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

27 April 2022

Training quote of the day #37: Aryan Tari

We started by looking at my games and making lists of my mistakes, so we could see which kind of mistakes were recurring. I was good at spotting my own tactical opportunities, but I missed a lot of my opponents' moves. Another recurring mistake was that I did not play the critical moves when I departed from preparation. I was playing too fast at that point. Furthermore I had a tendency to play a bit too much according to the opponents' level.

I began thinking about these things during my games, even though it is not easy to change your habits and the way you play. I also started annotating my own games, with both variations and words. At the same time, I started solving exercises online every day. There you use a chess clock, which can sharpen the concentration. When you are running out of time in a game, it can be vital to be able to calculate essential variations quickly.

International Master Aryan Tari, from the Foreword to Pump Up Your Rating by IM (now GM) Axel Smith.

25 April 2022

Video completed: How to Beat the Caro-Kann Hillbilly Attack

Every so often, there will be a fad in an opening sideline (usually for White) based on how easy it is to use to beat an unprepared opponent. (See for example "Introducing the Caro-Kane Variation"). Typically it will show up in blitz and rapid play on the major chess sites (Chess.com, lichess.org, etc.) and be enthusiastically flogged until it becomes too popular and therefore well known. Then most players move on to the next most popularized opening variation.

As a (former) chess purist, I would be horrified at these types of sidelines and consider the whole thing to be useless or beneath me to study. Now that I'm a stronger player, I have a different attitude, believing that delving into opening play - including tricky sidelines - in fact deepens your level of mastery. My memory I would say is about average, but I do better at remembering a course of play in the opening, once I understand what is going on and can integrate its concepts into my overall comprehension. Usually this involves multiple rounds of study/play, but even if "live" practice is not available, a deeper level of self-study normally pays off.

Another recent example of this, also in the Caro-Kann - a frustratingly solid defense for White players who like to sacrifice and attack all the time - is the so-called Hillbilly Attack. The Chess.com video "How to Beat the Caro-Kann Hillbilly Attack" is an entertaining but also serious look at the White ideas, in this case using the "Some Dumb Trucker" defense, named after the Chess.com member who came up with it. As done with the "Caro-Kane" variation, I've incorporated it into my opening repertoire database and present it below as a PGN excerpt, with some of my own commentary. It is also well worth looking at the above-linked video, for the original ideas and explanations.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Caro-Kann"] [Black "2. Bc4 (Hillbilly Attack)"] [Result "*"] [ECO "B10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [PlyCount "18"] 1. e4 c6 2. Bc4 {this can often appear on the board when White has not studied the Caro-Kann and wants to treat it like a double king pawn opening by attacking f7.} d5 {this essentially puts an end to any of White's plans for an advantage and shuts down the diagonal. However, White can try to be tricky...} 3. Bb3 {the Hillbilly Attack. Exchanging on d5 is best according to the engine, but offers White zero prospects of an attack.} a5 {the Some Dumb Trucker defense. Slightly lower-ranked than the exchange on e4 by the engine, but easier to play for Black, who immediately starts making counter-threats against the Bb3. Note that the a2-g8 diagonal remains blocked for the moment.} (3... dxe4 {is the "main line" and best ranked by the engine, but gives White a more open game and can be trickier for Black to play.}) 4. a4 {White has to respond to the threat to trap the bishop with ...a4. Like all pawn moves, however, it leaves weaknesses behind it. Black can use this later on.} (4. exd5 {the engines rank this best. However, Black can continue with counterplay against the bishop.} a4 5. Bc4 cxd5 6. Bb5+ {this position now looks like what White would have reached if he had simply exchanged on d5 in the first place, except for Black's advanced a-pawn.} Bd7 7. Bxd7+ (7. Be2 e5 $17) 7... Qxd7 $15 {and Black has no problems, also being slightly more developed.}) 4... dxe4 { Black now takes the pawn and can hang onto it with fewer issues, as we will see.} 5. Qh5 {the move White has been looking to play.} g6 6. Qh4 {looking to retake on e4. Black now develops with activity, taking that into account.} Na6 {this looks weird, but the knight cannot be stopped from going to c5 to exchange the Bb3, which is the plan.} 7. Nc3 $6 {this is considered inferior by the engines, but avoids the simplification that inevitably happens if the pawn is immediately recaptured.} (7. Qxe4 Nc5 {this effectively baits White, who might well try to grab the rook on h8.} 8. Qc4 (8. Qe5 {White probably thinks they are doing quite well now...} Nxb3 9. Qxh8 Nxa1 10. Qxg8 {visually this might look attractive for White, as material is even and the queen is rampaging on the kingside, while Black's knight is on the less-sensitive queenside. However...} Nxc2+ 11. Ke2 {otherwise ...Qd3 is very strong.} Nd4+ $19 {is probably the easiest continuation, threatening ...Nb3 and ...Qd5. White's queen is out of play and Black's pieces will be able to get out and attack White's exposed king.}) 8... Nxb3 9. Qxb3 Bg7 (9... Nh6 {is recommended in the video, with the difference that after Qc3 Black needs to play ...f6. This is fine, but the bishop development avoids the pawn awkwardness.} 10. Nf3 Bg7 11. O-O Nf5) 10. Nf3 Nh6 $17 {leaving the long diagonal open for the bishop and preparing to go to f5.}) 7... Nc5 {continuing with the plan.} 8. Nxe4 (8. f3 {a typical gambit idea that packs little punch here, with the light-square bishop off the board.} Nxb3 {sticking with the plan.} 9. cxb3 exf3 10. Nxf3 Nh6 $19 {note the theme of this knight development, aiming for f5. After this and ...Bg7, Black has no problems and will dominate the center, while White's king will be weak.}) (8. Bc4 {preserving the bishop is logical and in fact preferred by the engines. However, Black now has the option of ... Bf5 to protect the e-pawn, as well as playing similarly to other lines with ... Nh6.} Bf5 9. g4 {is not a problem, as White's pawn blocks his queen from e4 and Black is happy to exchange off White's Bc4.} Be6 $19) 8... Nxb3 9. cxb3 Nh6 $19 {and we have the thematic ...Nf5 and ...Bg7 coming up, with ...Qd5 and ... Qd3 also possibilities. White is essentially busted.} *

17 April 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 6 (Eswaran - Lee)

This game from the 2021 U.S. Women's Championship demonstrates some of the themes we've been looking at, particularly the relative value of pieces and the importance of evaluating every exchange. Black does well out of the initial opening phase, but misplaces her queen and then, more seriously, trades off her dark-square bishop and heightens her long-term vulnerabilities. Essentially Black, who probably does not have a lot of experience against the King's Indian Attack (KIA) system, does not find a good plan and fails to get all of her pieces into play, while White does better with both planning and development. As so often happens when one player accumulates positional advantages and pressure, the game ends with a tactical flourish.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.12"] [Round "06"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Lee, Megan"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2244"] [BlackElo "2211"] [EventDate "????.??.??"] [ECO "A07"] [PlyCount "51"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:08:09"] [BlackFideId "2029618"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:53:10"] [WhiteFideId "2080788"] 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 {technically speaking, it's not too late after this to transpose to an English with c4 or a Queen's Pawn opening, but generally this means White intends to go for the full King's Indian Attack.} 3...Bg7 {Black chooses to develop the bishop and then put the knight on e7 instead of f6.} 4.O-O e5 {Black already has a small edge (around 2 percent) in the database in this line. One problem with the KIA, versus the KID for Black, is that Black in the KIA can better pursue a pattern of development that minimizes White's strengths, since White has committed early to the formation.} 5.d3 Ne7 {from here the knight reinforces d5 and helps control f5, while not obstructing the Bg7 in its protection of e5.} 6.Nbd2 O-O 7.e4 {and now we have reached the standard KIA setup for White.} 7...c6 ( 7...Nbc6 $5 {scores much better in the database and is also the most popular. The text move reinforces d5 and blunts the long diagonal, but is worse for black's minor piece development.} ) 8.Re1 {continuing the standard moves.} 8...Qd6 {the queen is a little too vulnerable in the center here.} ( 8...d4 {is most played here, locking the center. If c3, then ...c5 will maintain the structure.} ) ( 8...Qc7 {is the second most popular and generally played if Black wishes to move the queen. The text move has very few examples.} ) 9.c3 $14 {this supports either the d4 or b4 pawn advance, with d4 being the general plan. Also, now Black cannot play ...d4 to good effect, since the pawn can be immediately exchanged off there. White possesses has a small advantage, with a clear plan of disrupting the center, while Black must struggle to complete her development.} 9...f5 {a thematic pawn lever in a KID, somewhat ironically, but it is not good here, as Black's center is too weak and a key diagonal to her king is opened. However, White reacts with a similarly stereotypical move in response.} 10.d4 {not bad in itself, but it lets Black get back on even footing in the center.} ( 10.b4 {is Komodo Dragon's preference, seizing space on the queenside with a solid central presence. Black has little productive she can do, and the exchange on e4 or pushing the pawn to f4 are better for White. For example:} 10...fxe4 ( 10...f4 11.Qb3 $18 {and Black's center will collapse under pressure.} ) 11.dxe4 dxe4 12.Ng5 $18 {and White will now regain the pawn with a large positional advantage against the isolated e-pawn, as well as Qb3 to come against the open a2-g8 diagonal.} ) 10...fxe4 11.Nxe5 Bxe5 $6 {this seems like a hasty choice. The problem is that it leaves Black vulnerable on the dark squares, without the bishop to cover them.} ( 11...Nd7 ) 12.dxe5 Qxe5 13.f3 $16 {a safe choice for the advantage, pressuring and dissolving Black's center. Komodo Dragon finds a more tactical blow:} ( 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Bh6 {now Black has to give up the exchange.} 14...Nd7 ( 14...Re8 $2 15.Rxe4 Qd5 16.Qe2 Qf7 17.Re1 $18 ) 15.Bxf8 Nxf8 16.Rxe4 Qf6 17.Qb3+ Kg7 18.Rae1 Nf5 $16 ) 13...Qf6 {getting the queen out of the sights of the Re1.} 14.Kh1 {another slower and more prudent move. Now Black could do better by developing a piece, for example with ...Be6, but instead opens things up to her detriment.} ( 14.Qe2 $5 ) 14...exf3 $6 15.Nxf3 Nf5 $18 {resolutely continuing not to develop her bishop. Now White can move onto the attack and the engine already shows a winning advantage.} ( 15...Bg4 ) 16.Bg5 {now all of White's pieces are in effective play, while Black has three stuck at home and an unfilled gap around her king.} 16...Qg7 17.Qd2 h6 {Black successfully drives back the bishop, but leaves further holes behind.} 18.Bf4 g5 19.Be5 {beautifully centralized and demonstrating just how badly Black is missing her dark-square bishop and f-pawn.} 19...Qg6 20.c4 $1 {an outstanding, master-level idea. This clears the c3 square for the bishop in the event it is challenged with ...Nd7 and thereby maintains White's dominant piece.} 20...Be6 {nothing better. Contrast the effectiveness of the two bishops. White now continues the attack and ignores the threat to the c-pawn.} 21.g4 {driving the defending knight away to an awkward square. The g-pawn is of course weak, but Black cannot take advantage of this.} 21...Ne7 {now White has several tactical ideas based on the hanging Ne7 and pressure down the e-file.} 22.Qb4 {good enough, but not the most effective follow-up. If Black had gotten another piece into the game with ...Nd7, perhaps play could have continued.} ( 22.Bc3 $5 {with the idea of Qd4} ) ( 22.Bxb8 Raxb8 23.Nd4 {wins material.} ) 22...c5 23.Qxc5 {munching the free pawn.} 23...Nbc6 24.Nd4 ( 24.Bc3 {would give White similar tactical possibilities while preserving the outstanding bishop, but the text move is certainly good enough.} ) 24...Bxg4 25.Bd6 b6 {Black's best practical chance, but White finds the correct continuation.} ( 25...Nxd4 26.Rxe7 Ne6 27.Qxd5 $18 ) 26.Nxc6 $1 {and White will be up too much material after ...bxc5 and Nxe7+} 1-0

Evaluation chart by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

16 April 2022

Book quote: The Quick Red Fox


From Chapter One of The Quick Red Fox by John D. MacDonald:

Sometimes it does happen that way. She had a money look. No jewelry. Earned money. She looked handsomely employed, and she didn't look as if she was in any kind of a jam. An emissary for somebody who was. Had she come along a couple of months sooner, I could not have cared less. But the kitty was dwindling. I was soon going to have to cast about for some profitable little problem. It is nice when they come walking up and save you the trouble of looking.

But caution is always essential. "Are you sure you're talking to the right guy?"

"Walter Lowery in San Francisco mentioned your name."

"What do you know? How is old Walt?"

"All right, I expect." She frowned. "He said to say he misses playing chess with you."

So it was all right. Walt and I never played chess in our lives. Not against each other, at least. But that was the identification tag. If he ever sent anybody along. There are the nosy ones, and the troublemakers, and the cuties, and the official investigators. It is good to have a way to weed the doubtful ones out.

(For those interested in similar literary diversions, see also some Raymond Chandler chess quotes.) 

10 April 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 5 (Cervantes Landeiro - Paikidze)

This next game is essentially the opposite situation from the previous commentary game: Black is the higher-rated by 200 Elo here and goes into a highly imbalanced opening, the Leningrad Dutch, which by its nature creates more winning chances. Of course imbalanced positions also create more losing chances, but IM Nazi Paikidze - one of the strongest female players in the U.S. - shows no fear of that, focusing instead on the opportunity to outplay her opponent. The initiative changes multiple times, but in the end the tactical potential of the Leningrad Dutch comes through.

It is unclear whether FM Thalia Cervantes Landeiro as White was surprised by Black's opening choice and therefore chose the Nh3-based sideline to avoid preparation. The Karlsbad Variation of the Leningrad Dutch, usually starting earlier with 4. Nh3, often features a subsequent aggressive deployment of the knight to f4 and an h-pawn push; however, that does not occur in this game. Incidentally, the best treatment of this sideline that I found in my Dutch books was contained in Steffen Pedersen's The Dutch for the Attacking Player.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.11"] [Round "05"] [White "Cervantes Landeiro, Thalia"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2175"] [BlackElo "2374"] [ECO "A86"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:06:15"] [BlackFideId "13603620"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:01:07"] [WhiteFideId "3520498"] 1.d4 f5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3 g6 {the Leningrad Dutch.} 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.Nh3 $5 {the Karlsbad Variation.} 5...O-O {Pedersen is more in favor of delaying castling. The database supports his preference.} 6.O-O d6 ( 6...Nc6 {is the other major choice for Black's development here.} ) 7.d5 Na6 {a thematic idea, the knight is not "dim on the rim" but will go to c5.} 8.Nc3 Nc5 9.Be3 {this looks a little strange for the bishop, but it does not have a good choice of squares to develop to. White's e-pawn has little scope for advancing, so the bishop blocking it is of less consequence.} ( 9.b4 {Black is not afraid of this, since the knight can hop to e4 and exchange itself usefully for one of White's key minor pieces.} ) 9...e5 {another thematic Leningrad idea, gaining space in the center unless white takes the e-pawn off.} 10.dxe6 Nxe6 11.Ng5 c6 {another standard formation in the Leningrad, trading the weakening of the d-pawn for more influence on d5 and blunting the Bg2 on the long diagonal. Komodo Dragon prefers the more forcing ...Ng4, however, as in the following game by Ed Formanek.} ( 11...Ng4 12.Nxe6 Nxe3 13.Nxd8 Nxd1 14.Nxb7 Nxc3 15.bxc3 Rb8 16.Rab1 Bxc3 17.Rfc1 Bd4 18.Bd5+ Kg7 19.e3 Bb6 20.Na5 Bd7 21.Nc6 Rbe8 22.h4 h6 23.Kg2 g5 24.hxg5 hxg5 25.Kf3 Rh8 26.Rh1 Kf6 27.Rxh8 Rxh8 28.Ke2 f4 29.gxf4 gxf4 30.Rg1 Rh2 31.Rg2 Rh3 32.Rg8 Bxc6 33.Bxc6 fxe3 34.fxe3 Rxe3+ 35.Kd1 Ra3 36.Rg2 Be3 37.Rb2 Rc3 38.Bd5 Ke5 39.Rb3 Rc1+ 40.Ke2 Bd4 41.Rd3 Bc3 42.Re3+ Kd4 43.Re4+ Kc5 44.Kd3 c6 45.Bf7 Be5 46.Re2 Kb4 47.Rc2 Rf1 48.Be6 a5 49.Bd7 Kc5 50.Rd2 Rf3+ 51.Ke2 Rf7 52.Be6 Re7 {0-1, Zvonko Vranesic 2400 - Edward W Formanek 2410, Lloyds Bank op 01, London (4), 1977.08.29} ) 12.Nxe6 Bxe6 13.Qb3 $6 {White responds to the threat against the c4 pawn, but this significantly limits the scope of the queen. The pressure on b7 is not a real threat.} ( 13.b3 {is the engine's preference.} ) 13...Qe7 $15 {laterally protecting b7, clearing the back rank for the rooks, and keeping the Queen close to the central action.} 14.Rad1 {a normal-looking developing move, but now Black takes over the initiative.} 14...Ng4 {with the positional threat of taking on e3 and doubling White's pawns.} 15.Bf4 Ne5 {blocking the added pressure to d6 and threatening c4.} 16.Qb4 {keeping up the counter-pressure on d6.} 16...Rfd8 {shoring up d6. The alternative is to liquidate by taking on c4, which would give Black an endgame advantage. However, Paikidze prefers to play on in the middlegame.} ( 16...Nxc4 17.Bxd6 Nxd6 18.Qxd6 Qxd6 19.Rxd6 Kf7 $17 {Black has the two bishops in an open position, a more active king, and a 3-2 queenside majority, which add up to a significant positional advantage, but not necessarily decisive.} ) 17.b3 {correctly solidifying the c4 pawn's protection, which however is a clear illustration of the awkwardness of the original (unnecessary) queen move.} 17...g5 {in keeping with the needs of the position, Black attacks and expands on the kingside.} 18.Bd2 Rd7 {keeping things solid, as the rook now defends both d6 and b7, potentially freeing up the Qe7 to move.} 19.Qa3 {White's worst piece is her queen, so in the absence of anything better, she redeploys it.} 19...Rf8 20.Qc1 ( 20.Qxa7 {is a viable option, but then Black's f-pawn advance has a little more bite and she does not miss the a-pawn.} 20...f4 $10 ) 20...h6 {choosing to protect the g5 pawn and let White come to her.} ( 20...f4 {thrusting forward another, more complicated option recommended by the engine, sacrificing material for an attack.} 21.gxf4 Ng6 22.fxg5 d5 {it's hard to see a human playing this way, two pawns down without much visible compensation. However, after something like} 23.cxd5 cxd5 24.e4 Nh4 25.Nxd5 Bxd5 26.exd5 Nxg2 {Black is even and can force a perpetual after Kxg2 and ...Qe2. However, Paikidze certainly was not looking for a draw here.} ) 21.f4 gxf4 22.Bxf4 Kh7 {protecting the h6 pawn and clearing the g8 square.} ( 22...Qf6 {is also possible.} ) 23.e4 {the e-pawn gets into the action and challenges the f-pawn.} 23...Ng6 {the correct retreat, threatening to take off White's strongly-placed bishop. This also opens up the long diagonal for the Bg7.} 24.Be3 Qd8 $6 {this allows White to seize back the initiative.} ( 24...f4 {is again preferred by the engine as a pawn sacrifice.} 25.Bxf4 Bg4 26.Rd3 Qe6 27.Qd2 Be5 28.Bxh6 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 Rf7+ {with compensation.} ) 25.Bh3 {the correct response, attacking and pinning the f5 pawn.} 25...Rdf7 26.Qc2 $6 {in a complicated position, White goes astray and gives back the initiative.} ( 26.c5 {taking advantage of the pin on the d-pawn.} 26...d5 27.exd5 cxd5 $16 {and Black is positionally in trouble with her isolated pawns and bottled-up pieces.} ( 27...Bxd5 28.Nxd5 cxd5 {is even worse, giving White the two bishops advantage.} ) ) 26...Qe7 {with Black's queen no longer pinned against the d-pawn, White's advantage evaporates.} 27.Bf4 ( 27.Bxa7 $2 {pawn snatching would be a mistake, allowing Black's f-pawn to advance with purpose.} 27...f4 {now White's hanging Bh3 proves to be a tactical liability, even if exchanged. For example} 28.Bxe6 Qxe6 $19 {and now ...Qh3 is threatened, while the Qc2 is tied to protecting the Nc3.} ) 27...fxe4 {the engine evaluates the position as still equal, but now Black has opened up the position for her pieces.} 28.Bxe6 {forced} 28...Qxe6 29.Nxe4 {now Black can (and must) advance the d-pawn.} 29...d5 30.Nc5 ( 30.Nf2 {looks awkwardly defensive, but White does need to think about her kingside weaknesses.} ) 30...Qg4 31.Nd3 Bd4+ {the bishop takes advantage of the screening Nd3 and goes to an excellent central square with check.} 32.Kh1 Re8 {the e2 square is the obvious target for placing a rook, with mate threats to follow. White must think about defense now.} 33.Rde1 {White chooses to take on the e-file threat directly.} ( 33.Ne1 $5 {and the queen can go to d3 if needed, while the knight has g2 and f3 available.} ) 33...Rfe7 {the obvious follow-up, building up on the e-file. Now White needs to exchange rooks to blunt Black's pressure.} 34.cxd5 $2 {not seeing the danger.} ( 34.Rxe7+ Rxe7 35.Nc1 dxc4 36.bxc4 b6 $17 {and Black has the advantage, but there is no knockout blow.} ) 34...Re2 $1 35.Rxe2 Rxe2 {now nothing can save White.} 36.Qd1 Qh5 {keeping protection of the Re2 while threatening mate on h2.} 37.g4 Qxd5+ {with mate to follow immediately.} 0-1

Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

09 April 2022

"The Rule of the Chess Player" - Inc.com article

From the Village Sun

I came across an Inc.com article "How Emotionally Intelligent People Use the Rule of the Chess Player to Strengthen Relationships and Perform Under Pressure" which is quite a mouthful of a title. The main idea of the author is what he calls the "Rule of the Chess Player", based on what he saw happen at the chess tables in Washington Square Park in New York:

Whenever a player made a big mistake, the rest of us recoiled in horror. We'd let out loud gasps of exasperation, as if to say: How could they make that move? 

Of course, the funny thing is while we were all astonished that a skilled player could make such a thoughtless mistake, we often made the same mistakes ourselves when we were in the player's chair. 

There's an easy explanation for why this happens: It's easier to see potential mistakes when we're not in the hot seat. We're not emotionally attached to the game. Our heartbeat doesn't quicken when we see a potential good move. And we don't feel the stress once the pressure mounts.

I like to refer to this as "the rule of the chess player."

While this seems a rather obvious observation, the further point made by the author is actually a good one: you need to train yourself to master your emotional and stress responses, so that when you are in the seat yourself, you can use the full extent of your skills. Which means that it isn't simply a matter of training your chess skills, but also adopting the necessary mental toughness and cross-training in other mental and physical disciplines.

Although there is a bit of business buzzword fluff in the article, it's still better than most chess-related business advice. Unfortunately, however, if you look at the full article link they have another picture of a chessboard set up incorrectly, like other fails related to chess imagery in popular culture.

06 April 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2021, Round 4 (Zatonskih - Lee)

This next commentary game is a look at a draw from round 4 of the 2021 U.S. Women's Championship. Black (WIM Megan Lee) gives up 200 rating points to her opponent, IM Anna Zatonskih, but is strategic about her opening choice and fights well for equality, leading to a drawn outcome. This is not a flashy game, but there are useful lessons and observations about piece exchanges and other positional aspects that made it worthwhile for study. Success is not always a brilliant victory, but a practical and solid outcome.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2021"] [Site "http://www.chessbomb.com"] [Date "2021.10.09"] [Round "04"] [White "Zatonskih, Anna"] [Black "Lee, Megan"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2422"] [BlackElo "2211"] [ECO "D23"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [BlackClock "0:20:46"] [BlackFideId "2029618"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] [WhiteClock "0:06:19"] [WhiteFideId "14101572"] 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Qb3 {this move does not have independent significance versus Qc2 if Black takes on c4, as is most common in the database, but would make a difference on other moves, for example ...e6 or ...Qb6.} 4...dxc4 {opening theory now calls this a Queen's Gambit Accepted, but this continuation is certainly consistent with the ideas behind the Slav Defense.} 5.Qxc4 Bf5 {developing the bishop on its most effective diagonal.} 6.g3 {this is by far the most common approach, with Nc3 the next choice. However as a Slav player, I am always fine with my opponent developing on the long diagonal, since the b7/c6 chain helps blunt the bishop.} 6...e6 {advancing now that the light-square bishop is developed.} 7.Bg2 Be7 ( 7...Nbd7 {is played more often here, retaining a bit of flexibility with the bishop, but lines often transpose after a future ...Be7, or vice versa.} ) 8.O-O O-O 9.Qb3 {provoking Black's next, which has been universally played.} 9...Qb6 {now both sides have to evaluate the trade-offs involved in trading pieces.} 10.Nbd2 {White is not in a rush to trade and continues development.} 10...Nbd7 {likewise for Black.} 11.Nc4 {this is White's only real try for an advantage.} 11...Qxb3 ( 11...Qa6 {both the engine and the database suggest this is a slightly better option for Black, however after Bf4 White will have a space advantage, as in the game continuation.} ) 12.axb3 {the trade-off here is that White gains the open a-file in return for the doubled b-pawns. Sometimes this can be quite advantageous for the player with the open file, other times it is less useful.} 12...Be4 {almost always played here in the database. Black centralizes the bishop and prepares to exchange more pieces.} 13.Bf4 Bd5 {this may be just a waiting move. Immediately developing the rook with ...Rfc8 seems more useful.} 14.Rfc1 Rfc8 {Black must have calculated the following exchange and judged it equal, since White essentially forces the bishop for knight trade.} 15.Nd6 Bxd6 {otherwise Black loses another tempo moving the rook and leaves the White knight on a dominating square.} 16.Bxd6 Ne4 {looking to trade minor pieces again, in reverse.} 17.Ne5 {this prompts further trades, which simplifies things for Black.} ( 17.Bf4 $5 ) 17...Nxd6 18.Nxd7 Bxg2 19.Kxg2 f6 {taking away the e5 square and forcing White's knight to retreat to c5.} 20.Nc5 Kf7 {protecting e6. At this point, with a double rook and minor piece ending, Black should feel comfortable about maintaining an equal game. White's knight is better positioned, but there is not enough material to sufficiently increase the pressure on Black's position.} 21.e3 Re8 {overprotecting the e-pawn and preparing to go to the 7th rank.} 22.Rd1 Re7 {further protecting the weakness on b7. It is difficult to see how White can make progress. She now starts some advances on the kingside, but these are not actually threatening.} 23.f4 Nb5 {done in order to free up the Ra8 from protecting the a-pawn.} 24.Kf3 h5 {covering the g4 square.} 25.h3 Rh8 {preparing to have the rook on an open h-file if the g-pawn advances and is traded off.} 26.Ne4 {White decides to try something else with the knight and exchange it off for its counterpart. After this, however, the double rook ending offers little scope for anything beyond a draw.} 26...Rd7 {more of a waiting move than anything.} 27.Nc3 {hoping for an exchange, which would un-double the pawns while still giving White the open a-file. Black smartly declines and chooses to effectively shut down potential threats.} 27...a6 28.Nxb5 axb5 {this is the best way to recapture. The open a-file yields White nothing with the current material on the board.} 29.Ke4 {White attempts to be aggressive.} 29...Rhd8 30.b4 {dominating c5 and freezing the Black b-pawn.} 30...Re7 {a waiting move. Black has no real weaknesses and from here to the end of the game simply has to not lose.} 31.g4 hxg4 32.hxg4 Rh8 33.Rh1 Rxh1 34.Rxh1 {now after the rook exchange it is even clearer that White has no breakthrough possibilities.} 34...Re8 35.Ra1 f5+ 36.Kf3 ( 36.gxf5 exf5+ 37.Kxf5 Rxe3 $10 ) 36...Ke7 37.e4 fxe4+ 38.Kxe4 Kd6 39.Rh1 Ke7 {Black's pawns are fragmented, but the king and rook cover all the weaknesses.} 40.Ke5 Rd8 41.Ra1 Rd5+ 42.Ke4 Rd7 43.Ra8 Kd6 ( 43...Kf7 {is more solid.} ) 44.Rg8 Rf7 45.g5 Rd7 46.Re8 Rf7 47.Ra8 Rd7 48.Rg8 Rf7 {White cannot make progress, so Black just marks time with the rook.} 49.Re8 Kd7 50.Rh8 Kd6 51.Rg8 Rd7 52.Re8 Rf7 53.Rd8+ Kc7 54.Rh8 Kd6 55.Rg8 {White admits that there are no winning chances.} 1/2-1/2

01 April 2022

En Passant rule removed as of April 1st

It has been announced that the en passant rule will be disappearing. This means that nearly-impossible tactics trainer problems with this feature will go away, which I am pleased with. Some people are quitting chess as a result, however. This seems a little out of proportion, but I wish them well. Personally, I would only quit chess if FIDE did away with the under-promotion rule, since it is a key feature of one of my opening repertoire lines in the Caro-Kann.

(The last part of the last sentence is actually true.)