances if she gives up the rook.} ( 55.Rb7+ {it's interesting to see how White could have been more aggressive if she chose. The problem for Black is that her king is potentially vulnerable, without g5 and h4 as escape squares. So for example} 55...Kf6 56.Kd4 Rf1 $2 57.Bb3 {and Black has to give up material.} ) 55...Ra2 56.Rb2 Ra3+ 57.Bb3 {a good opportunity to place the bishop on this key diagonal.} 57...Ra1 58.Ra2 Rb1 59.Bc4 Rd1 60.Ra6 Rd8 61.Bb5 Kf7 62.Ra7+ Ke6 63.Rg7 Kf6 64.Rd7 Ra8 65.Kd4 {the centralized king is the significant difference from when the piece maneuvering all began. White is patiently constricting Black's maneuvering room and bringing up her king as a strong reinforcement.} 65...Ke6 66.Kc5 Ra5 $2 {this allows a tactical finish, forcing the rook trade.} 67.Rd6+ Kf7 68.Ra6 1-0

01 July 2022

Book quote #2: Pale Gray For Guilt

From Chapter Seven of Pale Gray For Guilt by John D. MacDonald:

Meyer came over on Christmas morning with a cumbersome vat of eggnog and three battered pewter mugs. We had a nice driving rain out of the northwest and a wind that made the Flush shift and groan and thump. I put on Christmas tapes because it was no day to trust FM programming. Sooner or later daddy would see mommy kissing Rudolph. Meyer and I played chess. Puss Killian, in yellow terry coveralls, sat and wrote letters. She never said who they were to, and I had never asked.

He won with one of those pawn-pressure games, the massive and ponderous advance that irritates me into doing the usual stupid thing, like a sacrifice that favors him, just to get elbow room on the board. 

30 June 2022

Book quote: Pale Gray For Guilt

 From Chapter Two of Pale Gray For Guilt by John D. MacDonald:

Meyer came out of a long and somber contemplation, hunched like a hirsute Buddha, reached a slow ape arm and picked up his queen's bishop and plonked it down in what at first glance seemed like an idiotic place, right next to my center pawn. A round little lady who was one of his retinue that week beamed, clapped her hands and rattled off a long comment in German.

"She says you give up now," said Meyer.

"Never!" said I. I studied and studied and studied. Finally I put a knuckle against my king and tipped the poor fellow over and said, "Beach-walking, anyone?" 


26 June 2022

Video completed: A sharp Slav vol. 1

I recently completed Andrew Martin's "A sharp Slav, vol. 1" 60-minute ChessBase video. This particular Slav Defense variation - responding 3...dxc4 after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 - I've in fact always played, but was never fully satisfied with the different lines I used previously. Martin focuses on the aggressive 4...b5 response to anything (normally 4.e3 or 4. e4) except 4. a4, which I believe is the correct way to play. Here's the full contents list:

One of the reasons 4...b5 has been demonstrated as preferable is super-GM Hikaru Nakamura's use of it. He in fact is featured in the first model game, which contains an unusual and possibly busted sideline for White (4. e3 followed by 5.a4 b4 and the strange-looking 6. Nce2). The general point of 4...b5 isn't to hold onto the extra c-pawn forever, but to chase the knight on c3 and make White have to work hard to recover the pawn, while Black can play actively and develop. The first game (Mamedyarov-Nakamura) is a great example of this. White in fact had several options to secure a draw, but passed them up and Black won with sharp play (going back to the title of the video).

The essential soundness of this aggressive approach with the queenside pawns is illustrated by the next model game provided, featuring Botvinnik as Black in 1933 (using an older line for Black), as well as the remainder of the lines in all main variations (4.e3, 4.e4 and 4. a4). Martin looks at them in a fair amount of (rapid) detail, while pointing out common themes/ideas, including things like Black's need to watch out for tactical threats from White on the long diagonal after playing ...Qd5. 

There are a lot of similarities between the various lines, whose differences hinge largely on where White chooses to put the Nc3 after it is attacked. White's 4. e4 would seem to be the obvious choice, seizing the center, but unlike with the 4. e3 variations, the Nc3 no longer has e4 available to go to; that is a significant trade-off, as the knight is not very happy either retreating to b1 or a2, having to lose significant time to get back in the game.

Some other commentary on the contents:

  • This is not a repertoire for Black (or White), as Martin presents multiple options for variations, and within them as well. He usually signals what he prefers, but he also mentions which ones he considers playable if not preferred.
  • Martin presents each game somewhat quicker than normal, I would say, which I expect is due to the limited total time format. I found myself going back several times in each individual video to review particular lines, rather than being able to keep up in real time, but that's not a terrible thing necessarily.
  • It's very helpful to see the full games in each case. This is not an opening theory product, rather one that's intended for training, familiarization and understanding. In addition, this is not an opening where either side is going for an early knockout blow, so it's important to see how the middlegame (and sometimes endgame) can flow from the opening.
  • Favorite quote: "4. a4 might be played by cowardly opponents who do not want to brave the complications after ...b5."

19 June 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 8 (Eswaran - Tokhirjonova)

One finds that analyzing master-level games often leads to multiple insights. This one, at 148 moves, is no exception. A few top-level takeaways:

  • The game's opening could be classified several different ways, which to a purist would be horrific. This however helps illustrate how openings are often fluid, rather than rigid constructs. One of the things that has helped increase my strength over the years is a less-rigid view of opening play and an acceptance of the fact that your opponents will follow "proper" book lines much less often than opening book writers imply. Understanding different opening structures and their characteristics is much more important than adhering to a specific move order - except, of course, when you can play some useful tricks with different move orders.
  • Positional advantages - in this case, White gets one out of the opening - are nice to look at, but in themselves are not decisive. They can evaporate, as White's does, after which Black finally seizes the initiative.
  • Patient maneuvering can be the key to winning without the presence of forcing play. Here this was evident in both the middlegame and endgame phases, with White first losing an advantage, then getting herself trapped into an unfavorable rook exchange, which was decisive.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.14"] [Round "08"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Tokhirjonova, Gulrukhbegim"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2244"] [BlackElo "2322"] [ECO "A48"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 2.6.1 by Komodo"] [BlackClock "0:04:44"] [BlackFideId "14203626"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:00:58"] [WhiteFideId "2080788"] 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.c4 c6 {a rare setup from Black at this stage, who now goes for a Slav Defense structure with a fianchetto, which is called the Schlechter variation. However, the opening can be reached by different paths and can be classified in various ways.} 5.Be2 d5 6.O-O O-O 7.Nc3 {for example, this is now classified as a Grunfeld Defense, Burille Variation by the Chess.com Explorer, while the PGN download of the game calls it a King's Indian, East Indian Defence (ECO code A48). The key points of the structure, regardless, of how it is classified, is that White has developed with e3/Be2 instead of fianchettoing the bishop, while Black has the c6/d5 pawns and has fianchettoed her dark-square bishop.} 7...Ne4 {another relatively rare move. Black moves the same piece twice before developing further, which is against general opening principles and probably explains why it is less popular. The two main choices are:} ( 7...Bg4 ) ( 7...dxc4 ) 8.Qc2 ( 8.Qb3 {this scores better and is more active than the text move, placing the queen on the more useful b-file and a2-g8 diagonal.} ) 8...Nxc3 {Black chooses a safe and somewhat passive route.} ( 8...Bf5 $5 {is a more interesting and active choice. However, Black would need to be prepared to have an uglier pawn structure.} 9.Bd3 Nxc3 10.Bxf5 gxf5 ( 10...Nxa2 $6 11.Rxa2 gxf5 12.Qxf5 e6 13.Qh3 {and now that White's queen has been freely transferred to the kingside, it may only be a small advantage according to the engine, but White certainly has the easier game and more winning chances.} ) 11.bxc3 e6 12.Ba3 Re8 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.c4 {with a slight edge for White.} ) 9.bxc3 {the doubled pawns are only temporary, as the c4 pawn can always be exchanged for the d5 pawn.} 9...e6 {trying to be ultra-solid, apparently. First time this has appeared in the database, with ...b6 and ...dxc4 previously played.} 10.Ba3 {certainly a very logical way to develop the bishop, as the diagonal is excellent and it has nowhere else useful to go. Komodo Dragon prefers plans involving an a4 pawn push, exploiting White's space advantage on the queenside and further restricting Black.} 10...Re8 11.Rab1 $14 {putting the rook on the half-open file and restraining Black's b-pawn from advancing to b5. By this point White's advantage in development has given her a small but persistent plus.} 11...Nd7 12.cxd5 {this may be a little premature and also helps un-cramp Black's structure to some degree. However, White still has a freer game afterwards.} ( 12.h3 $5 {is an interesting prophylactic idea by the engine, the idea being to prevent an eventual ...Bg4.} ) 12...exd5 13.c4 dxc4 {this abdicates Black's central pawn presence without a fight.} ( 13...Nb6 14.cxd5 cxd5 {is the engine's preference, ending up in an IQP position. This may have been what turned Black off to the idea.} ) 14.Bxc4 {White's lead in development and positional plus is obvious. The two bishops have excellent diagonals and the Rb1 is well-placed. That said, White does not have any immediate threats.} 14...Nb6 {clearing the way to develop the Bc8 and kick the Bc4.} 15.Bd3 Be6 ( 15...Bg4 {seems more natural, threatening to exchange off the knight and compromise White's kingside pawn structure.} ) 16.Bc5 {increasing pressure on the queenside.} ( 16.Rfc1 $5 {getting the other rook into play might be better first.} ) 16...Qc7 {this seems like a normal move, protecting b7 and connecting the rooks, but there are lurking issues with it.} ( 16...Nd7 17.Rxb7 Nxc5 18.dxc5 Re7 {is a pawn sacrifice suggested by the engine, where Black now has the two bishops and a freer game in compensation. If eventually a 4v3 pawn rook endgame is reached, it could be drawn.} ) 17.Ng5 {looking to obtain the two bishops after a piece exchange.} 17...Bc8 {awkward, but the best way of preventing the exchange.} 18.Ne4 {Eyeing the weak d6 square. White has a comfortable game and a positional plus, with better control of the center and more active pieces.} 18...Nd5 19.Rfc1 ( 19.Nd6 $5 {White could continue the previous idea and force the piece exchange now. However, with the text move she keeps her own centralized knight.} ) 19...Rd8 {regaining control over d6.} 20.a4 {not having an obvious way to make further progress, White decides to grab some space.} ( 20.h3 {is again a prophylactic idea.} ) ( 20.Rb3 $5 {would allow for potential doubling of the rooks on the b-file and also prevent a tactical idea of Black's, as we can see in the next variation.} ) 20...Bf5 {the bishop re-activates itself.} ( 20...b6 $5 {is the tactical idea.} 21.Ba3 Bf5 {Black can allow capture of the c-pawn, due to the pin on the Ne4 once the queen is gone.} 22.Qxc6 ( 22.Rb3 $5 ) 22...Qxc6 23.Rxc6 Re8 24.Rd6 Nf4 25.exf4 Bxe4 26.Bxe4 Rxe4 $10 ) 21.Ba3 {without the Nb6 as a target, the bishop was not doing as much, so retreats.} 21...Rab8 {Black does not find the ...b6 idea and more passively defends.} 22.Rb2 ( 22.Rb3 {seems like a better placement, providing protection along the third rank.} ) 22...a5 {this freezes the White a-pawn and gives Black a potential outpost on b4. However, as with all pawn advances, it leaves some weaknesses behind.} 23.h3 {restricting the Bf5.} ( 23.Nc3 {an alternative would be to initiate exchanges and highlight White's pressure on the queenside.} 23...Bxd3 24.Qxd3 Nxc3 25.Qxc3 $14 ) 23...h5 {preventing g2-g4, but again leaving some holes behind.} ( 23...b6 $5 ) 24.Nc5 {now one pair of pieces are exchanged.} 24...Bxd3 25.Qxd3 Bf8 {putting the bishop on a better diagonal.} 26.Qb1 {it might have been more flexible for the queen's placement to use Rc1-b1 to double on the file. This would also help deter Black from opening the b-file.} 26...Qc8 {the point of this move is to cover the a6 square to allow Black's b-pawn to advance, otherwise there would be a knight fork on a6.} 27.Qa2 {this protects the Ba3.} 27...b5 {now Black finally gets some counterplay rolling, although if anything White still has a slight edge.} 28.axb5 $6 {this immediate resolution of the tension is unnecessary and makes Black's queenside pawns much more threatening. White may have been uncomfortable with the threat of ...b4, but Black will have that possibility anyway.} 28...cxb5 29.Nd3 $6 {now Black firmly takes the initiative, exploiting White's cramped pieces.} ( 29.Rbc2 ) 29...Nc3 30.Qa1 ( 30.Rxc3 $5 {Komodo Dragon favors this exchange sacrifice, leaving White more active after} 30...Qxc3 31.Ne5 Qc7 32.Bxf8 $15 {with threats to f7, g6 and a fork on c6 helping White regain the initiative, even if down material.} ) 30...b4 $19 {although Black does not immediately win the Ba3, White is in serious trouble.} 31.Rbc2 Qf5 {targeting the hanging Nd3 and moving out of the pin on the c-file. Now White avoids losing material, but Black gets a rook on the 2nd rank, with a stranglehold on the position.} 32.Ne5 bxa3 33.Rxc3 Rb2 {the most immediate threat is to f2, but the advanced a-pawn combined with Black's rooks is also a major problem.} 34.Rf1 Rdb8 35.Nd3 Rd2 ( 35...Bb4 {would more aggressively activate the bishop.} 36.Nxb2 Bxc3 37.Qxa3 Bxb2 $19 ) 36.Ne5 Rbb2 37.Nf3 Rdc2 {White has nothing better than to give up material.} 38.Rxa3 Bxa3 39.Qxa3 Qb5 40.Qe7 {the best try. White hopes to combine her queen and knight and take advantage of the weak square complex around Black's king.} 40...a4 {Black goes with the straightforward plan of ramming the a-pawn down the file.} 41.d5 {an excellent practical move by White, who must have hoped to distract Black, and succeeds. The engine shows White cannot queen the d-pawn, but it must have looked menacing.} 41...Qxd5 $2 ( 41...Rb1 42.Rxb1 Qxb1+ 43.Kh2 Qb8+ 44.d6 Qf8 {and Black wins.} ) 42.Qe8+ {now White is back in business, forking the a-pawn with her active queen.} 42...Kg7 43.Qxa4 {White now has high hopes for a draw, with a pawn for the exchange and a reasonable position.} 43...Ra2 44.Qf4 ( 44.Qd4+ Qxd4 45.Nxd4 {after simplification there seems little prospect for a Black breakthrough. Perhaps White did not trust her endgame skills, however.} ) 44...Qc4 45.Qe5+ $10 {the engine evaluates the position as equal. For Black, though, there is no reason not to play on, as long as she is careful not to blunder.} 45...f6 46.Qe7+ Qf7 47.Qd6 Qc7 48.Qd5 Ra5 49.Qd1 Rca2 50.Nd4 {Black cannot expel the knight from its central outpost.} 50...Qc4 51.Qf3 Qd5 {Black would be happy to trade off White's mobile queen, which has better access to her opponent's king.} 52.Qd1 {perhaps hoping for a repetition. However, Black is not interested.} 52...Kh6 53.Qb1 Qa8 54.Qb6 {an inaccuracy. This is a characteristic of queen endings especially, where both sides can go astray more easily.} ( 54.Qb4 Rg5 55.Nf3 Qxf3 56.Qf8+ {and draws.} ) 54...Rg5 55.Qc6 {forced} 55...Qxc6 56.Nxc6 Rb5 ( 56...h4 $15 {is the plan preferred by the engine, with the idea of following up with ...g5 and ...Kg6, to work Black's space advantage and increase the pressure. With the queens off the board, Black has nothing to fear.} ) 57.Nd4 Rbb2 {looking to safely tie up White with pressure along the 2nd rank, but Black has nowhere to go from there.} 58.h4 Kg7 {Black chooses to swing her king around, the long way, without moving her pawns.} 59.g3 ( 59.Ne6+ Kf7 60.Nf4 $10 {White's knight is very active and holds the kingside steady from here.} ) 59...Kf7 60.Kg2 Ke7 61.Nf3 Ke6 62.Ng1 {White effectively is marking time with the knight.} 62...Kf5 63.Nf3 Ke4 64.Nd4 Rd2 65.Nf3 {this allows Black to up the pressure and for White to lose the thread. Other knight moves were less risky.} ( 65.Nb3 ) ( 65.Ne6 ) 65...Re2 66.Ng1 Rxe3 {the engine shows no change in evaluation, but now White has a pawn's less worth of a margin of error.} 67.Rb1 Ke5 68.Rb5+ ( 68.Nh3 $5 ) 68...Kd6 69.Rb6+ Ke7 70.Rb7+ Kf8 71.Rc7 Re7 ( 71...g5 $1 {The point is that Black will be able to play ...g4, threatening to shut out the knight and preventing the king from escaping the rooks. For example} 72.hxg5 fxg5 73.Nh3 g4 74.Nf4 Re1 $19 {White's R+N cannot mate Black's king and eventually Black will break through.} ) 72.Rc6 Kf7 73.Nh3 Re5 ( 73...Ra5 {would accomplish the same thing on the 5th rank, while keeping the 7th rank covered.} ) 74.Nf4 ( 74.Rc7+ ) 74...Ra7 $17 {now preventing annoying rook checks. Black still has a clear edge in material, but a lot of maneuvering now ensues, with her trying to patiently make something of it.} 75.Rb6 Rf5 76.Rc6 Rb7 77.Ra6 Rd7 78.Ra2 Kg7 79.Rb2 Ra7 80.Rc2 Kh6 81.Rc6 Ra2 82.Rb6 Ra4 83.Nh3 Re4 84.Ra6 Kg7 {Black gets tired of making rook moves, but this should allow White to equalize.} 85.Ra7+ Kg8 86.Ra8+ ( 86.Nf4 {is pointed out by the engine, since Black cannot protect the g-pawn.} 86...g5 87.hxg5 Rxg5 {Black now has two weak pawns to look after.} 88.Ra8+ Kg7 89.Ra7+ Kh6 90.Kh3 {and White appears to hold.} ) 86...Kf7 87.Ra7+ Re7 88.Ra6 {trading rooks would be bad, since White's rook activity is one of the main things keeping Black in check.} 88...Kg8 89.Nf4 Kh7 90.Rb6 Ra7 91.Rc6 Kg7 92.Rb6 Kf7 93.Rb2 Rfa5 94.Rb6 Rd7 95.Rb2 Ra4 96.Rb5 Ra2 97.Rc5 Rdd2 98.Nh3 Rdc2 99.Rb5 Re2 100.Rb7+ Re7 101.Rb5 Re5 102.Rb7+ Ke6 {Black does not want to keep doing the same maneuvers and brings her king forward.} 103.Nf4+ {getting the knight back into the game and reminding Black about the g6 weakness.} 103...Kf5 104.Rf7 Rc5 105.Rf8 Rcc2 106.Nh3 Ke6 107.Rb8 Rcb2 108.Rc8 Rc2 109.Rb8 Rc7 110.Rb5 Rac2 111.Rb8 Kf5 112.Rg8 $2 {White finally loses patience with her own rook maneuvers and allows it to be traded off, leading to a won endgame for Black.} ( 112.Nf4 ) 112...Rc8 $1 113.Rg7 R2c7 114.Rxc7 Rxc7 $19 115.Nf4 {although the knight is no longer tied to defending f2, without White's rook available to harass Black's king, it now becomes a formidable piece in combination with the rook. After some maneuvering, Black can then support a pawn break.} 115...Rc2 116.Nd5 Ke6 117.Nf4+ Kf7 118.Kf3 Kg7 119.Kg2 Kh6 120.Nd5 Rc6 121.Ne3 g5 122.hxg5+ fxg5 123.Kf3 Rf6+ 124.Ke2 Kg6 125.Ng2 Kf5 126.Ne3+ Ke4 {the power of the centralized king is evident.} 127.Ng2 Ra6 {the rook can do more against White targets operating from the side.} 128.Kf1 Ra1+ 129.Ke2 Rb1 130.f3+ Kd4 131.Kf2 Rb2+ 132.Kf1 Kd3 133.f4 g4 {the f-pawn poses no threat, while control of f3 and h3 is now had.} 134.Nh4 Ke3 135.Kg1 ( 135.Nf5+ Ke4 136.Nh4 Rb3 {and White is soon in zugzwang.} ) 135...Ra2 136.f5 Ke4 ( 136...Rf2 ) 137.Kf1 Ke5 138.Kg1 Rb2 139.Kf1 Rh2 {forcing a winning position for Black.} 140.Kg1 Rxh4 {when you can force a winning endgame position, material balance is irrelevant.} 141.gxh4 Kxf5 142.Kf2 Kf4 143.Kg2 Ke4 144.Kf2 ( 144.Kg3 Ke3 145.Kg2 Kf4 {and wins.} ) 144...Kd3 145.Kg2 Ke2 146.Kg3 Kf1 147.Kf4 Kf2 148.Kg5 g3 0-1

Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

12 June 2022

Book quote #2: Darker Than Amber


From Chapter Four of Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald:

Digging through the broad bin she had come up with short brown shorts in a stretch fabric and a sleeveless orange blouse which she did not button, but had overlapped before tucking it into the shorts so that it fitted her torso very trimly. Barefoot, she danced alone on the lounge carpeting, half of a dark drink in her hand. The dance was mildly derivative of the frug-fish-watusi, moving to a new place, facing in a new direction from time to time. Meyer and I had dropped the desk panel and we sat on either side of it, playing one of those games of chess where, by cautious pawn play by both of us, the center squares had become intricately clogged as the pressure of the major pieces built up, and each move took lengthy analysis. While he pondered, I watched Vangie. She gave no impression of being on display.

11 June 2022

Book quote: Darker Than Amber


From Chapter Two of Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald:

He stuck a fist against a huge and shuddering yawn. "I guess so. A funny hunch that Miss Jane Doe is very bad news. And I've seen how you take on problems. You get deeply involved. You bleed a little. Indignation makes you take nutty risks. All that splendid ironic detachment goes all to hell when you detect a dragon off in the bushes somewhere. I wouldn't want you to get the same professional kind of attention she got. I'd miss you. Where would I find another pigeon who gets clobbered by the queen's gambit? Or knows how to lead Meyer to the fat snook. Good night, pigeon."

22 May 2022

Training quote of the day #38: Tigran Petrosian

Chess is a game by its form, an art by its content and a science by the difficulty of gaining masters in it.

Tigran Petrosian, quoted in Petrosian: Move by Move by IM Thomas Engqvist

21 May 2022

Annotated Game #259: No pawn lever, no plan

As often happens when you are doing some more in-depth studying as part of your training program, you immediately start seeing where it can be applied in your games. I recently started Axel Smith's Pump Up Your Rating and the first chapter is "No Pawn Lever - No Plan" - which directly applies to this next game, my first played under the auspices of the Chess Dojo program. I get partial credit for at least considering one of the potential levers with the f-pawn, but could have had a much better game strategically if I had looked for that and others, both earlier and later.

[Event "Live Chess - chess"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.05.07"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin_01"] [Black "dionysian2020"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "1671"] [BlackElo "1994"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.d4 Nf6 2.e3 d5 3.Bd3 e6 4.Nd2 {controls e4} 4...c5 5.c3 {prelude to the Stonewall formation} 5...Nc6 6.f4 {now we have the full Stonewall.} 6...a5 $5 {this was a a surprise to me and is very uncommon in the database - only one game with this position - but Komodo Dragon approves. Black signals a plan of queenside expansion, cramping White and perhaps looking for a breakthrough in the middlegame.} 7.Ngf3 {developing a key piece and preparing to castle.} ( 7.a4 {is a possibility that came up in the post mortem discussion. During the game I felt that trying to play on the queenside would strategically detract from my kingside play and was not necessary.} ) 7...a4 {consistent with the previous move, restraining White's option of developing the bishop to b2. Black would likely benefit from opening queenside lines in the event of an exchange of the b-pawn.} 8.O-O c4 {normally Stonewall players can benefit from this move, since although it seizes additional space it should provide freer strategic possibilities in the center, specifically with the e-pawn lever.} 9.Bc2 b5 {logically continuing with the queenside expansion, to which Black is committed by this point.} 10.Ne5 {this is an example of stereotypical thinking in the Stonewall. The knight certainly is best placed here, but I should have been thinking more about the pawn levers available in the position, namely e3-e4. In the game, I was concerned about my opponent's pawn lever a4-a3 and thought exchanging the Nc6 would weaken his ability to follow up on the queenside.} ( 10.e4 {there is no need to postpone this, as Black cannot break through on the queenside.} ) ( 10.a3 {for practical peace of mind, this is also possible, locking the queenside first before playing e4.} ) 10...Bb7 11.Ndf3 {this was my first long think (around 4 minutes) The text move is not terrible, but it puts White further away from the idea of the e3-e4 pawn lever. That said, now that the Bb7 is on the long diagonal, it would not be as good for White.} ( 11.Qf3 $5 {is a possibility, with the standard Stonewall plan of advancing the g-pawn.} ) 11...h6 {protecting against the idea of Ng5, targeting f7.} 12.Nxc6 {getting rid of Black's best-developed piece on the queenside and then funneling the other knight to e5 seemed logical, also clearing up some space for me.} 12...Bxc6 13.Ne5 Qc7 {protecting the bishop and clearing the back rank.} 14.Bd2 ( 14.a3 {immediately playing this looks better than waiting a move, shutting down Black's queenside possibilities; however, the idea did not occur to me until the next move.} ) 14...Bb7 ( 14...a3 {this is Black's only chance to try to open up the queenside. Before with the bishop on c1 I could have simply recaptured on b2.} 15.b4 {This would also serve to block things on the queenside, since exchanging the b-pawn now gets rid of Black's more centralized c4 pawn.} 15...cxb3 16.axb3 {and White can block things again after b4 and Ra2, for example. The position appears even.} ) 15.a3 {my opponent and I agreed to disagree about this idea during the post mortem. I liked the fact that it locked up the queenside, but so did he, having the intent to castle there.} ( 15.Be1 $5 {would have continued to develop the dark-squared bishop and leave the possibility of opening lines on the queenside, restraining Black's idea of castling there.} ) 15...O-O-O {this surprised me, given how advanced Black's pawns are, but made sense. The king is spirited away from White's kingside attacking potential. At the time, I felt that I still had better strategic prospects, having better development and more space on the only dynamic front (kingside).} 16.Be1 {the Stonewall bishop needs to be redeveloped, typically to h4 in these types of positions.} 16...Bd6 {no better place for the bishop. Here it can exert pressure along the b8-h2 diagonal, which makes a difference when considering ideas like the f4-f5 pawn lever, or if Black challenges the f4 pawn with ...g5. As importantly, the move connects the rooks.} 17.Rf3 {I spent a lot of time on this, the previous and next moves, trying to find the best plan. Unfortunately this is not it. White should look to complete development and organize for the one pawn lever available in the position, f4-f5.} ( 17.Bh4 ) 17...Rdg8 18.Rh3 {I did think about f5 here, but after lengthy calculation did not like the resulting positions. Eventually I decided that I should prepare it with Bg3, but did not like playing that immediately due to ...Nh5. The text move prevents that and helps prepare Bg3, which however is not that great a move.} ( 18.f5 h5 {is the critical line, according to Komodo Dragon.} ( 18...Bxe5 {was the main move I looked at.} 19.dxe5 Ne4 ( 19...Qxe5 $4 20.Bg3 ) 20.Bxe4 dxe4 21.Rf1 {this doesn't seem very exciting for White, although the engine gives a small edge.} ) ( 18...exf5 {of course also had to be calculated. I looked primarily at Bxf5, which isn't bad, but the engine identifies a better version of the idea.} 19.Bh4 g5 20.Bxf5+ Kb8 21.Bg3 $16 {and now White can make excellent use of the f-file after moving the Bf5 out of the way of the rook.} ) 19.fxe6 fxe6 20.Ng6 Bxh2+ 21.Kh1 Rh6 22.Bh4 ( 22.g3 Ng4 {and the Bh2 is adequately protected.} ) 22...Bd6 {Black withdraws the bishop from its precarious post and defends e7.} 23.Bxf6 gxf6 24.Rxf6 $10 ) 18...Ne8 {I was happy to see this appear, as the Nf6 was a defensive thorn in the side of my kingside ideas. However, it still plays a good (if more passive) defensive role here.} ( 18...Ne4 {is the more active knight move.} ) ( 18...g5 {my opponent mentioned during the post mortem that he was considering this, but correctly rejected it, being among other things concerned about the hanging Nf6.} 19.Bg3 {would be the simple way to shut down Black's threat.} ) 19.Bg3 {this is too restrictive. Black has various options, but could simply play ...f5 to prevent White from using the f-pawn as a lever.} ( 19.g4 {would be a thematic way to first grab kingside space and then play Bg3 or Bh4.} ) 19...g5 $2 {this allows White to open up the game, with advantage.} 20.fxg5 hxg5 21.Rxh8 {I calculated at the time that this was necessary and the engine agrees. With only one rook on the kingside, Black is under-resourced and does not have any threats.} 21...Rxh8 22.Qg4 {the key move, threatening the g-pawn and clearing the first rank for the rook to be brought into play.} 22...Qe7 23.Qf3 {after a long think, I knew that I had to make threats on the f-file, but chose the second and less effective option. This is simply too slow and leaves the rook out of play. I was unsuccessful in resolving the potential Black threats against the queen on g4.} ( 23.Rf1 f5 {this was the main problem and I could not find a solution, as for example Ng6 does not get me anything. However, the engine finds the sacrifice} 24.Bxf5 $1 exf5 25.Rxf5 {after which White has too many tactical threats involving Nf7 or Rf7 for Black to handle. For example} 25...Qe6 {blocking the discovered check} 26.Nf7 Qxe3+ 27.Rf2+ Kc7 28.Nxh8 $18 ) 23...Bxe5 {trading off White's most threatening piece.} 24.Bxe5 f6 25.Bg3 $14 {White has a slight advantage with the reduced material on the board, with the better minor pieces and the two bishops, but has no major breakthrough possibilities.} 25...Nd6 {the knight was anchoring f6 from its previous position, so now I can start making threats again. However, this is a more active approach for Black as well.} ( 25...Kd7 $5 {a waiting move that improves the king's utility.} ) 26.Rf1 f5 27.Be5 Rh6 ( 27...g4 {would prevent the idea given in the next variation.} ) 28.Qg3 $6 {I was focused too much on piece play here and not looking for pawn levers.} ( 28.g4 {this pawn lever did not occur to me during the game, likely because of a reflexive aversion to moving pawns in front of the king, but it makes eminent sense. White should be forcing open the f-file and Black's own g-pawn blocks the file, if White's pawn is traded off.} 28...fxg4 29.Qg3 {better than the immediate Qxg4, since it forces Black's knight away or baits Black's rook. For example} 29...Rh3 30.Qxg4 Rxe3 {and now White has a pleasant choice of moves, the simplest perhaps being} 31.Bf6 {followed by taking the g5 pawn.} ) 28...Nf7 {the correct idea, to trade off White's centralized bishop.} 29.Rf2 {largely played as a waiting move, although with ideas of allowing the rook to defend along the 2nd rank if needed.} 29...Bc6 {Black again correctly is not in a rush to trade on e5, as the White bishop cannot go anywhere. First he gains a tempo on redeveloping his own bishop.} 30.Bd1 {mirroring Black's idea.} 30...Kb7 31.h3 {played after some thought. It is not necessary to defend g4, but is not a bad move in itself. However, as mentioned during the post mortem discussion, it offers the potential of a hook for Black to work against with an eventual g5-g4 push.} ( 31.Be2 {essentially White has no way to make progress, so marking time with the bishop is one way to take a pass.} ) 31...Nxe5 $10 {no reason not to trade off White's excellent centralized bishop.} 32.Qxe5 Qc7 {a nice decision by Black, which I considered essentially forced the trade of queens, in the face of the threat of doubled e-pawns. However, the engine does not see this as a problem. In fact, without a dark-square bishop or a knight, Black would not be able to get at a White pawn on e5, which would have a useful role in dominating d6 and f6.} 33.Qxc7+ Kxc7 {now I want to play g4 to break up Black's pawn formation, but in the game could not see beyond ...Rxh3. In fact, the move can be done immediately.} 34.Rf3 {protecting h3.} ( 34.g4 Rxh3 35.gxf5 exf5 36.Rxf5 Rxe3 37.Kf2 Rd3 38.Ke1 $10 ) 34...Kd6 35.g4 Be8 {around here I start realizing Black's bishop is actually not bad, or at least it is no worse (probably a little better) than my own.} 36.Kg2 {overprotecting h3 and freeing up the rook.} 36...fxg4 37.hxg4 Bg6 38.Rh3 {this took some thinking, but the decision is validated by the engine. If I can get to a bishop ending, I will be able to construct a fortress against Black's king.} 38...Be4+ {this bishop starts becoming very annoying, able to generate some threats in the relatively cramped White space.} 39.Kh2 ( 39.Bf3 $2 Rxh3 ) 39...Rf6 40.Kg1 {forced, otherwise the rook penetrates on f1.} 40...Bd3 {threatening Rf1 with a fork of king and bishop. I am still quite equal, but feeling the pressure at this point, being on the defensive.} 41.Bf3 ( 41.Rf3 {would have been a simpler way to play, but I recall not liking the idea of ...Rh6 and potential threats down the h-file. However, this was not based on concrete calculation.} 41...Rh6 42.Rf2 $10 ) 41...e5 {correctly using the only pawn lever available, to try for an advantage.} 42.Bg2 ( 42.dxe5+ {this appears weak due to the now-isolated e-pawn, but again Black's lack of ability to target it would mean the weakness is an illusion.} 42...Kxe5 43.Kf2 {and Black cannot make progress.} ) 42...exd4 43.exd4 Re6 {the most threatening move. Now I miss the correct defensive continuation and end up in a losing position.} 44.Kh2 $2 {now I am losing.} ( 44.Bf3 {I did not even consider this, simply believing ...Re1+ would allow Black to fatally penetrate my position.} 44...Re1+ 45.Kf2 Rb1 46.Rh6+ {and White will be able to pick up the pawn on d5 in exchange for the b-pawn, maintaining equality.} ) ( 44.Rh5 {keeping my own rook active would also be better.} 44...Re1+ 45.Kh2 Re2 46.Kh3 Rxb2 47.Rxg5 $10 ) 44...Re2 $19 45.Rh6+ {I saw too late Black's "backward bishop move" that covered the h7 square, meaning that I could not fully use the rook on the h-file.} 45...Ke7 $6 {As is often the case in endgames, perfectly reasonable-looking moves like this one end up being errors. Now I am back to being theoretically equal, but it is difficult to find the way.} ( 45...Kc7 ) 46.Kg3 $10 Rxb2 47.Bxd5 {so far so good} 47...Rb3 48.Rb6 $2 ( 48.Bc6 $1 {this both threatens the b-pawn and clears the way for the d-pawn to advance.} ) 48...Rxc3 49.Rxb5 Be4+ $6 {this gives me a 50% chance of escaping with a draw.} ( 49...Rxa3 $19 ) 50.Kh2 $2 {incorrectly moving my king away from the action, feeling it would be too exposed in the center.} ( 50.Kf2 $1 {now the White rook can go to c5 and the king is in the central action.} ) 50...Bxd5 $19 51.Rxd5 Rxa3 52.Rxg5 {this is completely won for Black, despite material equality, as his pawns are too far advanced and my king is out of the action.} 52...Rd3 53.Ra5 a3 54.d5 Rd2+ 55.Kh3 a2 56.g5 c3 57.g6 c2 58.g7 c1=Q 59.Ra7+ Kd6 60.g8=Q Qh1+ {and now Black picks up the Qg8 via a skewer tactic after the king moves to the g-file.} 0-1

Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

01 May 2022

Launch of Chess Dojo training program


I'm naturally on the lookout for good training resources, including more comprehensive chess training programs. One of the issues I've previously mentioned here, that I believe especially holds adult improvers back, is the lack of access to structured, interactive programs. Personal coaches obviously can be good, but the level of instruction quality and individual attention to your particular needs will vary. I still think that self-study programs are an excellent option; some examples are in the linked post above. However, most people (I daresay even myself) will do even better as part of a "live" (including virtual) and interactive program, simply because that is how human psychology works.

I was therefore very interested to see today's official launch of the Chess Dojo training program. The core practices include classical time control play and analysis of your games, which is a repeated theme of this site on how real progress is made in gaining chess strength. Its summary description:

A structured plan to hold yourself accountable to and a group to do it with.



- Structured training plans for all levels 0-2400 FIDE

- A dedicated cohort to analyze, spar, and grow with

-Tactical milestones/benchmarks to achieve
-Opening, middlegame, & endgame sparring positions to hone your skills


Included within the training plans are videos/guides on how to properly work through the material, as well as specific games to study, games to memorize, opening repertoires, and other useful content. 

Some top chess trainers are behind the program: GM Jesse Krai, IM David Pruess and IM Kostya Kavutskiy. They appear to have put something serious together.

30 April 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 7 (Lee - Paikidze)

We continue following the last U.S. Women's Championship with this round 7 game, in which WIM Megan Lee recovers from her previous round's defeat and outplays IM Nazi Paikidze. Paikidze chooses the Modern defense, which in fact allows her to equalize rather easily against White's less-than-aggressive play. Black could have done more to seize the initiative heading into the middlegame, around move 17, but instead let White eventually find some active ideas and improve her pieces. Black starts shedding pawns and White then grabs a winning advantage, although Black misses an interesting stalemate idea late in the game (see move 56).

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.13"] [Round "07"] [White "Lee, Megan"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2211"] [BlackElo "2374"] [ECO "B06"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:03:51"] [BlackFideId "13603620"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:14:58"] [WhiteFideId "2029618"] 1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 {the Modern defense.} 3.Nf3 ( 3.Nc3 {is played much more often here and scores better (at 54 percent) in the database. However, there are obviously a lot of transposition possibilities.} ) 3...d6 4.Be3 {White super-focuses on reinforcing d4.} 4...Nd7 5.Nc3 a6 {the Modern is not about taking on White directly, but restricting potential activity. Black here takes away the b5 square, for example.} 6.a4 {restraining ...b5 in turn.} 6...b6 7.Bc4 e6 8.Qd2 {White now chooses to emphasize piece play.} ( 8.h4 $5 {is a more aggressive alternative that Black has found hard to meet. Here is a sample game from GM Robert Hess:} 8...h6 9.h5 g5 10.Qd3 Qe7 11.d5 Ngf6 12.dxe6 fxe6 13.e5 Nxe5 14.Nxe5 dxe5 15.O-O-O Bb7 16.f3 Qf7 17.Qd2 Bc6 18.a5 b5 19.Bd3 O-O-O 20.Kb1 e4 21.fxe4 Nxe4 22.Nxe4 Bxe4 23.Bxe4 Rxd2 24.Rxd2 Qf6 25.Bd4 Qe7 26.Bxg7 Qxg7 27.Re1 Qf6 28.Rde2 Re8 29.Bc6 Re7 30.Re5 Qf4 31.Bd5 Qd2 32.g4 Kd7 33.Bb3 c5 34.c3 Kc7 35.Rxc5+ Kb8 36.Rce5 Qd3+ 37.Bc2 Qg3 38.R1e4 Qg1+ 39.Ka2 Qa7 40.Rxe6 Rxe6 41.Rxe6 Qf7 42.Bb3 Qf4 43.Rxh6 Qxg4 44.Rh8+ Kb7 45.h6 b4 46.h7 Qh5 47.cxb4 Qh6 48.Bd5+ Kc7 49.Ra8 {1-0, Robert L Hess 2609 - Samy Shoker 2475, WchT 8th, Ningbo (3.4), 2011.07.19} ) 8...Bb7 9.Bg5 Ndf6 {this looks strange, but the point is to develop the other knight to e7, from where it can fight for d5 and f5.} 10.Qe2 {after this, the engine considers the position completely even, with perhaps a slight advantage to Black. White retreats her pieces, meaning the previous development was largely ineffective.} 10...h6 11.Bh4 {choosing to maintain the bishop's presence on the kingside. Bd2 seems more flexible.} 11...g5 {a commital move, with the intent of forcing a piece trade. A more standard developing alternative would be ...Ne7.} 12.Bg3 Nh5 13.O-O-O {the best place for the king, as O-O would then give more punch to Black's trade on g3, with prospects for further kingside pawn advances to open up the position.} 13...Ne7 14.Ne1 {forcing Black to commit with the Nh5. However, this was presumably her intent anyway with the knight, so perhaps something more active is indicated.} ( 14.d5 $5 {Black's king is still in the center and White's rook is now in play on d1, so this seems like a good time to advance.} ) 14...Nxg3 15.hxg3 {the usual rule of capturing towards the center applies in this position. White maintains a connected pawn formation and usefully opens the h-file for the rook.} 15...Qd7 {developing the queen and clearing the back rank for possible queenside castling.} 16.d5 {this ends up being a premature break in the center. White has just retreated the knight, so her forces are not fully marshaled to support her in the center.} ( 16.f4 $5 {is the engine's preference.} ) 16...exd5 17.Nxd5 {with the game continuation, this seems fine, but the engine suggests that Black is better without further exchanges on d5.} 17...Bxd5 ( 17...b5 {seems most to the point, getting Black's play on the queenside started against White's king, although it involves a pawn sacrifice.} 18.Nxe7 Qxe7 19.axb5 axb5 20.Bxb5+ c6 21.Bc4 O-O $17 {White's king position is much worse and Black will also be able to take over the initiative in the center, for example after ...Rfe8 and ...d5.} ) ( 17...O-O {also looks good.} ) 18.Bxd5 Nxd5 19.exd5+ Kf8 {Black is still equal here, despite having lost the right to castle. Material is reduced, lessening the chance of a kingside attack succeeding for White, and Black has good prospects on the queenside.} 20.Qe4 {actively centralizing the queen.} 20...Re8 {logically kicking the queen off of the excellent e4 square, but it still moves to another good square.} 21.Qc4 b5 {forcing the opening of lines on the queenside.} 22.axb5 {necessary to avoid the opening of the b-file after ...bxa4, which would increase the vulnerability of the White king.} 22...axb5 23.Qb3 $6 {this is too passive a square for the queen.} ( 23.Qc6 ) 23...Ra8 24.Nd3 {White correctly ignores the possibility of a check on a1, which would gain Black nothing, as she is not in a position to effectively go after White's king on d2. The knight needs to get back in the game.} 24...Bf6 {clearing g7 for the king.} 25.f3 {this fights for g4 and also ensures the f-pawn is protected by another pawn, otherwise it could be pressured after ...Qf5 in some lines.} 25...Kg7 {now Black's rooks are connected.} ( 25...h5 {is the engine's suggestion, a prophylactic move against what White plays next.} ) 26.g4 {the logical follow-up, controlling f5 and h5 and blocking further advances of Black's pawns.} 26...c5 {another commital pawn move by Black. This will result in a half-open c-file, but Black's pawn structure is weakened.} 27.dxc6 Qxc6 28.c3 {now it seems more evident that Black does not have enough attacking potential against the White king.} 28...Qb6 {putting the queen on a more useful diagonal and threatening ...Qe3+} 29.Kc2 Rac8 $6 {it seems counterintuitive to leave the open a-file, reducing the number of potential threats Black could try to make. Moving the other rook to c8 is preferred by the engine.} 30.Nb4 {White's knight now greatly improves its scope.} 30...Be5 {defending the d-pawn and getting on the better b8-h2 diagonal.} 31.Nd5 Qa7 32.Rd2 {allowing for possibly doubling rooks on the d-file, while covering the 2nd rank.} ( 32.Qxb5 $2 {pawn snatching here in fact does open too many lines against White's king.} 32...Rb8 33.Qd3 Qa2 34.Rb1 Rhc8 $19 {now with the c-pawn pinned, the Nd5 has nowhere useful to go and becomes a target after ...Rc5, which then gives Black additional threats against White's king position.} ) 32...Rb8 33.Re1 Rhc8 $6 {this looks very reasonable, but now White continues with her rook lift idea.} ( 33...b4 {is found by the engine. It is counter-intuitive, since it looks like it just loses a pawn.} 34.Nxb4 Rb5 $10 {and now Black gets active play on the queenside to compensate for the pawn, with the ability to double major pieces on either the a- or b-files.} ) 34.Re4 {now the ...b4 idea is no longer possible, which means Black has no way to make progress on the queenside.} 34...Kh7 35.Nb4 {while the knight looked good on d5, it lacked targets. Note that the a2-g8 diagonal is also now open for the queen, pressuring f7.} 35...Rc5 $2 {while in some earlier variations this rook move would have made sense, here its awkward placement will cause immediate problems for Black.} ( 35...Kg6 {Black needs to think defensively and this would protect f7.} ) 36.Nd3 {Black now has no good moves with the rook.} 36...Rc4 ( 36...Rc7 37.Qd5 Bg3 38.Rb4 $16 {and White has all the play in the position.} ) 37.Rxc4 {now White just picks up a pawn.} ( 37.Nxe5 {is suggested as even better by the engine.} 37...dxe5 38.Rxe5 ) 37...bxc4 38.Qxc4 $18 Bf6 $6 {the bishop is hanging here and Black's queen remains tied to protecting f7.} ( 38...Kg8 {again would help cover f7, although Black still has major problems.} ) 39.Nb4 {uncovering the attack on the isolated d-pawn.} 39...Qa4+ 40.Qb3 {White would be quite happy to simplify here with an exchange of queens.} 40...Qe8 {correctly choosing to protect the f-pawn over the d-pawn.} 41.Rxd6 {White is now up two connected passed pawns, which would be hard to lose, especially at the Master level. White's somewhat exposed king position perhaps gave Black some hope of drawing, however.} 41...Be5 42.Rd1 Bf4 43.Kb1 Kg8 44.Qc2 {extricating the queen from the pin on the Nb4.} 44...Ra8 45.Nd5 {threatening the fork on f6.} 45...Be5 46.Qe4 {a powerful centralization of the queen.} 46...Rb8 47.Rd2 Kg7 {Black lacks any real ideas in the position, although this allows White to further simplify by force or win additional material.} 48.Re2 {now the bishop is pinned.} 48...f6 49.Nxf6 Qd8 {hoping to be able to get in ...Qd1+} ( 49...Kxf6 50.Qf5+ Kg7 51.Qxe5+ Qxe5 52.Rxe5 $18 ) 50.Nh5+ Kg8 51.Qg6+ ( 51.Kc1 {this may be the best practical move here for normal players, taking away any worries about Black counterplay.} ) 51...Kh8 52.Qxh6+ Kg8 53.Qe6+ Kh7 54.Kc2 Qa5 55.Qf5+ Kh6 56.Rxe5 $2 {this allows a neat tactical draw for Black, which of course is difficult to see at the board. Black's king is cornered and there is very little material on the board for her, which should be the cue for a stalemate theme.} ( 56.Qxe5 ) 56...Qa4+ $2 {Missing the stalemate idea. White now has only one move, but it is not hard to find.} ( 56...Rxb2+ 57.Kxb2 ( 57.Kd3 {running doesn't help, as all Black has to do is give away all her material, or gain a perpetual check. For example} 57...Rd2+ 58.Ke4 ( 58.Ke3 $4 Qxc3+ {and mates.} ) 58...Qa4+ 59.Ke3 Re2+ 60.Kd3 ( 60.Kxe2 Qe4+ 61.Kf1 Qe1+ $10 ) 60...Qd1+ $10 ) 57...Qxc3+ $10 {now it's a stalemate if White takes the queen, or a perpetual check if she doesn't.} ) 57.Kc1 Qa1+ 58.Qb1 {now it's all over.} 58...Qa6 59.Ng3 {White finds the best idea in the position, reactivating her knight and opening up against Black's king.} 59...Rd8 60.Nf5+ Kh7 61.Nd6+ Kh8 62.Nf7+ Kg7 63.Nxd8 Qf1+ {one last try in desperation.} 64.Kc2 Qf2+ 65.Kd3 1-0

Evaluation chart by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro