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.