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.