29 May 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 6 (Foisor - Lee)

I continue my examination of the last U.S. Women's Championship - after something of a break - with the round 6 game between Sabina Foisor and Megan Lee. Foisor managed to have two Whites in a row and opened the same way both times for the first three moves. However, instead of again heading for a "Slow Slav" by transposition as in round 5, she chooses to continue with a Colle System setup. The opening seems a bit of a mishmash, as it's not a true Colle-Zukertort, and Black has some chances to play more aggressively in Stonewall fashion. However, by move 10 White has achieved a pleasant game against a more cramped-looking Black.

The early middlegame transition is where White begins going wrong, ending up more cramped for space herself and then allowing an interesting if not quite decisive tactic by Black on move 17, that gives Black the initiatve. By around move 25 White has re-established equality, but Black signals with her move choices that she is not interested in heading for a draw. It's worth following how through stubbornness and rearrangement of her pieces, Lee finally ends up in a classic and decisive Dutch-type attack on the kingside. 

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.11"] [Round "06"] [White "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Black "Lee, Megan"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2203"] [BlackElo "2226"] [EventDate "????.??.??"] [ECO "D04"] [PlyCount "142"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 {Colle System} 3...c6 4.Bd3 e6 {the second most popular move in the database, but not nearly as effective as ...Bg4 in countering White's basic plans in this opening setup.} 5.b3 {this move is emblematic of the Colle-Zukertort variation; however, it is normally played when Black has gone ...c5.} 5...Nbd7 6.Bb2 Bb4+ {played to provoke White's next move, but it is not obligatory.} ( 6...Ne4 $5 {now Black could seize some space and play like a Dutch Stonewall following ...f5. Taking the knight is not a great option for White.} 7.Bxe4 dxe4 8.Ne5 Bb4+ 9.c3 Nxe5 10.dxe5 Qxd1+ 11.Kxd1 Be7 $10 ) 7.c3 ( 7.Nbd2 $5 Ne4 8.a3 $14 ) 7...Bd6 8.c4 {although this double pawn advance seems a bit contradictory, it actually appears best, as Black would simply lose a tempo by moving the bishop back to b4.} 8...Ne4 {although this is a key idea for Black in this formation, both the database and the engine indicate that it might be better played earlier, on move 6. Now it moves an already-developed piece twice.} 9.O-O {nowhere else to put the king, so might as well castle now.} 9...O-O {this gives White a number of pleasant alternatives, but there does not appear to be anything better.} ( 9...f5 {going for a Stonewall formation would be the logical follow-up to ...Ne4. However, this scores poorly in the database and is very committal.} ) 10.Ne5 ( 10.Nc3 $5 {scores even better in the database and is a less committal option for White.} ) 10...f6 11.Nxd7 {probably best, so as not to lose a tempo by retreating, although there is the trade-off of making Black a little less cramped overall after the pieces are removed.} 11...Bxd7 12.f3 {symmetrically kicking Black's knight now, which will be awkwardly placed.} 12...Ng5 13.Nd2 {this appears to be an inferior square for the knight. Going to c3 instead would indirectly restrain ...e5, due to cxd5, although there are some tactics to think about.} ( 13.Nc3 $5 f5 ( 13...e5 $6 14.cxd5 exd4 15.exd4 Qc7 16.h4 Rae8 17.Kh1 ( 17.hxg5 $2 Bh2+ 18.Kh1 Qg3 $19 ) 17...Qd8 18.Qd2 $14 ( 18.hxg5 $6 fxg5 {and it looks like Black and look for a rook (or queen) lift to the h-file and try for a perpetual check.} ) ) 14.Qd2 $14 {with the idea of Ne2-f4 as a follow-up, also enabling play for the rooks.} ) 13...f5 {If Black was planning to play this way, it seems like making this move earlier would have been better, although it is not bad. The f6 pawn would instead seem better placed to support play in the center, specifically the e-pawn lever.} ( 13...e5 ) 14.Qe2 $10 {White has the problem of where to put her queen, as no square is particularly good, and is somewhat cramped.} 14...Be8 {a classic idea in the Stonewall formation. The bishop will do nicely one repositioned.} 15.e4 {White understandably looks to free up some space, but this may have been premature.} 15...Bh5 {the logical follow-up, although it might be better to anticipate White's next.} ( 15...Bb4 $5 {immediately pressures the Nd2, which is a key tactical point. White does not have time to simply kick it away.} 16.a3 $6 ( 16.Rad1 $10 ) 16...Nh3+ 17.Kh1 Qg5 18.gxh3 ( 18.axb4 $2 Nf4 19.Qf2 Nxd3 $19 ) 18...Bxd2 $15 ) 16.e5 Bb4 17.a3 $6 {this allows tactical ideas based on the Nd2 being under-protected, similar to the above variations.} ( 17.Rad1 ) 17...Nh3+ $1 {the key idea. White is still all right, but Black certainly has the initiative now.} 18.Kh1 ( 18.gxh3 $2 Qg5+ 19.Kh1 Bxd2 20.Bc1 Bxc1 21.Raxc1 dxc4 22.Bxc4 Qe7 $17 {and Black will have a much better game, targeting the weak White pawns.} ) 18...Nf4 19.Qe3 {forced, to protect the Bd3.} 19...Bxd2 {this piece liquidation ends up being even, but it helps White un-cramp her position.} ( 19...Nxd3 $5 20.Qxd3 Be7 {would preserve the two bishops, at least temporarily, and keep White a little more cramped.} ) 20.Qxd2 Nxd3 21.Qxd3 {now things look very even again.} 21...f4 {gaining some space and a better diagonal for the light-squre bishop, but also putting the pawn farther from its support.} 22.a4 {opening the a3 square for the bishop and restraining ...b5.} 22...Bg6 23.Qd2 {the logical square, pressuring f4 and allowing the queen to be mobile on the 2nd rank .} 23...Qh4 {committing the queen to the kingside. This move also overprotects the f-pawn.} 24.Qf2 Qh6 {indicating Black wants to play for a win, rather than exchange. However, she does not have any real threats and the queen is not very effective on h6, so White could take advantage of this.} 25.cxd5 ( 25.Ba3 $5 {seems logical, with the potential transfer of the bishop to the d6 square.} ) 25...exd5 {Black continues to try to unbalance the game in seeking a win, but again White could take even more advantage. However, the engine move may not have even been contemplated, since it detaches the e-pawn from its support.} ( 25...cxd5 26.Rac1 Rfc8 $10 ) 26.Bc1 {a passive place for the bishop, but equal.} ( 26.e6 $1 {the idea is that the pawn can get to e7 and cannot be dislodged, putting Black under pressure and giving White a measurable advantage.For example} 26...Bf5 27.e7 Rf6 28.Rfe1 Re8 29.Ba3 $16 {with the idea of Re5 and also the potential for play on the queenside with a4-a5 and Bc5.} ) ( 26.Ba3 {again is a good idea, although after ...Rfe8 Black is still all right.} ) 26...Rae8 {restraining the e-pawn.} 27.a5 {this is less effective with the bishop on c1 instead of a3.} 27...Bd3 {while the position is equal, Black again has some initiative due to White's passivity.} 28.Rg1 Qh5 {the point here is that h6 is cleared for a rook lift.} 29.Re1 {White does not appear to have any ideas for progress, since the rook of course could have come to e1 the prior move.} 29...Re6 30.Ra2 Rf5 {Black continues with piece play. However, we now have a Dutch-looking structure in which the natural move would be to grab space on the kingside.} ( 30...g5 $5 ) 31.Rd2 Bb5 {although Black's pieces are clearly more active, there is still no way to make progress. White can play for a fortress by simply moving her rook to c2, for example.} 32.Qg1 $6 {this actually weakens White's defensive structure, by making the queen a potential target and giving up control of the e1-h4 diagonal.} 32...Qf7 33.Rf2 Rg6 {choosing to line up against the queen on the g-file rather than the king on the h-file. However, Black does not have much in the way of follow-up threats.} ( 33...Rh5 $5 {would appear to be a more consistent with the queen retreat, allowing for ...Rh4 as a follow-up while pressuring the h-file, for example by putting the queen back on h5.} ) 34.h3 Kf8 {this doesn't seem like a necessary idea, but then again there is no evident way to make progress.} 35.Ba3+ Ke8 36.Rd2 $2 {White further cramps her position and now Black is able to obtain a winning advantage by rearranging her own pieces for a kingside attack.} ( 36.e6 $5 {again the Dragon engine spots this idea, which seems counter-intuitive.} 36...Rxe6 {the pawn sacrifice is good for dynamic equality, as Black having brought her king to the center made it a target along the e-file. For example} 37.Rc2 Rf6 38.Rcc1 $10 {preparing to reload on the e-file after an exchange of rooks} ) ( 36.Ra1 {looks safe and allows for the the queen to become more active via Qc1 and then transferring to c5.} ) 36...Qe6 {this blocks the e-pawn and lines up on h3.} 37.Qh2 {White continues with her static defense.} 37...Rg3 $1 {now there is nothing White can do to stop Black's buildup.} 38.Bc1 Rh5 39.Ra2 g5 {Black finally gets the g-pawn into the action.} 40.Bd2 Bd3 {following the rule of bringing all the pieces into the attack.} 41.a6 {a sacrificial distraction. Black would do best to not retreat the bishop and continue the attack, but is still winning after snatching the pawn.} 41...Bxa6 ( 41...b6 {and now ...Bf5 is threatened, with White having no counterplay.} ) 42.Rc1 {clearing e1 for the bishop. Black could simply proceed with taking on h3 now, although the text move is still fine.} 42...Qf5 ( 42...Rgxh3 43.gxh3 Rxh3 44.Bb4 Rxh2+ 45.Rxh2 Qf5 $19 {Black is winning handily with the extra pawns, but perhaps she did not want to deal with the queen versus two rooks dynamics.} ) 43.Be1 Rgxh3 44.gxh3 Rxh3 45.Rxa6 {a desperate bid for counterplay by opening the c-file.} 45...Rxh2+ 46.Kxh2 bxa6 47.Rxc6 $19 {at the end of the sequence Black is materially up by a winning amount, but still has some cleaning up to do. The power of the queen is nicely demonstrated.} 47...Qd3 ( 47...g4 $5 {would be more forcing and get rid of the last shred of a pawn shield for White.} ) 48.Kg2 Qxd4 {Black takes her time and keeps the win in hand, rather than worrying about playing the absolute best move. This is an excellent strategy in the endgame.} 49.e6 Qb2+ 50.Bf2 d4 {passed pawns must be pushed! This also completely cuts off the Bf2 from the action, prompting White to in effect exchange the e- and d-pawns, which also results in the rest of the queenside pawns disappearing. The simplification does not help White, however.} 51.Rd6 Ke7 52.Rxd4 Kxe6 53.Ra4 Qxb3 54.Rxa6+ Ke5 55.Rxa7 Qd3 {calmly centralizing the queen and protecting h7.} 56.Ra5+ Kf6 57.Ra4 h5 {passed pawns must be pushed!} 58.Rd4 Qa3 {controlling d6 to prevent a rook check.} 59.Rc4 h4 60.Bd4+ Ke6 {it is a sign of Black's dominance that the king is just fine alone in the center, with the queen also on the board.} 61.Rc3 Qa2+ 62.Kh3 {forced, to stop the further advance of the h-pawn.} 62...Qe2 ( 62...Qd5 {would be more forcing.} ) 63.Ra3 ( 63.Rc6+ Kd5 $19 ) 63...Qf1+ {further tightening the noose around White's king and forcing it off the blockading square.} 64.Kh2 h3 65.Ra2 Qxf3 {the position is now obviously resignable, but White makes her work for it.} 66.Rf2 Qd3 {kicking the bishop.} 67.Ba7 Kf5 {showing the utility of the king in the endgame, supporting the pawns and the attack.} 68.Kh1 g4 69.Kg1 g3 70.Rf1 h2+ 71.Kg2 Qxf1+ {Black takes the simplest route and White finally resigns.} 0-
Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

26 April 2023

Training quote of the day #43: Victor Korchnoi

   From the commentary to game 40 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

At this point I remembered or, it would be better to say, I sensed that I had reached this position 27 years earlier in a game with Polugayevsky! Generally speaking, it is useful for a chess player to have a good memory - very often he does not need to seek the best move himself, but it is sufficient for him to choose something from the examples that are available (and residing in his memory!) But there is a limit to any memory. Of the approximately five thousand games that I have played, it is doubtful whether I remember the contours of one quarter of them! But this game with Polugayevsky was one that I remembered. I made there an unusual move - with my knight to g1, and I won! Without thinking for long, that is what I played.

08 April 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 5 (Foisor - Yu)

This next commentary game also is a Slow Slav (by transposition), but has a much more unbalanced character than Cervantes - Lee from the earlier round 3 of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship. Black goes for the unprecedented 11...g5, which while not the most solid move appeared to work as a strategic trick. White immediately commits to castling kingside and then makes a premature advance in the center, overlooking how Black can conjure up an attack on the h-file. Yu does not press the full attack, however, and has to settle for a dynamic equality while being up two pawns.

It is also instructive to see the resulting back-and-forth into the endgame and some missed breakthrough opportunities; it always makes me feel better as a Class player, when Master-level competitors also show how difficult it is to play an endgame fully correctly. Rather than fear the endgame, though, I have (mostly) learned to stop worrying about it and love the opportunity to play one.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.09"] [Round "05"] [White "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Black "Yu, Jennifer"] [Result "0-1"] [WhiteElo "2203"] [BlackElo "2297"] [ECO "D12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 Bf5 4.c4 c6 {by transposition, we now have the "Slow Slav"} 5.Nc3 e6 6.Nh4 Bg6 ( 6...Be4 {was played in the previously analyzed game from this tournament. I prefer it because it is more active and normally forces f2-f3.} ) 7.Be2 Be7 {this could be viewed as prematurely committing the bishop, with ...Nbd7 being by far the most played here.} 8.Nxg6 hxg6 9.Qc2 {White scores very well in the database from here, over 80 percent.} 9...Qc7 {taking advantage of the open h-file to pressure h2, however this is easily frustrated by} 10.g3 Nbd7 {finally getting the knight developed.} 11.Bd2 {and now White develops her final minor piece. Black has to decide on her strategy at this point, and chooses something very unusual.} 11...g5 {Perhaps this was more of a waiting move, to see what White would commit to first. Later the g-pawn actually becomes useful when White allows Black too much leeway on the h-file.} ( 11...O-O {would be a standard approach, followed by playing for exchanges in the center.} ) ( 11...dxc4 {immediately, similar to what occurred in the previously analyzed game, also looks good and perhaps more active for Black.} ) 12.O-O {this is safe for the moment and not a bad choice, but White should watch out for ideas by Black to be able to attack using the h-file, as in fact happens later.} 12...dxc4 13.e4 $6 {White is not yet positioned to adequately support this attempt to control the center, so Black's counter-thrust is more impactful.} 13...e5 14.d5 {essentially forced, otherwise Black exchanges on d4 and then has the ...c5 and ...Ne5 ideas.} 14...Nb6 {dominating d5 and protecting the c4 pawn. This leaves the g5 pawn hanging, but White chooses not to take it, which was probably simplest for equality.} 15.dxc6 $6 Qc8 $1 {while not yet winning, this is much more effective than recapturing on c6, as now the queen threatens to go to h3.} 16.Bf3 $6 ( 16.g4 {was necessary, as the engine points out.} ) 16...Qh3 $19 17.Rfe1 {the king needs space to run after ...Qxh2.} 17...bxc6 {h2 cannot be defended and White's king cannot move, so Black calmly recaptures.} 18.Be3 {putting the bishop on a better diagonal for defense and opening up the 2nd rank for the Qc2.} 18...Nfd7 $6 {this delays Black's attack too long and allows White to insert a good defensive move. It also removes from the action a potentially excellent attacking piece for Black. It does allow the Be7 to protect the g5 pawn, which perhaps was why it was played.} ( 18...Qxh2+ 19.Kf1 Qh3+ 20.Bg2 Qh5 {now Black has the threat of ...Ng4 with an excellent attack.} ) 19.Na4 Qxh2+ 20.Kf1 Qh3+ 21.Bg2 Qe6 {the best square for the queen, as the attack has spent itself and Black needs to cover the c4 pawn and central squares. White should now be able to recover at least one of the pawns and can think about counterplay, although she is still a little worse off.} 22.Rac1 $15 f6 {this gives the king an immediate bolt-hole on f7, but weakens the light squares complex.} ( 22...g6 $5 {is recommended by the engine, covering more squares on the defense of the kingside.} ) 23.Red1 $10 {White's threatens counterplay down the d- and c-files.} 23...Kf7 24.a3 ( 24.Nxb6 {appears more straightforward for White.} 24...Nxb6 25.a4 c3 26.Qxc3 Nxa4 27.Qc2 Nb6 28.Qxc6 Qxc6 29.Rxc6 {with compensation for still being a pawn down, as White has the two bishops and more active rooks. Compare with the main game and White clearly has more scope for her pieces.} ) 24...Nxa4 {Black goes for simplification.} 25.Qxa4 Nb6 26.Bxb6 axb6 27.Qxc4 Qxc4+ 28.Rxc4 c5 {simplifying Black's tasks at hand, although locking in the bishop.} 29.Rc3 {White wants to give her rook more room to maneuver, but this would allow Black to lock up the kingside and the Bg2 further.} ( 29.Bf3 {would keep the bishop active, regardless of Black's next.} ) 29...b5 ( 29...g4 $5 ) 30.Rcd3 g4 {now Black finds and executes the bishop restriction idea, but White has better rooks than before.} 31.f3 $6 {the general idea of breaking the bishop out is correct, but before White's 3 pawns were successfully containing Black's 4 on the kingside. This exchange results in a weak structure for White.} ( 31.Rd7 ) 31...gxf3 {immediately taking advantage of this, but White's structure would be so bad after taking on g4 that Black can afford to do other things first.} ( 31...Kg6 32.fxg4 b4 33.axb4 cxb4 34.Rd7 Bc5 $17 {is one illustrative line.} ) ( 31...b4 $5 ) 32.Bxf3 g6 {with the idea of supporting an eventual advance of the f-pawn.} 33.Kg2 b4 {this move now has less impact than it would have earlier.} 34.axb4 cxb4 35.R1d2 {conservatively guarding the b-pawn.} ( 35.Rd7 Rhd8 {is still fine for White, since if all the rooks get swapped, White should have no problem holding a draw in the opposite-colored bishop endgame.} ) 35...Ra1 {the active choice.} 36.Bd1 {correctly blocking the first rank. Now Black gets a bit of initiative, however.} 36...f5 37.Rf3 {pinning the f-pawn.} 37...Bg5 38.Rd7+ Ke6 39.Rfd3 Be7 {the only move, guarding the d6 square. White continues to hold the balance through her rook activity, despite being a pawn down with worse structure.} ( 39...fxe4 $4 40.Bg4+ Kf6 41.R3d6# ) 40.Rb7 $2 {this however would allow Black to simply win, now that there is no mate possibility.} ( 40.exf5+ gxf5 41.g4 fxg4 42.Bxg4+ Kf7 {and White should draw.} ) 40...Kf6 $2 {missing the breakthrough chance.} ( 40...fxe4 $1 41.Bg4+ ( 41.Bb3+ Kf5 $19 ) 41...Kf6 42.Re3 Bc5 43.Rxe4 Rg1+ $19 ) 41.Rb6+ Kg5 {correctly advancing on the kingside, rather than staying passive defending.} 42.Rb5 Rb1 {preferring to trade the e- for b-pawns.} 43.Rxe5 Rxb2+ 44.Kf3 Bf6 45.Red5 Bc3 {a safe choice to guard the b-pawn.} 46.exf5 gxf5 {with opposite-colored bishops and both rooks on the the board, this should still be a draw for White, but it's of course easier to play for Black.} 47.Re3 Rh1 48.Be2 Rh2 {while this looks threatening, there's nothing Black can actually do, since White has everything covered. Until the next move, that is.} 49.Rd1 $2 ( 49.Re8 ) 49...Bf6 {missing another breakthrough chance.} ( 49...Bd2 $1 {is spotted by the engine. The problem is that White's king is boxed in and the Re3 cannot leave the 3rd rank.} 50.Rd3 Bc1 51.Rxc1 Rbxe2 {without the opposite-colored bishops on the board, it is now won for Black, who has the outside passed pawn.} 52.Rf1 Ra2 $19 ) 50.Re8 Rb3+ 51.Re3 Rxe3+ {double rooks are typically better for drawing, so an exchange benefits Black's practical chances to win.} 52.Kxe3 Be5 {posing White diffficulties that she fails to solve.} 53.Rb1 $2 ( 53.Rd8 Bxg3 54.Rg8+ $10 ) 53...Bd6 $19 {the simple winning continuation. White cannot threaten the b-pawn, while Black will eventually get the g-pawn, which is stuck on a dark square.} 54.Kf3 Bc5 {creating a mating threat on f2.} 55.Rf1 b3 {the principle of two weaknesses in action. White can (barely) cover her kingside pawn and the mating square, but that leaves the queenside open.} 56.Bd3 b2 ( 56...Rd2 {would put White in zugzwang after} 57.Bb1 Bd4 ) 57.Bb1 Rd2 58.Ba2 Bb6 59.Bb1 Bd4 60.Ba2 Rd3+ 61.Kg2 Be5 62.Rf3 Rd1 {threatening to advance the b-pawn.} ( 62...Rxf3 $2 63.Kxf3 {and the opposite-colored bishops force a draw after White goes Bb1.} ) 63.Rf1 Rxf1 64.Kxf1 Kg4 {now the g-pawn falls without Black having to give up anything.} 65.Bb1 Bxg3 {White can resign now.} 66.Ke2 f4 67.Ba2 f3+ 68.Ke3 ( 68.Kf1 Kf4 $19 ) 68...Bh4 69.Bb1 Kg3 70.Be4 Bg5+ 71.Kd4 {...f2 72. Bd3 b1(Q) and Black queens one of the pawns.} 0-1
Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

06 April 2023

"5 Things to Know - Before playing your first over-the-board tournament" - Chess.com article

This Chess.com article - https://www.chess.com/article/view/playing-your-first-chess-tournament - which confusingly has different titles on the site - is an entertaining view of the initial OTB tournament experience by streamer Jules, who recently re-started her tournament career. There are different takes on this "first tournament" experience across the chess community - including this blog's "Your first (serious) chess tournament" - but seeing them is always a good reminder for me of the special nature of a tournament experience. It also should be encouraging for people who want to start (or re-start) their own tournament career, so they can see they are not alone in experiencing how sometimes fearful but also exhilirating it can be.

Since it's a personal take on the experience, nothing is really "wrong" about the article, although perhaps it shouldn't be taken literally as a to-do list. For example, learning how to set your own clock prior to the tournament is just good planning, either using its instruction sheet or a YouTube video, rather than relying on the kindness of strangers. (You also don't need to say "adjust" when straightening pieces on the board before a game has started.) That said, her "Just Leap" advice is otherwise good.

25 March 2023

"How Cal Newport rewrote the productivity gospel" - FT Weekend article

I would agree with this quote from "How Cal Newport rewrote the productivity gospel" from the March 9 edition of FT Weekend. It highlights the benefits of adopting chess as a serious pastime for our thinking process about life, not just the game.

Newport came up with the idea of “deep work” during his time at MIT, when he was surrounded by “these brilliant theoreticians”. The MacArthur Genius Grant winners around him, who had solved some of the world’s biggest mathematical theorems, had the ability to concentrate deeply on a single problem or project for an extended period, he observed. According to Newport, there are certain people who are naturally good at deep working. Top theoretical computer scientists, for instance. Chess players. Mathematicians. And then there are the rest of us who lament our inability to make progress on meaningful, long-term goals or difficult projects. We tend to look away from the task at hand, reflexively refreshing our email browser, Twitter or this website.


06 March 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 4 (Yu - Morris-Suzuki)

This commentary game from round 4 of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship features an imbalanced attacking game in the "Iron English" setup popularized by GM Simon Williams and IM Richard Palliser. Oftentimes the English has a reputation as a more quiet or positional system, with action for White taking place on the queenside. This is not necessarily the case, however, and this game illustrates how White can generate kingside pressure and then break through if Black is not diligent about pushing their own alternate plan for counterplay.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.08"] [Round "04"] [White "Yu, Jennifer"] [Black "Morris-Suzuki, Sophie"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2297"] [BlackElo "2126"] [ECO "A36"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e4 {White breaks the symmetry and lays claim to d5.} 3...d6 4.g3 Nc6 5.Bg2 g6 6.Nge2 Bg7 7.d3 {the "Iron English" or modern Botvinnik setup is now reached.} 7...O-O 8.O-O Ne8 {while this is the #2 move in the database, it scores in an inferior way to both ...a6 and ...Rb8, suggesting that Black should prioritize getting on with queenside plans, rather than taking the time to reposition the knight.} 9.Be3 {this contests d4 further, but more importantly allows for a Q+B battery to be formed on the c1-h diagonal.} 9...Nd4 {the most popular move. Black would be happy to have the knight exchanged and get a pawn on d4, which would be a "bone in the throat" for White.} 10.Qd2 ( 10.Bxd4 cxd4 $17 {with ...e5 now a threat to consolidate Black's central control, along with moves like ...a5 to restrain White's b-pawn.} ) 10...Nc7 11.f4 {With Black's natural play being on the queenside, White chooses to expand on the kingside, which is where her pieces also have more influence. Using the f-pawn as a lever is one of the key ideas of the "Iron English" setup.} 11...Rb8 12.Nd5 $6 {this seems premature and Black picks the correct move to exploit it.} 12...Nxe2+ 13.Qxe2 {the queen is now off of its best diagonal and no longer threatens to exchange the Bg7 after Bh6.} 13...Ne6 $6 {Black however returns the favor, by not immediately pressing her natural plan of queenside expansion. This lets White recover the initiative.} ( 13...b5 ) 14.e5 b5 15.Rad1 {getting the rook into play is clearly a good idea, but it is difficult to determine which square is best for it.} ( 15.b4 $5 {is the engine's idea.} 15...cxb4 ( 15...bxc4 16.dxc4 Nd4 17.Bxd4 cxd4 18.exd6 exd6 19.Qd2 $14 ( 19.Ne7+ Kh8 20.Nc6 Qb6 21.Qf2 $14 ( 21.Nxb8 $2 d3+ 22.Qf2 Bd4 $19 ) ) ) 16.Bxa7 Rb7 17.Bf2 $14 {and Black's b-pawn(s) will be weak.} ) 15...Re8 {a relatively passive approach.} ( 15...Nc7 {challenging White's strong knight seems like a good idea.} ) 16.b3 {a good but conservative reaction.} ( 16.f5 Nd4 17.Bxd4 cxd4 18.e6 fxe6 19.Nb4 exf5 20.Nc6 $16 {looks good for White, although Black gets some compensation for the exchange.} ) 16...b4 $2 {this seems to be a classic strategic error, closing the side of the board where Black needs to make progress. The extra space is mostly meaningless.} ( 16...Nd4 $5 ) 17.Qf2 $16 {getting the queen to a more effective diagonal while also backing the f-pawn, which threatens to advance. Black is now under significant pressure and has no good options.} 17...Nd4 18.Bxd4 cxd4 19.Qxd4 {White is distracted from the kingside breakthrough, but at the cost of a pawn for Black. Note the space advantage and better coordination of White's pieces as well.} 19...Bg4 20.Rde1 ( 20.Rd2 $5 {looks more flexible, with the potential of later going to f2.} ) 20...a5 {this attempt at counterplay is too slow. Black can try to focus on defense instead.} ( 20...Bf5 $5 {would physically block the f-pawn advance while maintaining pressure on the d-pawn.} ) 21.Qb2 {looking to reposition the queen to a more effective square again, while also clearing d4 for the d-pawn's advance.} 21...a4 22.d4 Qa5 23.Qd2 Qa7 {Black just has some harassing ideas now, rather than real counterplay, and White is close to winning.} 24.Kh1 {smartly avoiding the d-pawn pin. White is not in a hurry.} 24...dxe5 $6 {this simply helps White break through and also control the center, but again there are no good options for Black.} 25.fxe5 Red8 $6 {as often happens, when under severe pressure a player starts making worse and worse moves. White correctly identifies the new weakness on e7 and decisively targets it with her queen, also attacking the hanging Bg4.} 26.Qg5 $18 Qxd4 27.Re4 ( 27.Nxe7+ {also wins.} 27...Kh8 28.Nc6 h6 29.Qxd8+ Rxd8 30.Nxd4 Rxd4 31.Rxf7 $18 ) 27...Qb2 28.Rxg4 Qxa2 {a useful illustration of how pawn snatching on the queenside when your king is under heavy attack is not worth it. White's attack is now masterful, sacrificing back the material to break through.} 29.Nxe7+ Kh8 30.Rh4 Rf8 31.Be4 Qe2 32.Nxg6+ fxg6 33.Rxh7+ Kg8 34.Rxg7+ Kxg7 35.Qxg6+ Kh8 36.Qh7# 1-0

Evaluation chart generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

26 February 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 3 (Tokhirjonova - Wu)

This game was selected for commentary because of its opening/middlegame clash of ideas, which can be seen from both White and Black perspectives in different openings. It is a Sicilian Grand Prix attack, which features an early f-pawn thrust and aggressive moves by White on the kingside. Reverse the colors and you get a common type of English Opening as well, which is what I have experience playing and would like to understand better. This kind of cross-training of openings is one thing I have become more open to over the years, since the more you look, it is interesting how ideas and setups can be similar and relevant.

In this particular case, there are some useful decision points to examine for both White and Black. In the opening phase, for example, Black chooses on move 7 a more standard approach that does not attempt to disrupt White's slightly unusual setup. Black on move 10 also commits to an offensive middlegame stance, when defense is what is indicated. Black should get credit for hanging in the game under tremendous pressure and even equalizing going into the endgame. However White also gets credit for not crumbling after losing all her advantage - which often happens - and then grinding away in the endgame for the win. This is one of those games that has a number of lessons to tell at each stage, so is well worth the study time.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.07"] [Round "03"] [White "Tokhirjonova, Gulrukhbegim"] [Black "Wu, Rochelle"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2336"] [BlackElo "2317"] [ECO "B23"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin / Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 {the #2 reply in the database, but far behind ...Nc6, which (at this stage) scores above 50% for Black. The added control over d4 seems more important than preventing an early e4-e5, the usual reason for playing ...d6.} ( 2...Nc6 3.f4 g6 {is the preferred method for Black players to handle the Grand Prix Attack.} ) 3.f4 {historically by playing g3 here we would enter a Closed Sicilian, but the Grand Prix Attack is now more popular.} 3...g6 {the Grand Prix Attack proper would be entered by transposition with ...Nc6. Here with ...g6, Black chooses to accelerate the dark-square bishop development to influence the center and also contest f5. This scores evenly for Black, while the classic ...Nc6 shows a fairly significant White plus.} 4.Bb5+ {White seems to be mixing and matching her variations, now developing the bishop to b5 as if it were the Moscow Variation. This is less to the point here, as it does not have the same impact on the fight for the center or support White's kingside thrust. Instead Nf3 is by far the most played here, because why not?} 4...Bd7 5.Bc4 {White indicates her desire to preserve the light-square bishop, but essentially this is a free tempo for Black. For this to make sense, White would have to argue that the Bd7 development is a net minus for Black. It does block the queen on the d-file, and White now has more control over d5, but is the trade-off worth it?} 5...Bg7 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.d3 {choosing to delay castling in favor of development, with the idea of thrusting with the f-pawn.} 7...e6 {this leads to standard-type play in the center. Objectively this is not bad for Black, but it is something of a concession to allow White to easily pursue the typical plans here.} ( 7...Na5 $5 {is an alternate way to play that puts more pressure on White to prove her setup is good. For example} 8.f5 $2 {can now be met with} 8...Nxc4 9.dxc4 Bxc3+ 10.bxc3 Nf6 $19 {with White essentially being positionally lost.} ) 8.f5 {pressuring Black to make an early, complex choice about the direction of the game. Black chooses an aggressive-looking continuation, but it results in a White plus.} 8...Nd4 ( 8...gxf5 $5 {scores the best in practical terms, although with a low number of games played.} ) 9.fxe6 {correctly exchanging the center pawn.} 9...fxe6 $6 {Black chooses to maintain an equal number of central pawns, but opens the f-file, making White's developmental lead more relevant.} 10.O-O Qb6 $6 {Black is clearly still thinking offense, when defense is more required by the position. The queen move allows the idea of castling queenside, but this would still leave the kingside and center weakened, and Black never in fact manages to castle.} 11.Ng5 $16 {White has a pleasant choice of how to continue. The text move hits e6 and f7 and unleashes the Rf1.} ( 11.Nxd4 {also results in an advantage, for example} 11...Bxd4+ 12.Kh1 Nf6 13.Ne2 Be5 14.Nf4 $18 {White is effectively targeting Black's weaknesses, while Black has no counterplay.} ) 11...Nf6 12.Ne2 {hitting the advanced Nd4, also a defender of e6. Now Black has no good options.} 12...Nxe2+ ( 12...d5 $5 {is what the engine assesses is the best chance for Black.} 13.exd5 exd5 14.Nxd4 O-O-O {and now White can choose between Bb5 and Nf7 to maintain the advantage.} ) 13.Qxe2 e5 {trying to lock the center, but this also decisively boosts White's light-square control.} 14.a4 $18 {this looks a little random, after all the action on the e- and f-files, but in fact it appears to be the most effective follow-up. Black will not have any safety on the queenside either, with the Qb6 exposed to harrassment.} 14...Ke7 {castling is now a distant dream. The text move covers the weak e6 square and connects the rooks.} 15.a5 Qc7 16.b4 {further opening lines and keeping the initiative, with what would only be a temporary pawn sacrifice.} 16...Raf8 ( 16...cxb4 17.Bd2 $18 ) 17.bxc5 dxc5 18.d4 {White is in a hurry to further open things up, but perhaps could have prepared the idea better.} ( 18.Nf3 {the knight is no longer as effective on g5, so repositioning it first makes sense.} ) 18...h6 {Black seizes the chance to gain a tempo on the knight and at least temporarily win a pawn.} 19.Nf3 exd4 20.Nh4 $6 {here White gets distracted with more knight moves, rather than pressing on in the now wide-open center. However Black, under pressure, does not find the best active defense.} ( 20.e5 {would be the direct approach.} ) ( 20.Bd2 {would develop White's last piece and connect the rooks.} ) 20...Be8 $2 {the obvious defensive move to protect g6, but it cannot save Black.} ( 20...Ng4 {is the best try, according to the engine. The mate threat on h2 makes life much more difficult for White, who wins the exchange but sees Black counterattack immediately, regaining material.} 21.Nxg6+ Kd8 22.Bf4 Rxf4 23.Nxf4 d3 {the key move, clearing the d4 square for Black's bishop.} 24.Qxd3 Bd4+ 25.Kh1 {and now Black has to find} 25...Ne5 ( 25...Nf2+ $2 26.Rxf2 Bxf2 27.Ne6+ $18 ) 26.Qb3 Bxa1 27.Ne6+ Bxe6 28.Bxe6 c4 {with a complex position but what only looks like a small plus for White after Qb4.} ) 21.Bf4 $1 {White's last piece gets into the battle, with a vengeance. The two bishops criss-cross Bthe center with nothing to stop them, while Black's centralized king position without a pawn shield makes it obvious White is winning.} 21...Qd7 22.Bb8 ( 22.Rab1 $5 {bringing another piece into the attack first.} ) 22...Nh5 23.Bxa7 {the point of course is not the a-pawn itself, but the threat to the c5 pawn.} 23...Qd6 24.Rab1 {bringing into play major threats on the b-file.} 24...Rxf1+ 25.Qxf1 Be5 {now this threat to the h2 pawn is not enough to distract White.} 26.Rxb7+ Kd8 27.Nf3 {getting the knight back into play, guarding h2 and attacking the Be5.} 27...Rf8 28.Bb6+ {this is a strong move but not a prudent one.} ( 28.Qb1 {would be useful in controlling the b-file, as well as more importantly getting the queen off the file with the rook, thereby eliminating what becomes a tactical possibility for Black.} ) 28...Kc8 {now many things win for White, including probably the most obvious Rc7+, but...} 29.Ba6 $2 {without an immediate threat, this allows Black to execute the following tactic, based on the Nf3 pin.} 29...Bxh2+ $1 30.Nxh2 Rxf1+ 31.Nxf1 Bd7 32.Nd2 d3 {amazingly, Black has now equalized and the game objectively should end in a draw by perpetual, which both side have (Ra7+ for White). However, the fight continues. How does White, whose king is now quite open as well, manage to emerge victorious?} 33.c3 {White starts by taking away the d4 square, which is the obvious way for the Black queen to penetrate.} 33...Ng3 ( 33...Qg3 {and Black maintains the ability to force a perpetual, for example} 34.Ra7+ Kb8 35.Rxd7 ( 35.Bc7+ Kxa7 36.Bxg3 Kxa6 37.Be5 Kxa5 $10 ) 35...Qe3+ $10 ) 34.Ra7+ Kb8 35.Rb7+ Kc8 36.Ra7+ {White gains some progress in the time control by repeating moves this way.} 36...Kb8 37.Bc7+ Kxa7 38.Bxd6 Ne2+ {removing the knight from attack by the Bd6 and gaining the necessary tempo for recovering the bishop.} 39.Kf2 Kxa6 40.c4 Kxa5 41.Bxc5 {the engine rates this with only a slight plus to White, yet the positional imbalances would seem to make it somewhat easier for White to play, given that the d-pawn is blockaded while the passed e- and c-pawns are not.} 41...h5 42.Ke3 {this does not actually threaten the d-pawn yet, since Black can use the fork trick on f4 to exchange it for White's g-pawn.} 42...Ka4 $6 {this move seems to be the culprit for Black's subsequent problems, as she puts her king too far from the action.} ( 42...Be6 ) 43.Bd6 $1 {with opposite-colored bishops, this square allows the bishop to restrain Black's pawns and prevent the fork trick on f4, while also clearing the way on the c-file for the pawn.} 43...Nc1 44.Nf3 {the blockade is no longer needed and the knight gets into the action.} 44...Be6 {a little too late now.} 45.Kd2 {chasing the knight away from the pawn, which is now doomed.} 45...Nb3+ 46.Kxd3 Na5 47.Ne5 $18 {now White is winning again, with two passed pawns, a centralized king, and a better knight.} 47...g5 {Black's only hope is to mobilize counterplay with her pawn duo.} 48.Be7 {nothing looks good as an option now for Black.} 48...g4 49.Kd4 ( 49.Kc3 {would maintain dominance over the Black knight.} ) 49...Nb3+ 50.Kc3 Nc1 51.Nd3 $6 {a strange decision, to allow a pure opposite-colored bishop ending, which is by far a better possibility to draw for Black.} 51...Nxd3 52.Kxd3 Ka5 ( 52...g3 $5 ) 53.Kd4 Kb6 {now Black's king is not so badly placed.} 54.c5+ Kc6 55.g3 Ba2 {Black's strategy now should be to use the bishop to protect the h-pawn and/or threaten the e-pawn if the White king strays too far. White cannot break the blockade on the c-pawn.} 56.Ke3 Kd7 57.Bd6 Bf7 58.Kf4 Ke6 $2 {with this, Black abandons the blockade of the c-pawn, leading to a lost position.} ( 58...Kc6 ) 59.Kg5 $1 {Black apparently did not believe White could make progress. However...} 59...Be8 60.Bf4 {Black is now in zugzwang, as the bishop is overloaded protecting the h5 pawn and the c6 square. The next king move is comparatively best, but still allows White a winning advantage.} 60...Ke7 61.Kf5 $1 Bd7+ 62.Ke5 {in contrast with the previous situation, White's king is now fully centralized and Black's king has been forced back to the 7th rank away from the c-pawn, where it is also vulnerable to further harassment by the bishop. White still has to defend the e-pawn with her king, but finds the correct way to make progress.} 62...Bc6 63.Bg5+ Kd7 64.Kf5 {now White can advance the e-pawn. Note how Black's bishop is in the way of her king.} 64...Bb7 65.e5 Kc6 {this is meaningless, since White's bishop can protect the pawn and not be chased away successfully.} 66.Be7 Kd5 67.Bd6 h4 {Black's last gasp, which contains an endgame trap.} 68.gxh4 ( 68.Kxg4 $2 hxg3 69.Kxg3 $10 {and White will not be able to break through against Black's light-square bishop, which defends in all lines.} ) 68...g3 69.e6 g2 70.Bh2 {the game is now effectively over.} 70...Kxc5 71.h5 Ba6 72.h6 Kc6 ( 72...Bd3+ 73.Kf6 {and one of the pawns will queen.} ) 73.Kf6 Bd3 74.Kf7 Kd5 1-0

Evaluation generated by HIARCS Chess Explorer Pro

21 February 2023

Training quote of the day #42: Victor Korchnoi

  From the commentary to game 35 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

There are two types of sacrifices in chess. When a player sacrifices a minor piece, he usually calculates the variations as far as mate, or to the regaining of the material. And this calcuation does not normally demand any great effort. It is another matter when a pawn, rook or queen is sacrificed. Usually such a sacrifice is made not on the basis of deep calculation, but by intuition. After all, often the human brain is not in fact capable of working out all the variations in a complicated position! You have to trust your intuition. It may happen that your intuition deceives you. But human life, in general, is full of dangers! You have to take a risk... And not only at the chess board! 

11 February 2023

Training quote of the day #41: Victor Korchnoi

 From the commentary to game 34 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

A competent positional player, if he has several plans, does not hurry to carry out one of them. After all, by beginning to implement some plan, he to some extent loses his superiority over the opponent, which in fact consisted of the fact that up till then he had more possibilities than the opponent!

28 January 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 3 (Eswaran - Paikidze)

This next commentary game features a positional struggle involving what IM Jeremy Silman terms - usefully, I think - key "imbalances" between the sides. The opening, a Two Knights Caro-Kann, sets this up early, with Black exchanging bishop for knight on move 4. The minor piece and pawn structure imbalances are the main things both sides have to keep in mind for their strategies. It was useful to analyze their choices and see where different options might have kept more tension in the position.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.07"] [Round "03"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Paikidze, Nazi"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [WhiteElo "2365"] [BlackElo "2354"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon by Komodo 2.6.1"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1.e4 c6 2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3 {the Two Knights Caro-Kann.} 3...Bg4 {the most effective response by Black, who however will need to immediately exchange bishop for knight, as the bishop retreat after h3 is not as effective. This is not a bad trade-off, however, as the Nf3 is a valuable attacking piece and Black will be able to build a strong pawn skeleton on the light squares.} 4.h3 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 e6 6.Be2 Nf6 7.O-O ( 7.e5 {looks tempting, but scores poorly for White, as attacking prospects are limited and Black will get more counterplay in the center. An example game:} 7...Nfd7 8.Qg3 a6 9.O-O c5 10.d3 Nc6 11.f4 g6 12.Kh1 Be7 13.Qf2 Nd4 14.Bd1 h5 15.Ne2 Nf5 16.c3 Nb8 17.d4 cxd4 18.cxd4 Nc6 19.Be3 Nb4 20.Qg1 Rc8 21.Bf2 Nd3 22.g3 Qa5 23.Kg2 Qd2 24.Rb1 Nxf2 25.Rxf2 Qd3 26.Rf3 Qd2 27.Ba4+ b5 28.Bd1 g5 29.Qf2 g4 30.hxg4 hxg4 31.Rb3 Bd8 32.Rc3 Rxc3 33.bxc3 Ne3+ {0-1, Ezio Righi 2116 - Peter Long 2302, Olympiad-39, Khanty-Mansiysk (6.3), 2010.09.27} ) 7...Nbd7 {a noncommittal developing move, prompting White to play the obvious next move to occupy the center and free the Bc1.} ( 7...Bc5 $5 {is the next most popular and scores slightly better in the database. The point of course is to prevent d4.} ) 8.d4 dxe4 {Black needs to exchange in the center, otherwise White's presence becomes too strong.} 9.Nxe4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 Nf6 11.Qd3 {the situation in the center is now more resolved, with a standard Caro-Kann pawn structure for both sides and White having the two bishops, a slight long-term advantage.} 11...Qc7 {the queen move is logical, since it occupies the h2-b8 diagonal and at least temporarily prevents White developing with Bf4. However, it may be a premature commitment of Black's strongest piece.} ( 11...Be7 {is most played here, as the logical square for the bishop and to immediately prepare kingside castling.} ) 12.Rd1 {the best file for the rook, supporting the d-pawn again and therefore allowing the Qd3 more flexibility.} 12...Be7 13.a4 {a recently tried move, this indicates White intends to focus her attantion on the queenside. The easiest and best response appears to be simply to block further progress of the a-pawn and restrain the White b-pawn's advance.} 13...a5 14.Bd2 {it is not easy for White to find a good square for this bishop and it is awkwardly transferred here to e1.} 14...O-O 15.Be1 Rfd8 {Black logically places her rook on the best file, opposing White's pieces. The game is equal.} 16.Qc4 {neither side has obvious weaknesses to target, so the middlegame will necessarily feature some maneuvering. Black's plan is easier to identify, however: doubling rooks on the d-file and threatening a pawn break to open it up. The text move is not bad for White, but it does put the queen in the way of the c-pawn.} 16...Rd7 17.Bf3 {the bishop was not doing much on the other diagonal, so f3 is a better square for it.} 17...Rad8 18.c3 {logically reinforcing d4. Also, White has little better.} 18...e5 {Nimzovich famously wrote "the threat is stronger than the execution" - which seems true here. Black is fine after the resulting exchanges, but could have maintained the tension.} 19.dxe5 Qxe5 20.Qe2 Qxe2 21.Bxe2 Nd5 {having previously opted for exchanges, now Black chooses to wait and maneuvers the bishop to f6. It's not clear if this is better, however.} ( 21...Rxd1 22.Rxd1 Rxd1 23.Bxd1 Kf8 $10 ) 22.g3 {controlling the f4 square.} 22...Bf6 {this restrains the advance of White's b-pawn, but gives up its mobility along the f8-a3 diagonal and leaves the bishop biting on the c3 pawn.} 23.Bf3 {returning to its previous square, but now it appears less effective.} ( 23.Bg4 $5 ) 23...Nb6 {now we get another exchange in any case.} 24.Rxd7 Nxd7 {this is better because the knight goes to a better square afterwards.} 25.Ra2 {this appears to be a waiting move, to see what Black will do.} 25...Ne5 26.Be2 Nd3 {forcing the minor piece exchange. White can choose which bishop, however.} 27.Bxd3 Rxd3 28.Ra3 {from this point the position is very balanced, with near- symmetrical pawn structures. Black has better piece activity, but there is no way to make real progress.} ( 28.Ra1 $5 ) 28...Be7 29.Ra1 f5 {contesting g4 and opening the diagonal for Black's king to more quickly head toward the center.} 30.Kf1 {White moves to centralize her king as well, one of the most fundamental endgame principles.} 30...Kf7 31.Ke2 Rd7 32.b4 {White chooses to simplify things on the queenside.} 32...axb4 33.cxb4 Bf6 34.Rc1 Rd5 {defending against the idea of a White pawn advance on the queenside.} 35.a5 Re5+ 36.Kf1 {White can penetrate with the king, but cannot do any damage thereby.} ( 36.Kd3 Rd5+ 37.Kc4 Rd4+ 38.Kc5 Rd5+ 39.Kb6 Rb5+ $10 ) 36...Rb5 37.a6 {the series of exchanges that result mean the position will be drawn.} 37...bxa6 38.Rxc6 Be7 39.Rxa6 Bxb4 40.Bxb4 Rxb4 {short of a blunder, there is no possible result other than a draw at this point.} 41.Ke2 Rb3 42.h4 h5 43.Kf1 g6 44.Kg2 Rc3 45.Rb6 Rd3 46.Ra6 Rc3 47.Rb6 Rd3 48.Ra6 Rc3 1/2-1/2

08 January 2023

Book completed - The Fabulous Budapest Gambit (New Edition)

The "New and Updated" (2017) edition of The Fabulous Budapest Gambit by GM Viktor Moskalenko, which I recently completed, was probably the first openings book I studied more for general chess skills benefit rather than as a deliberate addition to my openings repertoire. That said, I probably will put the knowledge to use at some point and it seems like a very interesting and at times fun opening to play.

Table of Contents (from New in Chess site)

Moskalenko (as can be seen above) enjoys using some more creative, thematic and even poetic ways of classifying concepts and variations. This translates into (after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4):
  • Chapter 1: 4. Bf4 (Rubinstein Variation)
  • Chapter 2: 4. e4 (Alekhine System)
  • Chapter 3: 4. Nf3
  • Chapter 4: 4. e3 and sidelines, including the gambit declined
  • Chapter 5: The Fajarowicz Gambit (3...Ne4)

The primary reasons I went through this book, first using a physical board for initial study then entering chosen lines into my repertoire database, were to get exposed to new and different ideas, along with an appreciation and enjoyment of Moskalenko's teaching style. He starts and ends each chapter and sub-part with a discussion of key ideas for both sides, annotating a selection of complete games as showcases. These include everything from classic games by early 20th century giants up to contemporary tournament and internet games. 

While Moskalenko makes judgments about each line, it is deliberately not a fixed repertoire book and he encourages exploring different approaches and ideas. In that sense it is also a very practical book, not simply searching for the best theoretical line. At the same time, he does not flinch from pointing out serious difficulties and issues. The fact that he has real experience playing the opening at the tournament level is reflected in his ability to evaluate the practical chances in various lines and also present the opening as more of a living, breathing complex of ideas rather than a stale academic study.

It is important to evolve your openings repertoire over time, so that it (and you as a player) do not become stale and bored. For success in tournament play, it is also important to have more unbalanced openings in your toolkit, to be able to increase your winning chances in key situations. The surprise factor is also no joke, especially if your particular opening choice does well against "standard" or "obvious" moves played by an opponent unfamiliar with it. The Budapest Gambit appears to meet that need against 1. d4, as tactics lurk throughout it and in most lines it offers Black significant attacking chances. That said, there is still no "free lunch" and if your opponent plays solidly, as in most games of chess it will end up being your knowledge of the resulting middlegames and how to play them that determines how well you do against them.