26 November 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2022, Round 2 (Krush - Foisor)

This commentary game directly follows Eswaran - Lee from round 1 of the U.S. Women's Championship. I find it particularly valuable to look at similar but divergent games - this one again features an English with an e3/Be2 and b3/Bb2 structure against Black's Semi-Slav type setup. Black is the first to diverge from the previous game, pursuing a more assertive central strategy while White deliberately hangs back and waits to see if Black will over-commit. The conflicting central positional strategies merit close study, particularly the decisions around moves 16-20, as well as the clash of minor pieces and their exchanges. White ends up with the two bishops and eventually what could/should be a won ending, but the "all rook endings are drawn" saying again proves itself valid.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.05"] [Round "02"] [White "Krush, Irina"] [Black "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2432"] [BlackElo "2203"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 Bd6 {the first deviation from Eswaran-Lee. Black is going to play differently, emphasizing controlling and occupying the e5 square.} 6.Bb2 O-O 7.Be2 {White's setup so far is standard in this line.} 7...e5 {this forces White into making a defining choice about the center.} 8.cxd5 {the principled exchange, also played in the vast majority of database games. The point of flank play is to create a target in the center that can be attacked/undermined, and exchanging off a supporting pawn advances that goal.} 8...cxd5 9.Nb5 {universally played here. Black's bishop is significantly better than White's knight in general, and is supporting the key e5 pawn, so exchanging it makes strategic sense.} 9...Nc6 {choosing to maintain the pawn on e5.} 10.Nxd6 Qxd6 11.O-O {this postpones any decision-making regarding the center.} ( 11.d4 {is standard here. White takes care not to give Black too much presence in the center and also forces Black to define intentions in the center.} 11...e4 12.Ne5 {and White is fine, as} 12...Qb4+ $6 13.Qd2 {just helps White develop, since the king would be quite safe on d2 after an exchange.} ) 11...Bg4 {this seems to be played without a specific purpose other than development, since there is no resulting pin on the Nf3 and Black then wastes time by not exchanging the minor pieces immediately.} ( 11...Bf5 $5 ) 12.h3 Bh5 13.d3 {Krush seems to be intentionally baiting her opponent by using a more passive strategy, seeing if Black will commit to something erroneous.} ( 13.Nd4 $5 {is an interesting solution to the placement of the Nf3, made possible tactically by the Q+B battery against the Bh5.} 13...Bxe2 14.Nxe2 {and now White has the option of f2-f4, while the knight helps control d4 and has c3 potentially to go to.} ) ( 13.d4 {is still possible as well.} ) 13...Rfe8 14.Rc1 ( 14.a3 {would result in a full Hedgehog-type pawn structure, which White however avoids. Here the b4 square is not so useful for Black.} ) 14...Rad8 15.Qd2 {developing the queen and connecting the rooks, while waiting to see what her opponent chooses to do.} 15...Bxf3 {perhaps Black got tired of trying to figure out what to do with her light-square bishop?} 16.Bxf3 e4 $6 {this is too committal, since the advance does not lead to an advantage. A waiting move like ...h6 would be useful, as an alternative.} 17.Be2 {White continues with her non-committal strategy.} ( 17.dxe4 {is recommended by the engine.} 17...dxe4 {often a supported, advanced e-pawn is a strength, but here the advance would open up the game for White after piece exchanges.} ( 17...Nxe4 {also would give White easy play in the center and an advantage with the two bishops.} 18.Qc2 Nb4 19.Qd1 Nxa2 20.Ra1 Nb4 21.Rxa7 $16 ) 18.Qxd6 Rxd6 19.Rfd1 {and White's bishops and rooks combine for an advantage. For example} 19...Red8 20.Rxd6 Rxd6 21.Bd1 Rd2 22.Bc2 $16 {and now if} 22...Nb4 $2 23.Bxe4 $18 {wins due to Black's back rank weakness.} ) 17...d4 {Black bravely (and correctly) presses forward, with all her pieces supporting the advanced pawns. Now the center will have to be resolved.} 18.Rcd1 dxe3 {Black leverages her pressure along the d-file.} 19.fxe3 ( 19.Qxe3 $6 Nd5 20.Qg5 f6 21.Qg4 e3 {and White is on the defensive.} ) 19...exd3 20.Bxd3 {White has the two bishops in an open position, but the isolated e-pawn offers Black a target as compensation.} 20...Ne4 {the knight looks good on the advanced central square, but this is premature. The queen sidesteps effectively to e2 and Black has no real threats. Moving the Black queen off the d-file instead would helpfully pin the bishop, for example with ...Qe7.} 21.Qe2 Qe7 ( 21...Qg6 22.Rf4 $16 ) 22.Rf4 {unlike in the above variation, this is less effective without another good target for the rook besides the Ne4. Qh5 or Qg4 seem more effective continuations, targeting h7 or g7 respectively.} 22...Ng5 23.Rdf1 {a pawn sacrifice that doesn't seem to offer much for White, other than trading material.} 23...Qxe3+ 24.Qxe3 Rxe3 25.Bc4 Ne5 26.Bxe5 Rxe5 27.Bxf7+ Nxf7 28.Rxf7 Rb5 {awkward-looking but an effective defensive move. In a double-rook ending with symmetrical pawns, a draw is normal unless one player blunder. Krush decides to try to press for a win, however.} 29.Rc7 a5 ( 29...h6 $5 {would get the h-pawn out of the line of fire of the rooks on the 7th rank and give the king a square on h7.} 30.Rff7 Rd1+ 31.Kh2 Rg5 {and now} 32.Rxb7 $2 Rd2 $17 {and the more important g-pawn goes.} ) 30.Rff7 Rd1+ 31.Kh2 Rg5 32.Rf2 h5 ( 32...h6 {would perhaps be more prudent.} ) 33.Rxb7 {still not decisive for White.} 33...Kh7 34.Rc7 Re5 ( 34...a4 $5 {with the idea of} 35.bxa4 ( 35.b4 Rb1 $10 ) 35...Rd4 36.Ra7 Rd3 {and the doubled rook pawns should be too weak to promote.} ) 35.Rff7 Rg5 36.Rc2 Kh6 37.Rfc7 Rdd5 38.R7c4 Rge5 {White of course has an edge, but with the double rooks and Black able to cover her weaknesses, there is no clear winning path.} 39.h4 Rb5 {this limits the scope of the Black rook, normally something to be avoided in rook endings.} 40.Rc6+ Kh7 41.R2c3 Re2 {Black's rooks are now uncoordinated and White tries to take advantage of this.} 42.a4 Rb4 43.R6c4 Re4 $2 {this simplifiies down and leaves Black's remaining rook out of position.} ( 43...Rb2 {rooks belong behind your opponent's pawns in an ending. This would also simplify, but with Black's remaining rook in a much better position.} 44.Rxb4 axb4 {and White's advantage is minimal.} ) 44.Rxe4 Rxe4 45.Rc5 {effectively swapping the White h-pawn for the Black a-pawn and giving White two connected passed pawns, which should be enough to win.} 45...Rxh4+ 46.Kg1 Kh6 47.Rxa5 $18 Rd4 {"all rook endings are drawn" is still a rallying cry for the worse-off player. Let's see how Black manages to draw here.} 48.Rb5 h4 49.a5 Rd1+ 50.Kf2 ( 50.Kh2 $5 ) 50...Ra1 51.Kf3 ( 51.Rb6+ {followed by a5-a6 looks more to the point.} ) 51...Ra2 52.b4 {this makes the situation too static. White's rook is out of place in front of her pawns, while Black's is behind them and also targets White's king and pawn from the side.} ( 52.Kg4 {White can use her king actively here.} 52...Rxg2+ 53.Kxh4 g5+ 54.Kh3 Ra2 55.Kg4 Rg2+ 56.Kf3 Ra2 ) 52...g5 {the engine considers the position with just a small advantage to White.} 53.Rb8 Ra3+ {over-using the rook and leaving the king passive.} ( 53...Kg6 ) 54.Ke4 ( 54.Kg4 Rg3+ 55.Kf5 Rxg2 56.b5 {and White will eventually win the pawn race, with Black running out of checks.} ) 54...Ra2 55.Rb6+ {this drives the Black king forward, where it wants to be. The engine shows that keeping the White king active and centralized is the key.} ( 55.Kf5 ) ( 55.Kd3 ) ( 55.Ke3 ) 55...Kh5 56.a6 Rxg2 {now the balance is more obvious. Both rooks can get behind the other side's pawns, but can't support their own to queen.} 57.Rb5 h3 58.a7 ( 58.Ra5 $2 h2 59.a7 h1=Q 60.a8=Q Ra2+ $19 ) 58...Ra2 59.Rb7 Kg4 60.b5 h2 61.Rh7 Rxa7 62.Rxh2 {now it is a forced draw.} 62...Ra4+ 63.Kd5 Rb4 64.Kc5 Rb1 65.Rc2 Kf3 66.Rc3+ Kf4 67.Rc4+ Kf3 68.Rc3+ Kf4 69.Rc4+ Kf3 70.Rc3+ Kf4 1/2-1/2

Evaluation generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

20 November 2022

Ronaldo v Messi: "[Chess] Victory is a state of mind"

As highlighted at Chess.com, there's a new Louis Vuitton campaign featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi playing chess, with the tag line "Victory is a state of mind". Aside from the positive exposure for chess, it's good to see that they have a correctly set up board, featuring a position from a real game (Carlsen - Nakamura, Norway Chess 2017). As mentioned in "Chess imagery in popular culture" this is unfortunately rather rare; my favorite from that remains the Avengers headquarters with a colors-reversed chessboard.

12 November 2022

Commentary: U.S. Women's Championship 2022, Round 1 (Eswaran - Lee)

This first commentary game from the 2022 U.S. championships features FM Ashritha Eswaran vs. FM Alice Lee. I found it interesting because of the themes surrounding White's chosen opening setup, technically an English Opening but one that could be reached from different move orders. Instead of classical development, White goes for an early g-pawn thrust, which works well but results in complications that lead Eswaran astray. Move 14 is critical in that respect, with sacrificial tactics for White that could have lead to an advantage.

Also interesting is to compare it with their 2021 game in the U.S. championship, in which Eswaran chose to fianchetto and play a King's Indian Attack setup.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.05"] [Round "01"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Lee, Alice"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2365"] [BlackElo "2263"] [ECO "A11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 2.6.1 by Komodo"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.b3 {this is in keeping with the flank opening approach and significantly more popular than playing for a pawn center with d4, although both have a similar winning percentage in the database.} 5...Nbd7 6.Bb2 Bd6 {in keeping with the Semi-Slav structure Black has adopted. The bishop helps control e5 and is on the more active b8-h2 diagonal. However it also blocks the d-file for the Qd8 and is hanging until the Nd7 moves, which can sometimes be taken advantage of tactically.} 7.Qc2 {the best square for the queen, getting on the b1-h7 diagonal, protecting the Bb2, eyeing the c-file should it open up, and clearing the first rank for the Ra1 to move.} 7...O-O 8.Rg1 {indicative of the modern approach to openings, in which once a plan is selected - in this case a kingside pawn storm - it is carried out at once. Rg1 can also be played in an accelerated fashion as early as move 5.} 8...Re8 {Black now goes for passive defense, rather than countering in the center in a classical fashion with ...e5. The text move is not bad, but the the follow-up gives White too much scope on the kingside.} 9.g4 {White has committed and must launch the pawn.} 9...Nf8 $2 ( 9...e5 ) 10.g5 $16 N6d7 11.h4 {the most straightforward way to continue the kingside pawn storm. O-O-O would be an interesting possibility, getting the other rook into play.} 11...a6 {Black attempts to get counterplay against White's queenside and get her Bc8 developed.} 12.h5 ( 12.d4 {is preferred by the engine, proactively fighting for e5. While it looks like this shuts in the Bb2, Black could do this otherwise by advancing ...e5 herself.} ) 12...b5 {the most disruptive move.} 13.Bd3 {White decides to avoid advancing the d-pawn and instead develop the bishop. Without the central pawn, however, Black will have ...e5 as a resource.} 13...Bb7 14.g6 $6 {it is somewhat ironic that now White has both bishops pointed at the king, she misses a sacrificial motif.} ( 14.Bxh7+ Nxh7 15.Nxb5 {this is the key idea, opening the long diagonal and threatening the Bd6, not giving Black time enough to shore up kingside defenses.} 15...Ndf8 ( 15...axb5 16.g6 {with similar play.} ) 16.g6 {the problem now for Black is that the Rg1, Qc2 and Bb2 all combine against the king, with g6 a weak square despite the presence of the Nf8.} 16...fxg6 17.Nxd6 Qxd6 {and now White has various ways to consolidate an advantage, for example c5 followed by O-O-O, h6 or hxg6.} ) 14...fxg6 {this essentially solves Black's problems, although White still has pressure.} 15.Ng5 bxc4 ( 15...h6 $5 {is a more direct way of combating White's forces.} ) 16.bxc4 h6 17.Nf7 {White must have been planning this from move 14. However, at the end of the sequence Black is fine.} 17...Kxf7 18.Bxg6+ Ke7 {while the king is cramped temporarily on e7, it will soon be able to get itself out of danger, unlike on g8.} ( 18...Kg8 $2 19.Bxe8 Ne5 ( 19...Qxe8 $2 20.Ne4 $18 {threatening the Bd6 and g7 at the same time.} ) 20.O-O-O Qxe8 21.f4 $1 $16 ) 19.Bxe8 Qxe8 20.Rxg7+ Kd8 {Black still has some issues, but king safety has now improved. Meanwhile, White has weaknesses spread across the board. Activating the rook with Rb1 appears to be the best option, as the h-pawn is indefensible.} 21.Qa4 $2 {this results in a burst of pseudo-activity that in the end goes nowhere.} 21...Qxh5 $17 22.cxd5 exd5 23.Qa5+ Ke8 {with White's pieces spread out and uncoordinated, the king is perfectly safe here.} 24.Ba3 c5 $1 {Black hits on the correct idea immediately, to mobilize her pawns. Black's pieces now coordinate much more effectively against the White king.} 25.Rb1 d4 $19 {perhaps White underestimated the power of this pawn break, which breaks open the White pawn shield and opens up the long diagonal as well. Now there are no good options.} 26.exd4 ( 26.Rxb7 Qh1+ 27.Ke2 Qxb7 ) 26...Qh1+ 27.Ke2 Bf3+ 28.Kd3 Be4+ {deflection tactic against the Nc3, the sole defender of the Rb1.} 29.Nxe4 Qxb1+ 30.Ke3 cxd4+ 31.Kxd4 {with so many pieces still on the board and White's king naked in the center, the end is inevitable. It is interesting to see how White has no counterplay whatsoever.} 31...Ne6+ 32.Ke3 Bf4+ 33.Kf3 Ne5+ 34.Ke2 {now Black misses ...Nd4 mate, but it doesn't matter to the result.} 34...Qxe4+ 35.Kd1 Nxg7 36.Qc5 Qf3+ 37.Kc2 Qc6 0-1
Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

06 November 2022

Current study lineup

I haven't been doing much recently that has been blog-friendly, in terms of being post-able. I have, however, been more active than usual, playing a number of informal games and currently working through several parallel longer-term study projects:

I expect to start posting the analyzed games series this week; I found there was a lot of good material from this year's tournament.