24 December 2023

Annotated Game #260: A Return to the Board

This was my first OTB tournament game in two years and it was nice to return to the board with a win. The play has a strong strategic flavor, as I consistently (if not always ideally) focused on combating White's isolated queen pawn (IQP). This proved to work in the end, although some key points of departure were revealed during analysis:

  • My choices on move 12 and subsequently on move 23 - notably both queen-related - showed that I understood the position's demands well (a positive) but did not find the best candidate move (a negative). In the first case, I was too rigid with my thinking about queen placement, not even considering ...Qd6 which would have then allowed my knight to develop without any issues. In the second case, I should have kept things simple with ...Qe4 rather than enter into a worrying sequence with tactical threats to trap my queen.
  • Another failure to find the best candidate occurred on move 26, when I did not even consider moving the g-pawn to create an escape square for my queen.
  • On a positive note, the winning sequence starting on move 36 was both reasonably accurate and practical. I could have had a better version of it, but once you have figured out how to win, the number of moves it takes is normally not relevant - it's much better to do it safely, especially if pressed for time, rather than try to calculate out a "best" move sequence that also wins, just faster.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D40"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "108"] [EventDate "2017.06.18"] {[%mdl 12320][%evp 0,108,15,18,63,68,61,43,43,21,0,26,18,11,25,32,21,-3,22,9,-14,-5,-3,0,7,-9,49,64,42,41,25,6,14,12,-1,-13,20,-25,-37,-81,-79,-107,-89,-112,-104,-119,-88,-104,-76,-104,-76,-89,-70,-112,25,-45,-37,-37,-11,-48,-54,-66,-58,-55,-57,-64,-58,-56,-60,-92,-88,-87,-91,-144,-135,-104,-103,-106,-106,-118,-107,-90,-105,-211,-231,-242,-252,-254,-321,-350,-267,-715,-813,-849,-920,-891,-887,-1112,-840,-1142,-1610,-2182,-1169,-1201,-1870,-2301,-1682,-2324,-29754,-29969,-29972] D40: Queen's Gambit Declined: Semi-Tarrasch with 5 e3} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 {my opponent thought for several minutes over this and the next few moves, apparently not familiar with the Caro-Kann.} d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. c4 Nf6 5. Nc3 {the Panov variation.} e6 {the most traditional response, which leads to Semi-Tarrasch type QP opening positions.} 6. a3 {apparently this has been played a fair amount, according to the database, but it is the first time I have seen this move. The obvious point is to rule out ...Bb4, which may disrupt things if Black only has that move in their repertoire. How it developed in the game, it was a largely wasted tempo.} Be7 7. Nf3 O-O 8. Be2 (8. c5 {would be the most consistent continuation following the a3 push, with b4 coming.}) 8... dxc4 {my first serious think. I wanted to assure myself of reaching an IQP position.} 9. Bxc4 a6 {another serious think about preferred strategy here. Ideally I wanted to gain a tempo on the Bc4 with ...b5 and then develop with ...Bb7, which is what White allowed.} 10. O-O b5 11. Bb3 Bb7 {Reaching my ideal strategic position, with equal development and a blockade of the d5 square. (See Nimzovich's "blockade, attack, destroy" mantra).} 12. Be3 {the bishop is just acting as a big pawn here.} (12. Re1 Nbd7 13. Bg5 Nb6 14. Ne5 Nbd5 15. Rc1 Rc8 16. Bxf6 Bxf6 17. Nxd5 Bxd5 18. Rxc8 Qxc8 19. Bxd5 exd5 20. Qd2 Qf5 21. g3 h5 22. h4 Rc8 23. Re2 Qb1+ 24. Kg2 Rc1 25. Nf3 Rc8 26. Qf4 Qd3 {Ehlvest,J (2536)-Izoria,Z (2599) Chess.com INT 2018 0-1 (43)}) (12. Qd3 Nbd7 13. Bc2 Re8 14. Ne5 Nxe5 15. dxe5 Qxd3 16. Bxd3 Nd7 17. f4 Nc5 18. Bc2 Red8 19. Be3 Rac8 20. Rfd1 Nd7 21. Rd2 Nb6 22. Rxd8+ Bxd8 23. Bb3 Bc6 24. Rd1 Bc7 25. Bc5 Nc4 26. Bxc4 bxc4 {Morais,W (1843)-Fernandes,F Rio de Janeiro 2019 ½-½ (36)}) 12... Bd5 $146 {another significant think here. I wanted to maintain the blockade on d5, with which any developing moves with the Nb8 would interfere. However, there are other possibilities.} (12... Qd6 {this is the logical solution to the knight development issue, the idea being to allow ...Nbd7 without blocking the queen's power down the d-file.}) 13. Nxd5 $11 {The position is equal, but I was happy to see the minor piece trade, which fits in with combating the IQP.} Nxd5 14. Qd3 {a standard idea in this line is a Q+B battery on the b1-h7 diagonal, so I was able to anticipate my opponent's idea after this move.} Nc6 {I had to think for a while here, to make sure it was a safe move. The Nc6 is hanging and of course White has an interest in a kingside attack. However, I concluded my defensive resources were more than adequate.} 15. Bc2 g6 16. Bh6 Re8 17. Bb3 {my opponent seemed not to have a particular plan after the previous two-move forced sequence, just moving the bishop back. Which is in fact not bad, but underlines the equal nature of the position and lack of any concrete threats.} Na5 {I was happy to take advantage of the bishop placement and gain a tempo with the knight move, ideally heading for c4.} 18. Bxd5 $6 {this additional trade further assists the anti-IQP strategy.} (18. Ba2 $11) 18... Qxd5 $15 {now two pairs of minor pieces are off the board and I have a firm grip on d5.} 19. b4 $6 {this just helps the knight onto its best outpost square.} (19. h4 $5) (19. Rfe1) 19... Nc4 $17 20. Rfc1 Red8 {I rejected making any more committal moves at this point, in favor of getting the rook to a more productive file and increasing the pressure on the d-pawn. However, I missed a more immediate active option.} (20... e5 $1 $19 {taking advantage of the pin on the d-pawn against the Qd3 and threatening a pawn fork on e4.} 21. Nd2 Rac8) (20... Rad8 {the other rook would have been better for the same idea, as the e-file is important.}) 21. Be3 $6 {now the Ra8 actually could earn its keep, with Black's piece able to target White's queenside effectively.} Bf6 $17 {a logical move, increasing the pressure on the long diagonal. However, using the a-pawn as a lever gets Black more here.} ({Black should try} 21... a5 22. Qc3 axb4 23. axb4 Rxa1 24. Rxa1 Ra8 $19 {and White will not be able to hold the b-pawn, while Black's pieces will dominate.}) 22. Qe2 {smartly getting out of the line of fire on the d-file.} Rac8 {similar to the previous rook move, I no longer saw much use for it on the a-file and moved it to a more active one.} (22... a5 $5 {is still a possibility.}) 23. Rd1 Qh5 {At the time, I assessed the benefits of this move outweighed the risk of the queen getting trapped, although White is later able to threaten this more than I anticipated. It frees d5 for a rook and forces White to consider his currently hanging queen, with a temporary pin on the Nf3. However, there are better squares for the Black queen.} (23... Qe4) 24. Ra2 {this protects the queen, but unconnects the rooks, which causes problems later.} Rd5 {physically blockading the d-pawn, possible due to the previous minor piece exchanges, and clearing d8 for the other rook. It also has the downside of limiting the squares for the Black queen.} 25. h3 {clearly intending to try and trap the Qh5.} Rcd8 {threatening to play ...e5.} 26. Kh2 {I missed this move, which of course is necessary to guard the h3 pawn prior to playing g4. Black is still OK, but at the board I only found one line that saved the queen, which made it a dangerous situation. The engine highlights other possibilities, however.} Nxe3 $6 {this keeps Black safe but allows White to equalize.} (26... g5 {is actually the simplest and most effective solution, clearing g6 for the queen. My thinking process was too rigid here, not considering the g-pawn advance. The pawn is more than adequately protected, however, and Black can follow up with ...h5 and further pawn advances.} 27. Kg1 Qg6 $17) 27. Qxe3 Bg5 28. Qe4 Qh6 {the point of the 26th move in this sequence was that h6 is now safe for the queen, in all variations.} 29. Nxg5 $6 {White appeared to decide he had nothing better, but of course further exchanges of minor pieces in an IQP position are strategically suspect.} (29. Rc2 $11) 29... Qxg5 $15 30. f4 {due to the IQP configuration, this actually does not help with control of e5. It does put the question to the queen, however, and prompts me to make a worse move.} ({Better is} 30. Rc2 $15) 30... Qf5 $6 {the exchange on f5 actually helps White here, as Black's queen is more dangerous. Most other queen moves preserve a greater advantage.} (30... Qf6 31. Rad2 Rc8 $17) 31. Qxf5 Rxf5 32. g3 Rfd5 $15 {at this point, we have the classic approach to the IQP on the board: maximum pressure down the file against it, with a pawn break coming. However, it's still not so easy to make progress, unless of course your opponent helps...} 33. Rad2 f6 {intending to play ...e5 next. However, this should not gain Black anything, unfortunately.} 34. Rc2 {My opponent evidently also thought the d-pawn was doomed, and was looking for some other rook activity to compensate.} (34. Kg2 {or a similar noncommital move and now Black gets the d-pawn, but White has immediate compensation. For example} e5 35. fxe5 fxe5 36. Rc2 exd4 37. Rc6 R5d6 38. Rxd6 Rxd6 39. Kf3 Kf7 40. Ke4 Re6+ 41. Kf4 {and the rook ending is equal.}) 34... e5 {the pawn break is still the best practical chance here, putting the pressure on White to respond accurately.} (34... Rxd4 35. Rxd4 Rxd4 36. Rc8+ Kf7 37. Rc7+ $11) 35. fxe5 fxe5 36. Rc5 $2 {I hadn't anticipated this, which however loses.} (36. Kg2 $1 $11 {as in the above variation, and White has nothing to worry about in the long run.}) 36... Rxd4 $19 {this seemed the simplest solution at the time and is good enough for the win.} (36... Rxc5 37. bxc5 exd4 $19 {leaves White with more weaknesses.}) 37. Rxd4 {I had thought this was essentially forced, but technically speaking it is not.} (37. Rdc1 Rd2+ 38. Kg1 R8d3 $19) 37... exd4 $19 {now White has to bring back the rook to defend, otherwise, the d-pawn will queen.} 38. Rc2 Kf7 {time to get the king in the game.} 39. Kg2 Ke6 40. Kf3 Ke5 {Strongly threatening ...d3. the centralized king is now a force.} 41. Rd2 Rf8+ {pushing the king back first. The point now is to win safely, rather than try and calculate the quickest route.} 42. Ke2 Ke4 {this position illustrates how a rook is a poor short-range piece, as the White one gets in the way of both itself and the king in trying to defend against the pawn.} 43. Rd1 Rf3 44. Rc1 {perhaps with ideas of getting behind the Black king, which is probably the best practical chance. However, White would not have time to do this successfully.} d3+ 45. Ke1 Ke3 {now if the Rc1 tries to get behind the Black king, the d-pawn queens after ...d2+} 46. Rc3 Rxg3 {with a won position on the board and not a lot of time on the clock remaining, I keep the win in hand by improving my position without risk.} 47. Kf1 Rxh3 48. a4 {I thought this was simply an attempt at a distraction, but may have been intended in the hope of eventually reaching a stalemate position.} Rh4 49. a5 Rc4 {I decided the easiest way to win would be to box in White's rook and force a trade.} 50. Rb3 Kd2 51. Rb2+ Kc1 52. Ra2 Rc2 53. Ra1+ Kb2 54. Rd1 Rc1 0-1

Article: "Can Adults Improve at Chess?" by NM Todd Bryant

The title of NM Todd Bryant's article at Chess.com is somewhat misleading - of course adults can improve at chess, a more relevant question is if (and how) they do it. My long journey to Class A pointed out what works for me: playing tournament chess on a monthly basis; seriously analyzing my own games; at least a brief period of chess skills study daily (including realistic tactical puzzles); and other dedicated study and practice on a weekly basis. As of this year I've been able to return to OTB tournament play, but it has been infrequent and I have not coupled that with sufficient dedicated chess study time to break through my current plateau. Here I'll start sharing analyzed tournament games again, as I process them, and we'll see what 2024 may bring.

In the above-linked article, NM Bryant does a good job of examining available data on ratings improvement by adult players (defined as over 25) in the U.S., which is really an analysis of the what of adult improvement - describing it as a statistical phenomenon, along with some specific examples of individual cases. Although the article by no means can be used as a "roadmap to improvement" or the like, it does set out the facts, including establishing the possibility and documenting the regular, if not necessarily frequent, phenomenon of significant strength gains in adulthood. He also captures some of the common qualitative characteristics of those who have in fact succeeded, which I'll quote below. None of them should be surprising, but they are a good reminder of how putting in the work and a strong mental attitude can in fact be rewarded over time.

"Play A LOT. This is more important than studying, coaching, chess psychology, or anything else. Overwhelmingly, the improvers I found had jagged ratings graphs for decades, meaning that they were constantly playing.
Care about chess, not your rating. I’ve been fortunate to know many of the adult improvers on my list, and I looked up others on social media. Aside from playing all the time, these people are deeply invested in the quality of their chess. Many of them have told me they were too busy focusing on chess to worry about rating. They are curious. They like analyzing their games. They have chess blogs, book collections, particular areas of the game that they are experts in. These things, not rating obsession, occupy their time.
Never, ever, ever give up. All of the people above experienced setbacks, sometimes big ones. When this happens, it is easy to get frustrated, discouraged, or nervous that we are washed up and can no longer compete with the kids. These people did not do that. And this gave them a chance to catch a good run later."

29 November 2023

Video completed: Guide to the Advance Caro-Kann

I recently completed the video by FM Aleksandar Randjelovic "Guide to the Advance Caro-Kann" which can be found on YouTube or with a companion article on Chess.com. At 15 minutes, it packs a number of useful concepts into an introductory but also practical reference to the opening.

At first he discusses the fundamental ideas behind the 3...Bf5 line, and points out the main disadvantage - the bishop being "bad" and getting harrassed by White. He then turns to examine the 3...c5 line, while alluding to its related French Defense structures.

If White plays "normal" moves, Black can leverage the fact it is a Caro-Kann and not French by freeing the Bc8 and ideally placing it on g4. This also allows ideal placement of the knights on c6 and f5. If White takes on c5 immediately, FM Randjelovic judges 4...Nc6 as still playable, but ...e6 is considered better by theory, threatening to immediately recapture the pawn. 

Halfway through, he says he prefers to focus on typical plans for Black, rather than particular variations/move-orders, given the unlikelihood of your opponent following exact variations. This is refreshing and appropriate for this type of opening setup, which is not extremely sharp. Ideas for Black include undermining White's queenside pawns with ...a5 and ...b6; where to place the Ng8 and why; and the surprising ...g5 idea, which can lead to a powerful pawn sacrifice if White gets greedy.

Some more general points are made about opening play, including the point that, when a player looks at choosing particular moves, they should pick the one they understand the best. This is because playing an "objectively best move" that lands you in an uncomfortable position is actually detrimental to your performance in the game.

The video and FM Randjelovic's take on the opening I found practical, valuable and refreshing. As I noted in the article's comments section, it is probably the best concise explanation of the ideas in the Caro-Kann I have seen, with a focus on 3...c5.

25 November 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 12 (Foisor - Lee)

This next commentary game from the penultimate round of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship concludes my examination of the event. It features another Keymer Variation, but White takes it in a very different direction, using a passive Hedgehog-like setup. This is a valid strategic choice, often used when a player wants to provoke their opponent into over-reaching; past international greats such as Petrosian, Ulf Andersson, and from time to time Viktor Korchnoi employed this strategy successfully.

However, in this game Black demonstrates the problem with this type of passive approach, by successfully occupying and controlling the center and then achieving what could have been a winning advantage on the queenside, with White's pieces relatively passive and bottled up. It appears that Lee may have misjudged the sequence starting on move 37, which actually requires Black to use a nice tactic just to stay even in the endgame. The strategic clash between the players and the particular importance of elements like recurring opportunities to exchange minor pieces made this game stand out for me.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.18"] [Round "12"] [White "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Black "Lee, Alice"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "2203"] [BlackElo "2263"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "146"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 {another "Keymer Variation"} Nf6 3. b3 Bf5 4. Bb2 {it now looks like a reverse Queen's Indian setup versus a reverse London.} e6 5. Be2 {keeping options open.} h6 6. d3 {this is now a commital move in the center. White will look to construct a rather passive Hedgehog-like structure, something she evidently was aiming for from the start.} Nbd7 {contesting e5 while not blocking the c-pawn.} 7. Nbd2 c6 8. O-O Be7 9. a3 {in keeping with the Hedgehog theme.} O-O 10. Re1 (10. c4 $5 {would strike back in the center and reduce White's level of passivity.}) 10... Qc7 {connecting the rooks, getting a nice diagonal for the queen and controlling e5.} 11. Bf1 {a logical idea, given White's previous move. Otherwise the Re1 is doing nothing.} Rad8 12. Qe2 {White seems determined to "turtle up" with all her pieces.} Rfe8 13. g3 {this move is not really in keeping with the idea of the original e3/Be2 development, but if White is not worried about things like tempi or challenging the center, then it is at least consistent with her strategic approach.} Bg4 {provoking White's next.} (13... e5 $5 {Black could also immediately seize more space with her well-supported central pawn.}) 14. h3 Bh5 15. Bg2 e5 $15 {Black has no weaknesses and a space advantage in the center.} 16. g4 Bg6 17. e4 {White now challenges for the first time in the center. Black then chooses to lock it, reducing her dynamic possibilities.} d4 {this makes the position simpler to play and certainly helps lock out the Bb2. However, Black could have done more with a mobile center and keeping the tension.} 18. Nf1 {with a closed center, White can return to leisurely maneuvering.} Nf8 19. Bc1 {the bishop currently has no future on the long diagonal. White can now think about further supporting a g4-g5 advance.} Ne6 20. Ng3 Nd7 {pre-emptively getting away from a pawn attack and opening up the Be7 on the diagonal.} 21. h4 {White's plan is very clear by now, to expand with all available pawns and pieces on the kingside.} c5 {not a bad move, but real counterplay on the queenside is far away, with all the action on the kingside.} (21... f6 $5 {would directly counter White's plan.}) 22. Bh3 Nf4 23. Qf1 {White at this point would be fine with a minor piece exchange on h3, thereby putting the queen on a more effective square.} (23. Bxf4 $5 {exchanging the bad bishop for good knight looks like a good deal for White.}) 23... b5 {continuing the idea of queenside counterplay through pawn advancement.} 24. Nf5 Bf8 (24... Nxh3+ 25. Qxh3 Bf8 {the engine evaluates as an improved version of the idea for Black.}) 25. g5 {this appears premature, as Black could lock things up and then proceed on the queenside.} h5 (25... Nxh3+ 26. Qxh3 h5) 26. Ng3 (26. Bxf4 $11 {is still best here, exchanging off the bad bishop.}) 26... Nxh3+ $1 {now Black goes for this idea, with admittedly more impact than it might have had before.} 27. Qxh3 c4 28. Qf1 cxb3 29. cxb3 Qc3 $17 30. Bd2 {otherwise Black comes in with ...Nc5.} Qxb3 31. Reb1 Qa4 {Black is now a full pawn up with no compensation for White. The 2-1 connected queenside majority is Black's potential winning formula.} 32. Ne1 {Other moves would have been more active, such as Bb4 or Qe2.} Nc5 $19 {Black has mobilized her pieces and looks ready to press forward on the queenside.} 33. Rb4 Qa6 34. Qe2 Rb8 {this overprotects the b-pawn, but allows White's next.} (34... Na4 $1 {is recommended by the engine, gaining a tempo on the Rb4 and offering up the h-pawn as a sacrifice with powerful compensation.} 35. Rb3 Rc8 {and now} 36. Nxh5 {is answered by the dynamic} Nc3 $19 {and White has no good choices:} 37. Qf3 (37. Bxc3 Bxh5 38. Qxh5 dxc3) 37... Bxh5 38. Qxh5 b4) 35. Nxh5 Qe6 (35... Bxh5 {why not exchange off the bad bishop?} 36. Qxh5 Qe6 $17) 36. Rab1 (36. Ng3 $5 {to preserve the knight / prevent the exchange.}) 36... Bxh5 37. Qxh5 Qh3 $6 {exchanging Black's b-pawn for White's d-pawn at first does not look like a bad idea...} (37... a6 $17 {is simple but effective.}) 38. Rxb5 Rxb5 39. Rxb5 Nxd3 40. Rb3 $11 {this now causes Black problems, however.} g6 41. Qe2 Nc1 {a creative solution to the pin, which is tactically broken.} 42. Rxh3 Nxe2+ 43. Kf1 Nf4 44. Rb3 {This is evaluated by the engine as equal, perhaps with a slight advantage to White. Clearly not what Black was looking for earlier. The protected passed d-pawn looks strong, but White has an effective blockade and her pieces will be active enough to fend off any threats.} Ne6 45. Nd3 Nc5 46. Nxc5 Bxc5 47. Ke2 (47. a4 $5 {becomes an idea, to free up White's rook and gain space.}) 47... Kg7 48. Kf3 (48. Kd3 {also looks solid.}) 48... Re6 49. Rb5 Rc6 (49... Bxa3 50. Ra5 {followed by Rxa7}) 50. Bb4 Bxb4 51. axb4 {this is now a drawn rook ending, although Black evidently still wants to try for a win.} Re6 52. Ke2 Re7 53. Rd5 Rb7 54. Rxe5 Rxb4 55. f4 Rb3 56. Kf2 Re3 57. Re7 Kf8 58. Rxa7 {eliminating the outside passed pawn and simplifying the draw.} Rxe4 59. Kf3 Re3+ 60. Kg4 {now White just needs to get her rook behind the d-pawn.} Re1 61. Rd7 Rd1 62. Kf3 d3 63. Ke3 Re1+ 64. Kf2 Re2+ 65. Kf3 Rd2 66. Ke3 Rh2 67. Kxd3 Rxh4 68. Ke4 {there's no point in continuing now, but the game is played out.} Rh1 69. Ra7 Re1+ 70. Kf3 Rf1+ 71. Ke4 Re1+ 72. Kf3 Rf1+ 73. Ke4 Re1+ 1/2-1/2

29 October 2023

Article: "Bridging the Gaps of Competency"

"Bridging the Gaps of Competency" is an insightful look at the mastery process over at Medium.com, by Sean Kernan. Some points and themes have been mentioned here before, including how plateauing works. It's a member-only story, but here are a couple of the most relevant quotes from the article, including a chess reference; the "spectrum" mentioned below is the four stages of competence.

I remind students that, regardless of if we are talking about art, coding, pottery, or any skill, change isn’t linear. It’s completely normal to be stuck at a certain level of competency, and then abruptly level up.  It’s like that moment you suddenly realize how to solve a math problem. It all falls into place.


A good teacher is effective at diagnosing where you are on this spectrum. They may not use these labels, but they can intuitively know and help specify where to make changes. They’ll also demonstrate unconscious competence. They’ll show you, in some tangible or visual way, what the skill should look like in its finished form. Don’t assume you need a grandmaster to teach you. In fact, your best bet might be someone who is a stage or two better.

For example, if you are stuck at stage 1 (unconscious incompetence), someone at stage 2 or 3 may have immediate memory of how they got to the next stage. In other words, don’t conflate ability with ability-to-teach. In chess, for example, a grandmaster may have an encyclopedic knowledge of openings and endgames but no patience for beginner mistakes...


You show me someone with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a fighting spirit, and I’ll show you someone who is on the road to mastery. 

28 October 2023

Video completed: The Stonewall Attack in 60 Minutes


I recently completed the video "The Stonewall Attack in 60 Minutes" by IM Andrew Martin, part of the ChessBase series of 60-minute videos on openings. I would generally agree with the comment in the post on The Stonewall Attack, in that the opening analysis is "frivolous" but the example games provided are all useful. Here's a screenshot of the table of contents:

As someone who has studied many (perhaps most) of the Stonewall Attack opening resources available, I would say that the video content could actually be a good starting point for study of the opening, just diving in with some familiarization on key setups and ideas. Personally I found it quite useful in also fleshing out my thinking about the different types of opening setups reached, since Martin provides clear (if brief) explanations about things like piece placement and certain opening ideas. Specifically:

  • Martin gives pride of place to what he calls the "kingside smash" that you can reach as a White player if Black tries standard "solid" moves, reaching a true Stonewall Attack formation. Seeing several examples of these, involving both higher and lower-rated players, helped reinforce typical plans, how to place your pieces effectively, and how to take advantage of normal-looking moves by Black that are actually quite weak.
  • The seminal game Rubinstein-Reti (1908) is a fine illustration of how White can keep going with an attack, even with the recommended defense for Black of 4...Nb4 and exchanging the light-square bishop.
  • Martin presents two games each in the King's Indian / Gruenfeld Defense setups by Black, which feature the idea of an early b2-b4 by White and rapid queenside expansion as the best plan.
  • I appreciated the inclusion of a game with Black playing ...Bg4, which in practical terms has given me the most trouble. White however still has a straightforward way of dealing with this after playing Qe1.
The relatively short format of the video did not feel like a constraint and in fact helped encourage me to re-review the game presentations, since they ranged from around 5-9 minutes apiece. So I will count it as a worthy addition to my Stonewall Attack resources.

24 October 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 11 (Cervantes Landeiro - Eswaran)

This next interesting game features the recently-named Keymer Variation (1. Nf3 d5 2. e3) which like the previous commentary game's setup has various transpositional possibilities, but also some unique characteristics. White ends up in a reversed Dutch position in which Black is doing fine and probably has a small advantage in the first part of the middlegame. White's masterful strategy of liquidating her center, freeing her pieces, then challenging Black's central control works very well, however, putting Black under strain and soon leading to a quick reversal of fortune.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.17"] [Round "11"] [White "Cervantes Landeiro, Thalia"] [Black "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "2272"] [BlackElo "2365"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "85"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 {this is now known as the Keymer Variation and flexibly can lead to various setups.} Nf6 3. b3 {getting into Nimzo-Larsen territory...sort of.} Bf5 {heading for a reverse London setup, although technically this way of development for Black was advocated by Lasker a long time before the London became popular.} 4. Bb2 e6 5. Be2 {White has nowhere else useful to put the bishop, so an easy choice.} h6 6. O-O Bd6 7. Ne5 {c4 is most commonly played here, but has a dismal result in the database (24 percent). The text move leads to an interesting reverse Dutch setup.} O-O 8. f4 Nbd7 9. d3 {White prudently first takes control of e4 in a reverse Classical Dutch arrangement.} Bh7 {getting the bishop out of the potential future line of fire, for example with e4 or g4 pawn advances.} 10. Nd2 Bc5 {targeting the weak e3 square, so White's next is logical.} 11. d4 Be7 12. Bd3 {now White has a position very similar to the Colle-Zukertort (without a pawn on a3) or the Stonewall (without a pawn on c3).} c5 13. Qf3 {e2 is normally a better square for the queen. On f3 it blocks both the knights and the Rf1 from potentially using the square.} Qa5 {hitting the now-undefended Nd2, another drawback of the previous move.} 14. Rad1 Bxd3 (14... Qxa2 {is possible but no more advantageous for Black.} 15. Bxh7+ Kxh7 16. Nd3 {protecting the Bb2 and now threatening to trap the queen.} Qa5 17. g4 $11 {and White has compensation in kingside space and pressure for the a-pawn.}) 15. Nxd3 Rac8 {of course ...Qxa2?? is no longer possible, due to Ra1 trapping the queen.} 16. dxc5 {White makes a good choice to liquidate her center, which also frees up the long diagonal for the Bb2.} Bxc5 17. Nxc5 (17. c4 $5 {immediately also looks good.}) 17... Rxc5 18. c4 {finally challenging Black directly in the center.} b5 {this feels a little artificial, and White is able to respond effectively.} (18... Qxa2 {is now possible again, with similar ideas as in the above variation.} 19. Bd4 Rc7 20. cxd5 exd5 21. g4 $11) 19. a3 {with the obvious threat of the b4 pawn fork.} Rc6 (19... b4 $6 {would physically prevent White from gaining more space, but White's structure is better after} 20. a4 $16 {and ideas of e4, g4 and Bd4 coming into play.}) 20. b4 Qa4 {although this sidelines Black's queen, it is surprisingly the only move which maintains equality.} 21. cxd5 exd5 {best, but now Black's central pawn is isolated.} (21... Nxd5 $6 22. e4 $1 $16 {and White now dominates the center, with strong prospects for a kingside attack.}) 22. e4 Qc2 {the point behind Black's 20th move, allowing the queen to strive for counterplay deep in White's position. Both the Bb2 and e4 are targeted.} 23. exd5 {liquidating the threat to the pawn with gain of tempo on the rook.} Rd6 {necessary to regain the pawn. The engine evaluation is equal, but it's clear that White has the easier game.} 24. Bxf6 Nxf6 25. Nb3 {eyeing the c5 and d4 squares next.} Re8 $2 {too ambitious, given White's next move. A number of other moves were fine here, including ...Qe4 or doubling rooks on the d-file.} 26. Nd4 $1 {now this permanently wins White a pawn with the fork on b5, or after Black's next allows for even stronger posting of the knight.} Qc4 $6 27. Nf5 {forking the Rd6 and g7, which after Qg3 is a major problem for Black. Eswaran opts to lose the exchange instead.} Rxd5 28. Ne3 Rxe3 29. Qxe3 $18 {Black has no compensation for the lost material and White's pieces are placed excellently.} a6 30. Rxd5 {following the rule to simplify down when winning.} Qxd5 31. h3 {safety first, evidently White was thinking, creating another square for her king.} Ne4 32. f5 {clearing the f4 square and threatening to advance further once the knight leaves e4.} (32. Kh2 $5 {tucking the king away and guarding g3 again.}) 32... Nf6 {physically blocking the f-pawn, with nothing really better.} 33. Qf3 Qd4+ 34. Kh2 Ne4 {Black seems to be out of ideas, so White logically pins the knight against the queen.} 35. Qf4 Qd5 {breaking the pin, but lacking anything else to do.} 36. Rc1 (36. Re1 $5 {looking to go to the 7th rank is another good alternative.}) 36... Nd6 {Black's pieces are too exposed to the Q+R combo, but she refuses to give up just yet.} 37. Rc5 Qd3 38. f6 {with the assault on the king position on top of everything else, the position is now resignable for Black.} g5 39. Qe5 g4 40. hxg4 {winning with calmness.} Qe4 41. Qxd6 Kh7 42. Rc8 Qxg4 43. Qd3+ 1-0

22 October 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 9 (Tokhirjonova - Lee)

I was hoping to wrap up my examination of the 2022 U.S. Women's Championship before this year's finished, but have not been quick enough. I even went backwards with this game, looking at the round 9 win by Tokhirjonova over Megan Lee after analyzing a round 10 game, because of the interesting opening structure. The formation of a fianchettoed kingside bishop plus Nf3 and d4 used to be more common for White in the opening, and appears to be making something of a comeback. This is one of those openings that can transpose easily to a Reti, Queen's Gambit or Catalan, but does not have to.

Here the game follows an independent course, with Black varying the symmetry early with 5...Ne4!? and White choosing to make a real gambit out of it. This provides an excellent lesson in that sometimes nebulous concept of "compensation" - White has an advantage in both structure and development/time, but fritters that away by move 20. Nevertheless, she still has an equal position despite being a pawn down, with her two bishops being very effective. She then correctly chooses to focus on a kingside attack, which Black mishandles and cannot recover. Tactics were key to this for White, especially 35. Bc6! which perhaps Black missed, and sealed the game for White.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Tokhirjonova, Gulrukhbegim"] [Black "Lee, Megan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2336"] [BlackElo "2226"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] {[%evp 0,111,19,29,23,-8,32,23,12,4,10,4,28,29,42,14,16,11,15,29,37,35,44,39,67,36,19,0,62,60,63,71,91,83,83,16,37,18,3,0,0,0,-32,-2,0,0,0,0,-36,-51,0,-23,-54,-56,-60,-39,10,20,-1,21,115,41,56,55,141,91,114,117,163,164,198,190,277,291,291,306,306,316,397,503,500,323,325,319,332,325,339,336,333,340,360,360,378,395,404,405,402,412,420,415,429,439,456,460,501,509,601,613,670,697,725,808,943,1016]} 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. d4 {this now brings the opening out of the Reti realm.} Nf6 5. O-O {White has staked out a presence in the center with d4, but waits before committing further with c4.} Ne4 $5 {this is a very rare idea and seems premature. In a symmetrical opening setup, the Black player moving the same piece twice will by definition lose time, so needs to have a specific follow-up idea that makes it worthwhile. Here there do not seem to be enough threats generated by the move to compensate for the time loss.} 6. c4 {scored by Dragon 3.2 as best. White in this position can still use typical Queen's Gambit ideas to undermine Black's center.} c6 (6... dxc4 7. Qa4+ c6 8. Qxc4 $14) 7. Nc3 {There are various good options here, with b3 being played almost exclusively in the database games. Here White instead looks to exchange off the time-wasting Black knight and thereby increase her relative development.} Nxc3 (7... O-O 8. Qb3 $14) 8. bxc3 dxc4 {now White has a true gambit, however with more than sufficient compensation for the pawn in terms of development and structure, including better central control.} 9. e4 {White plays straightforwardly for the center.} (9. a4 {would be a more prophylactic move, restricting ...b5.}) 9... Bg4 $6 {here with h3 White could either force a trade of minor pieces, thereby winning the two bishops, or a bishop retreat, gaining additional time. White's next move instead maintains the tension in the center.} 10. Qe2 $14 {also threatening to take on c4, spurring Black's next.} b5 11. a4 {looking to disrupt the pawn formation.} O-O 12. axb5 {this was perhaps premature, with e5 and h3 being other ideas.} (12. e5 $5 {and now Qe4 is possible immediately after a pawn exchange on b5.}) 12... cxb5 13. e5 a5 $6 {this allows White's next.} (13... Nd7 {now the Ra8 is protected.} 14. Qe4 Bf5 $11) 14. Qe4 $1 {now the exchange on f3 is forced, due to the fork of rook and bishop.} Bxf3 15. Bxf3 Ra6 {Black is still a pawn up, but is behind in development and space and her pieces are not working together at all.} 16. Ba3 $16 {White's two bishops are now very well placed.} Nc6 17. Bc5 (17. Rfb1 {would more directly target Black's weaknesses, as the pawn cannot be effectively protected. The general rule with hanging pawns is to hit them with everything you have.} Qb8 (17... Qd7 {would indirectly protect the b-pawn, as the Nc6 could then move with a discovered attack on b5 by the queen, but this fails after} 18. Qd5 Qxd5 19. Bxd5 Rb8 20. Bxc6 Rxc6 21. Bxe7 $16) 18. Be2 $16 {threatening Bxc4 due to the pin on the b-file.}) 17... Qc7 {getting out of the way of the Rf8.} 18. Qe3 {recognizing the Q+B battery on the long diagonal is no longer effective and readjusting the queen's position, with more flexibility.} Rb8 19. Rfb1 {this poses no threat to the b-pawn now, as opposed to the position on on move 17.} Nd8 $11 {having stabilized the position, Black redeploys the knight to a better square.} 20. Bd5 {perhaps played with the idea of restraining the ...b4 advance. However, the bishop is a little awkwardly placed here and Black can continue with her knight maneuver.} Ne6 21. Ba3 {White's two bishops are still enough to compensate for the pawn deficit, by helping keep a space advantage and pressure on Black's position, but need to be preserved.} (21. Bxe6 $6 Rxe6 $17 {and now Black is essentially a pawn up for nothing.}) 21... Qd8 {targeting the hanging Bd5 while still covering e7.} 22. Be4 (22. Qf3 {immediately looks better, saving time on the bishop retreat and keeping it on a better diagonal. And if} Nc7 $4 23. Qxf7+ $18) 22... Nc7 {reinforcing b5 and protecting the Ra6, thereby giving the knight useful work to do. Now the b-pawn can advance.} 23. Bc5 {getting out of the way of the b-pawn and to a better diagonal again.} e6 {avoiding a repetition with ...Ne6.} 24. Qf3 Qc8 {Black apparently is now interested in mobilizing her queenside majority and overprotects the Ra6, so that the Nc7 is again mobile.} 25. h4 {White now plays on the kingside, where Black is weaker and White's two bishops and queen are well-positioned. An h-pawn advance against a fianchettoed bishop position is a standard theme, especially when there is no knight protecting it.} Bf8 {looking to exchange off one of the bishop pair.} 26. h5 {White persists with her idea of assaulting the kingside pawn shield.} Bxc5 27. dxc5 {White's queenside pawn structure is shattered, but the increased kingside attacking potential is sufficient compensation.} Ne8 $2 {the general idea of swinging the knight back to the defense is principled, but this avenue does not work.} (27... Nd5 $1 $11) 28. c6 $18 {White chooses to keep the pawn by advancing it into protection; despite being behind Black's lines, it cannot effectively be targeted.} (28. hxg6 {immediately was also possible.}) 28... Qc7 {pressuring the e5 pawn, without which White has no attack.} 29. Qf4 {consolidating the advantage by guarding the pawn and positioning the queen to penetrate on the dark squares. The rook lift threat Rb1-d1-d7 is now quite powerful, given the weakness of f7; meanwhile, Black still has to blockade the c-pawn.} Ng7 30. hxg6 (30. h6 $1 {is also possible as the knight is driven away, with White's pressure resulting in material gain. For example} Nh5 (30... Ne8 31. Rd1 Rd8 32. Qg5 $18) 31. Qg5 Ra7 32. Rd1 Qe7 33. Qxe7 Rxe7 34. Rxa5 $18) 30... fxg6 {this is marginally better than recapturing with the h-pawn, which would open the less defensible h-file.} 31. Rd1 {from this point on, Black desperately tries to fend off White's threats, but this is not possible.} Rd8 32. Qg5 Raa8 {exchanging rooks would simple give White ownership of the d-file.} 33. Rd7 {White's rook is still able to move decisively to the 7th rank, however.} Rxd7 34. cxd7 Rd8 35. Bc6 $1 {White had to find this tactical finesse, with a decoy / removal of the guard theme. Black cannot leave d8 unprotected.} Rxd7 {Black chooses to get rid of the advanced passed pawn and simplify into a (still-losing) rook vs. minor piece endgame. However her pawns are too weak and the knight is outmatched by White's rook.} 36. Bxd7 Qxd7 37. Rxa5 Qd1+ 38. Kh2 Qd5 39. Ra7 {again a rook on the 7th rank dominates.} Qf3 40. Qd8+ Qf8 41. Qxf8+ Kxf8 42. Rb7 Nf5 43. Rxb5 {this is now resignable for Black, but she plays on, perhaps in the hopes of White stumbling into a knight fork at some point.} Ne7 44. Rc5 Nd5 45. Rxc4 Ke7 46. Rc6 Kd7 47. Rd6+ Ke7 48. c4 Nc3 49. Ra6 Kd7 50. Ra7+ Kc6 51. Rxh7 {now all White has to do is snatch Black pawns and end up in a winning K+P endgame structure, exchanging the rook for knight when that happens.} Ne4 52. f4 g5 53. Re7 gxf4 54. gxf4 Kc5 55. Rxe6 Kxc4 56. Rd6 {now the e-pawn can just run in, as Black's king is cut off and the knight cannot take the rook without the pawn queening.} 1-0

01 October 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 10 (Foisor - Yan)

I've been both pleased and intrigued to see the variety of openings played at the various U.S. Championships and examined on the blog. Here we have a noble try at a Colle-Zukertort System, courtesy of WGM Sabina Foisor, which is something of a cult favorite among club players. Her opponent FM Ruiyang Yan knows the main line for Black and ends up with a comfortable middlegame position, with White's attempt at an attacking setup banished. However, there are some tricky tactical possibilities that White passed up that are worth examining. The main conflict occurs after Black wins a pawn and then White sacrifices the exchange in an apparent attempt to avoid a tortured losing endgame. White's play is eventually justified, once again proving the "all rook endgames are drawn" chess saying.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.15"] [Round "10"] [White "Foisor, Sabina-Francesca"] [Black "Yan, Ruiyang"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D05"] [WhiteElo "2203"] [BlackElo "2220"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "161"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. e3 d5 4. Bd3 c5 5. b3 {the Colle-Zukertort system.} Nc6 6. O-O Bd6 7. Bb2 {the classic move. Interestingly, Bb5 is now much more popular.} O-O 8. a3 {keeping the Black knight out of b4. However, this is slow and scores worse in the database than Bb5 (again) or developing immediately with Nbd2.} b6 {Black has to prepare the development of her light-square bishop.} 9. Nbd2 Bb7 10. Ne5 {the classic idea, posting up the knight on e5 and then gaining space on the kingside for an attack. White would welcome an exchange on e5, gaining space and kicking the Nf6 away with an occupying pawn.} Ne7 {this move does multiple things, increasing Black's control of e4 by getting out of the way of the Bb7, and preparing to go to f5 later.} 11. f4 {we now have a very Stonewall-like structure for White, with the difference of a pawn on a3 instead of c3.} Ne4 {for similar reasons as above, Black would welcome an exchange of the knight on e4.} 12. Qe2 {normally the best place for the queen, protecting the weak e3 pawn, forming a battery on the f1-a6 diagonal, connecting the rooks, and giving the option later of perhaps moving along the 2nd rank.} Rc8 {Black now has a classically solid position, with an obvious plan of expanding on the queenside and down the c-file.} 13. dxc5 {this scores well practically, but only if Black does not take with the knight.} (13. Nec4 $5 {is a tactical trick that results in equality, which is probably not what White wants in the first place, however. The main point is} dxc4 14. Bxe4 Bxe4 15. Nxe4 $11) 13... Bxc5 {this lets White off the hook.} (13... Nxc5 $17 {followed by ...Nxd3 exchanges off a key attacking piece for White and leaves Black with the most play.}) 14. b4 $11 {this now gains White both some space and time, by kicking the bishop.} Bd6 15. Nb3 {it's unclear why White chose this, as the b3 square has no advantage to it.} (15. Ndf3 {would be more standard.} Nf5 (15... f6 $6 {here has a tactical drawback, which is} 16. Nd4 $1 $14) 16. g4 {would be the standard reaction.}) 15... Nf5 16. Nd4 (16. g4 {here is not as good, with ...Nh4 now possible, among other responses.}) 16... Nxd4 17. Bxd4 f6 {a standard resource when fighting a Stonewall, as the f-pawn advance cannot be taken advantage of now.} 18. Nf3 Qc7 19. Bb2 $11 {proactively withdrawing, so that the pawn advance ...e5 would not come with tempo. By this point, White's attempt at an attacking setup has been rebuffed, but Black is unable to target any weak points either.} a5 20. Nd4 {targeting the now-weak e6 square.} Qd7 {perhaps not the best square for the queen, as it can become a target here.} 21. Rf3 {this is over-ambitious and also misses an opportunity to complicate Black's life with an f-pawn advance.} (21. f5 $5 e5 (21... exf5 22. Nxf5 $16 {White's kingside attacking chances are now revived, plus White has the prospect of picking up the two bishops.}) 22. Ne6 {the knight does look a little precarious here, but it should be all right:} Rfe8 23. Rad1 {creating tactics against the queen along the d-file} axb4 24. axb4 Qe7 25. Bxe4 dxe4 26. g4 $11) 21... axb4 {Black seizes the opportunity to win a pawn, without White having full compensation.} 22. axb4 Bxb4 23. Bb5 Qf7 $17 {White now has a bit of initiative on the kingside, but not much else for the pawn.} 24. f5 {now this comes with Black in better shape on both the queenside and kingside, than on move 21.} exf5 25. Nxf5 Kh8 {not necessary, but prudent nonetheless to get off the a2-g8 diagonal.} 26. Rh3 (26. Bd3 $5 {would move the bishop back to a more significant diagonal, where it could assist in the center or the kingside. The text move looks aggressive but is not a threat.}) 26... Rc7 {this subtle move clears c8 for the bishop, which now sees the Nf5 and Rh3 lined up on the diagonal.} 27. Rf1 Bc8 28. Bd3 {again, a good idea applied late.} Bc3 $6 {this preserves Black's existing advantage, but is a good idea played too early.} (28... g6 $1 29. Nh6 Qe7 30. Rh4 Bc3 31. Bxc3 Rxc3 $19 {and Black has a dominating position in the center.}) 29. Bxc3 Rxc3 30. Rh4 Bxf5 31. Rxf5 g6 {in contrast with the above variation, Black's pieces are more constrained and the strong light-square bishop is gone.} 32. Rxd5 $6 {White chooses to sacrifice the exchange, perhaps seeing a dull endgame squeeze in her future.} (32. Bxe4 dxe4 33. Rf2 $17 {with a depressing endgame.}) 32... Qxd5 33. Bxe4 Qg5 34. Rh3 $19 {the two Black rooks should triumph here, given the wide-open board and two weak White pawns to target on open files.} f5 35. Qd2 Qf6 36. Bd3 Ra3 (36... Rfc8 $5 {would seem to be the natural follow-up to ...f5, as the f-pawn no longer needs the extra piece support.}) 37. Qb4 Ra1+ 38. Kf2 Ra5 39. Rf3 Rc5 {Black is exclusively moving this rook around, which can't be good. White starts to take advantage of this.} 40. g4 {using the pin on the Qf6.} Qd6 41. Qb2+ Kg8 42. gxf5 {while this is still bad for White, she is at least successfully opening lines against Black's king.} Qxh2+ 43. Kf1 Qh1+ 44. Ke2 Qg2+ 45. Rf2 Qc6 46. Qa2+ Kg7 47. Qa1+ Qf6 48. Qa7+ Rf7 {putting an end to the queen harassment.} 49. Qb8 Rfc7 50. Kf1 {getting out of the way of the Rf2} g5 {this is still good for Black and prevents further opening of files, but will allow White some counterplay in the center.} 51. e4 Re7 52. Kg2 {correctly moving the king towards blocking Black's pawns.} Rce5 53. Rf1 Rxe4 {attempting to give back material and simplify into a more clearly won endgame.} (53... h5 $1 {is also a good idea, as passed pawns must be pushed! White has successfully established a static center based on the light-square pawn chain, but Black can mobilized her two connected passed pawns and still win.}) 54. Bxe4 Rxe4 {now we will get to see how the "all rook endings are drawn" saying applies in practice.} 55. Qb7+ Re7 56. Qf3 Rc7 {so far so good for Black.} 57. Qd3 Qc6+ {Black is still OK, but now the f-pawn is potentially mobile for White.} (57... Rc3 $1) 58. Kg1 Rd7 $6 {Black evidently missed White's f-pawn thrust.} 59. f6+ $1 $11 {the game is now a draw with best play, according to the engine. Black's king is too exposed and the advanced f-pawn too much of a threat for Black to make progress.} Kf8 60. Qg3 $2 (60. Qh3 $5 {this is more restrictive, threatening the Rd7 and to penetrate on the h-file.} Qc5+ 61. Kh1 $11) 60... Qc5+ {Black can now win again.} 61. Rf2 $2 {inviting Black's next.} Rd1+ 62. Kh2 Qd6 63. Qxd6+ Rxd6 {we now go back to the "all rook endings are drawn" line.} 64. f7 Rc6 65. Kg1 h5 {correctly mobilizing her passed pawn majority.} 66. Rf5 Rxc2 $2 {incorrectly allowing White's rook too much scope.} (66... Rc5 $1 $19 {it's much more important to preserve the two connected passed pawns.}) 67. Rxg5 Rc5 68. Rg6 {the only move. Now if the f- and b-pawns are exchanged off, the rook pawn cannot win for Black. This fact drives the next sequence.} b5 69. Rf6 b4 70. Rb6 Rc4 71. Rb7 Rf4 72. Kg2 {the draw is now apparent, with White's rook in a commanding position behind the b-pawn.} h4 73. Kh2 Kg7 74. Kg2 Rc4 75. Kh2 Rf4 76. Kg2 b3 77. Rxb3 Kxf7 78. Rf3 h3+ 79. Rxh3 Rf6 80. Rf3 Rxf3 81. Kxf3 1/2-1/2

30 September 2023

Training quote of the day #46: Victor Korchnoi

  From the commentary to game 69 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

I was always on excellent terms with David Bronstein...But as regards our individual meetings at the chess board, here he performed like a strict teacher. He liked to show and to demonstrate to me, that my understanding of chess was primitive and static, and that I underestimated the dynamics of the game...But in order to enjoy success at the chess board, an understanding of the game alone is not enough. You must have health, energy, and a balanced nervous system, in order to be confident, but at the same time to maintain your objectivity about what is happening on the board. 

28 September 2023

FT's "How To Spend It" - Master chess style in 23 moves

The Financial Times' HTSI ("How To Spend It") magazine just published a chess-themed style rundown, with the subheading of "Monochrome pieces to unlock your inner pawn star". As you might guess, it's a presentation of black-and-white styles, where chessboard patterns may (or may not) be identifiable as a theme. My favorite item is probaby the Mother The Insider jeans, which at least have a legit motif. At least the article leads with a photo of Bob Dylan playing chess at Woodstock. For art's sake, here's another one from the same series, at what appears to be an earlier point in the game.

25 September 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 9 (Eswaran - Yu)

This round 9 game features the recently-rehabilitated Tartakower Variation of the Caro-Kann, which is now considered a fully-valid and solid reply by Black to the main line (3. Nc3). FM Jennifer Yu as Black plays an unusual sideline (6...Bf5) which turns out well for her, however, as she gets a favorably imbalanced queenless middlegame. This one is proof that danger still exists without the queens on the board.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.14"] [Round "9"] [White "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Black "Yu, Jennifer"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B15"] [WhiteElo "2365"] [BlackElo "2297"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin / Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "112"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ exf6 {the Tartakower variation, which has been rehabilitated in the last few years.} 6. c3 {by far the most played here. White shores up d4 before further development, but can afford the time to do so.} Bf5 {although this is the second most-played move in the database, it is far below ...Bd6 in popularity.} (6... Bd6 7. Bd3 O-O 8. Qc2 Re8+ 9. Ne2 h5 {is the line that is most responsible for reviving the variation.}) 7. Bc4 {this placement of the bishop, while aggressive-looking, is usually not a threat to Black in the Caro-Kann. In this variation, White does not have a knight developed yet and both g5 and e5 - normally good possibilities for an outpost - are covered by the doubled f-pawn, which therefore proves useful.} Bd6 8. Qe2+ {White signals a willingness to enter a queenless middlegame here, as Black's next move is clearly best.} Qe7 9. Nf3 Nd7 {Black is willing to maintain the tension and see where White takes things.} 10. Qxe7+ Kxe7 $5 {Black's intent is to "castle by hand", choosing to maintain the bishop on the move advantageous b8-h2 diagonal.} 11. O-O Rhe8 12. Nh4 Be6 {naturally an exchange on e6 would un-double Black's pawns, a good outcome.} 13. Bd3 g6 {Black now has a very solid pawn lineup on the 6th rank and White has no real weaknesses to target.} 14. Re1 Kf8 $11 15. c4 {gaining a bit of space and bringing up the future possibility of d4-d5. However, this goes against the original idea of playing c2-c3, which was to keep d4 from becoming a Black target. This is now exactly what happens.} Rad8 {Black does not have any major weaknesses to target either, but centralizing the rook and putting it opposite the currently undefended d-pawn is a good idea in general.} 16. Bd2 {while not bad, this development of the bishop is a little slow and without much point to it. Bringing the knight back from its exile on h4 might make more sense.} Be7 {clearing one piece from the d-file, in front of the Rd8.} 17. Ba5 Nb6 {now the knight is actually doing something useful, and of course an exchange on b6 would be both materially and positionally desirable for Black.} 18. Nf3 (18. Bxb6 axb6 19. Nf3 {and Black can choose between ...f5, ...Bc5 or ...Bg4 to win a pawn.}) 18... Rd7 {clearing d8 to double rooks, as well as getting out of the pin.} 19. b3 {c4 must be protected now that the Nb6 is "alive" again.} Bg4 {The correct positional idea. White's bishop is very limited, so exchange it for White's more flexible knight, which is also a key defender of d4.} 20. Bc3 {covering the d-pawn.} Bxf3 21. gxf3 $15 {White's kingside structure is now ugly enough to warrant giving Black a slight plus.} Red8 {doubling rooks, per the idea on move 18.} 22. b4 $2 {whoops! White loses patience and advances another pawn prematurely.} (22. Rad1 {would activate the other rook and prepare to reinforce the d-file.}) 22... Na4 {This would seem to be the obvious response, driving away the bishop from the defense of the d-pawn, after which Black can scoop it up.} 23. Rxe7 $2 (23. Bd2 Rxd4 24. Bh6+ Ke8 25. Bf1 {it's possible that Eswaran calcuated this out and just saw a torturous endgame loss in her future, so she decided to try and complicate things at the board.}) 23... Rxe7 24. Be1 Rxd4 $19 25. Bf1 {It's hard to see any hope for White here, as the two bishops simply cannot match up against the two rooks. White can however use the power of the two bishops to hold off her opponent for a while.} Kg7 {a safe move, defending the otherwise hanging f-pawn. This also helps prepare the withdrawal of the Na4, which is currently preventing Bc3.} 26. Rb1 Nb6 27. Rc1 Nd7 {it takes a while to reposition the knight, but White cannot do anything substantial in the meantime.} 28. Bc3 Rf4 29. Kg2 Ne5 30. Be2 g5 31. Bd2 Ng6 $1 {these kinds of moves help distinguish masters from other players, who might simply reflexively move the rook away. Here, Yu gets more from the position.} 32. Be3 (32. Bxf4 $2 Nxf4+ 33. Kf1 Rxe2) 32... Rh4 {Black could still ignore the capture on f4, but Yu has something different in mind, wanting to create pressure down the h-file.} 33. Bf1 {now Bxa7 is threatened, with the bishop no longer hanging.} b6 34. Rd1 Rh6 (34... Ne5 $5 {is a more normal-looking move that improves the knight's range, threatening c4 as well.}) 35. Kg3 Nh4 {a strong move that takes advantage of the White king's advance, cutting off its retreat to g2 while pressuring f3 and threatening ...Nf5.} 36. Bh3 {this allows the following tactic} Nxf3 {the Bh3 hangs if the king recaptures on f3.} 37. a4 Rh4 {the rook reactivates itself to great effect. It's unclear why White continues on at this point, although the idea of a queenside pawn advance supported by her bishops perhaps looked like a desperate possibility.} 38. c5 Ne5 (38... bxc5 {might be more straightforward, as after} 39. Bxc5 Re1 40. Rxe1 Nxe1 41. Bxa7 Rxb4 {and Black is winning.}) 39. Bd4 Re8 {this subtle move will allow the rook to go to the d-file in some variations.} 40. b5 {still hoping for a breakthrough.} cxb5 {this is certainly good enough to win.} (40... Rd8 $1 {is actually an excellent idea, pinning the bishop and a natural follow-up to the previous move.}) 41. axb5 bxc5 42. Bxc5 Rc4 43. Be3 Rb4 {White's queenside ambitions are no more, but the b-pawn still holds out a sliver of hope.} 44. Bf1 Rg4+ 45. Kh3 h5 (45... f5 {is also possible here, getting some more out of the extra f-pawn.}) 46. Be2 Rh4+ 47. Kg3 Ng4 {cleverly forcing an advantageous trade.} 48. Bxg4 Rxg4+ 49. Kf3 Re7 {a safe move - why rush things?} 50. Rd6 Re5 51. Bd4 Rf4+ 52. Kg2 Rxb5 {now the position is certainly resignable, but Eswaran plays on.} 53. Bxa7 Rg4+ 54. Kh3 Rb3+ 55. Be3 f5 {the extra f-pawn now decides things.} 56. f3 Rh4+ {winning the bishop and the game.} 0-1

26 August 2023

Commentary: 2022 U.S. Women's Championship, Round 7 (Tokhirjonova - Abrahamyan)

In this round 7 game, we see a straight-up Advance French opening, with Abrahamyan defending. Several thematic ideas pop up, including White's early h2-h4 pawn thrust, Black having to decide when to exchange pawns on d4, the 11...f6 pawn break, and the attacking move 22. Ng6!

As can be seen with many games when examined closely, both sides have opportunities and setbacks that are characteristic of the dynamic attack (White) and defend/counterattack (Black) roles in the opening, although Black essentially cannot recover after the 17...Nb4 inaccuracy. That particular move is worth examining in the different variations shown, and is an example of what often occurs in practice - an idea for a move that is good in theory proves not to work, but could have in a different sequence.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.12"] [Round "7"] [White "Tokhirjonova, Gulrukhbegim"] [Black "Abrahamyan, Tatev"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C02"] [WhiteElo "2336"] [BlackElo "2308"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 {the Advance variation.} c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bd7 6. Be2 Nge7 7. Na3 {this looks funny, but is the most played in the database. The knight has to get in the game somehow.} Ng6 (7... cxd4 {immediately is more popular and scores slightly better in the database.}) 8. Nc2 (8. h4 $5 {is an attempt by White to take immediate advantage of the placement of the Ng6.} cxd4 9. cxd4 Be7 10. h5 Nh4 {and Black is all right, however.}) 8... Be7 9. g3 {the point of the move is to support the coming h-pawn thrust.} cxd4 10. cxd4 O-O 11. h4 f6 {a thematic French pawn break; the pawn chain is attacked at its head, the base having been shortened by the exchange on d4.} 12. h5 {the logical continuation of the h-pawn forward thrust.} Nh8 13. Bf4 {White maintains the strong point on e5, at least temporarily.} Nf7 14. Bd3 Rc8 {putting the rook where it belongs in the long-term.} (14... fxe5 $5 {immediately is perhaps better, if Black is going to play it anyway.}) 15. Qe2 {adding another piece to the e5 battle and developing the queen.} fxe5 {Black exchanges and releases the pent-up pressure, to her benefit.} 16. dxe5 Ng5 {reactivating the knight and looking to exchange, which will help further expand the scope of Black's pieces and un-cramp her position.} 17. Nh4 $6 {this goes too far in avoiding minor piece exchanges and puts the knight on the rim.} (17. Nd2 $11 Nb4 18. Nxb4 Bxb4 19. Kf1 {and now there are multiple roads to equality for Black, including ...h6 or exchanging on d2.}) 17... Nb4 $6 {an inaccurate response. The Nb4 idea appears in different variations, for example in the above one, but here White can take advantage of it.} (17... Ne4 $1 {immediately takes advantage of the Nh4's placement, while maintaining the Q+B battery against it.} 18. Nf3 (18. Bxe4 dxe4 19. Qxe4 {this looks like a simple win of material for White, but Black has a number of threats that can now be executed, for example after} Na5 $1 {Black has ...Rc4 and ...Bc6.}) 18... Bc5 19. O-O Rxf4 20. gxf4 Ng3 $17) 18. Nxb4 Bxb4+ 19. Kf1 Ne4 20. Kg2 $1 $16 {this solves White's problems and gives her a plus, as now she can bring over the Ra1 while keeping her other rook on the h-file for attacking purposes.} Bc5 $2 {Black evidently had ideas of targeting f2 similar to that in the above variation, but here the idea essentially loses.} (20... a6 $5 {unfortunately there is not much active that Black can do.}) 21. Raf1 {this simple move essentially seals Black's fate.} Be7 22. Ng6 $1 $18 {a thematic attacking move, as the knight cannot be taken safely.} Rf7 (22... hxg6 23. hxg6 Rf5 {defends the h5 square, but the White queen can still work her way to the h-file after} 24. Qg4 Bg5 25. Qh3 $18) 23. Qg4 {a little hasty - Nxe7 can be played immediately instead - as this leaves some space for counterplay after ...Qb6, although Black would still lose the exchange.} Nc5 (23... Qb6 24. h6 hxg6 25. Qxg6 Qxb2 26. h7+ Kh8 27. Qxf7 Qa3 $16) 24. Nxe7+ {an effective enough follow up.} (24. Bb1 $1 $18 {is pointed out by the engine, preserving the excellent attacking bishop.}) 24... Qxe7 25. Bg6 {the Rf7 must now be exchanged for the bishop.} Bc6 (25... hxg6 $4 26. hxg6 {and the queen then moves decisively to the open h-file.}) 26. Bxf7+ Qxf7 27. Rd1 {the rook is no longer needed to protect f2, so can get into the game via the d-file.} Rf8 {nothing is good for Black at this point, as White has no real weaknesses.} 28. Rd4 Kh8 29. f3 {this isn't necessary, but perhaps White wanted to have the pawn double-protected and block the a8-h1 diagonal her king is on.} Nd7 30. h6 {White gets rolling against the king position again.} g6 31. Re1 {as it is no longer of use on the closed h-file, White correctly redeploys the rook behind the e-pawn.} Qe8 32. Bd2 {now the bishop is free to move to a better diagonal.} Rf5 33. Rf4 {the threat to e5 can be safely ignored, thanks to the threat of a White pin on the long diagonal.} Rh5 (33... Nxe5 34. Rxe5 Rxe5 35. Bc3) (33... Rxe5 34. Rxe5 Nxe5 35. Bc3) 34. Rh1 {White would be happy to trade down, of course, with a material and space advantage and much stronger king position.} Nxe5 {in fact the best try, but everything loses at this point.} 35. Bc3 Kg8 36. Qxh5 {White was forced to find this to maintain her strong winning advantage, but now it's all over.} gxh5 37. Bxe5 1-0

11 August 2023

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

We resume our look at last year's U.S. Women's Championship with a seesaw battle between FM Jennifer Yu and FM Alice Lee. This round 6 game follows Alice Lee's round 3 Slow Slav defense until move 10, when Yu varies as White. While the opening has something of a drawish and balanced image, this game also demonstrates how imbalances between the sides can cause sometimes dramatic shifts in fortune, especially in the endgame.

[Event "U.S. Women's Chess Championship 2022"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2022.10.11"] [Round "6"] [White "Yu, Jennifer"] [Black "Lee, Alice"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2297"] [BlackElo "2263"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "126"] [EventDate "2022.??.??"] [TimeControl "5400+30"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 {the Slow Slav.} Bf5 {for a while ...Bg4 was more popular here, but play seems to have reverted to the standard bishop placement on f5.} 5. Nc3 e6 {the basic point of the Slav Defense, to develop the bishop outside the pawn chain. White will almost always exchange it for the knight, however, figuring the two bishops can't be bad.} 6. Nh4 Be4 {opinions vary between this and the immediate ...Bg6 retreat. Korchnoi in his "best games" collection is of the opinion that f2-f3 is in fact useful for White. Black argues that it is not by playing the text move.} 7. f3 Bg6 8. Qb3 Qc7 9. Bd2 Be7 10. g3 {now White varies from following the round 3 game of Lee, which featured queenside castling.} dxc4 {this is one of the top Dragon 3.2 engine choices, but is relatively little played and scores poorly (25 percent) in the database. Black prefers to dissolve the center and rely on her solid structure to deter White aggression. Meanwhile, White gets a space advantage.} 11. Bxc4 a6 {this seems a bit slow, but with a semi-closed position it does not seem to matter.} (11... b5 $5) 12. a4 Nbd7 {catching up in development.} 13. a5 {preventing ...Nb6.} Nh5 $6 {this forces the Nh4 to commit itself or be exchanged. However, as White would like to do this anyway - the Nh4 is not doing anything else on the rim - this instead appears to misplace Black's knight at the cost of a tempo.} (13... O-O {seems simple and good.}) 14. Nxg6 hxg6 15. Ne4 {the knight was not doing much good on c3.} O-O-O {this seems both very committal by Black and unnecessary.} (15... Nhf6 $5) 16. O-O-O $16 {the engine now awards White a significant plus. Let's see if it materializes on the board...} Nhf6 17. Ng5 {hitting the vulnerable f7 square, which normally would be protected by both rook and king after ...O-O.} Rdf8 {one of the rooks has to protect it.} 18. Bxe6 $6 {hasty execution by White now allows Black to equalize. Other options would maintain White's spatial squeeze.} (18. Kb1) (18. e4) 18... fxe6 $11 19. Nxe6 Qd6 20. Nxf8 Rxf8 {using a standard "points" method of counting material, White is the equivalent of a pawn up. However, in the middlegame two minor pieces are normally better than a rook, and White no longer has a space advantage. Perhaps she was counting on the passed e-pawn for an advantage, but Black's pieces are all active now and White's king is more exposed.} 21. Rhf1 Qd5 22. Qc2 (22. Qxd5 cxd5 {would assist Black in containing the e-pawn, which is White's main threat.}) 22... Bd8 {pressuring the advanced a-pawn.} 23. Qxg6 Bxa5 {the exchange of the doubled g-pawn for the a-pawn would seem to favor Black, although perhaps not so much as to upset the balance.} 24. Kb1 Bxd2 25. Rxd2 Qa5 $15 {taking advantage of the cleared square.} 26. Qd3 Nd5 {centralizing the knight and heading for b4.} 27. e4 {White correctly gets the central pawn roller going. Black now has counterplay with her minor pieces, however.} Nb4 28. Qa3 Qb5 {preserving the queen, as exchanging into an endgame now would give White a winning advantage with her central pawns supported by the rooks. Instead, Black's queen can roam the board.} 29. Rc1 a5 30. Qc3 Qh5 {pressuring the f- and h-pawns.} 31. f4 Re8 32. d5 {forced, otherwise White's central pawns become effectively blockaded and the Black knights can run rampant.} Qg6 (32... Rxe4 $5 33. Qxg7 {Black was probably deterred by the prospect of White's three connected passed pawns appearing on the board, but the strategic logic is the same, with Black needing to rely on active counterplay anyway.} c5 34. Qg8+ Re8 {and White would have to find} 35. g4 (35. Qg7 Qf3 $19 {and the queen penetrates to good effect.}) 35... Rxg8 36. gxh5 Rh8 $15) 33. dxc6 {logically seeking to reduce the pawn shield in front of Black's king, seeking more dynamic play.} (33. f5 {would be a way to preserve the e-pawn, but Black again controls the blockading squares.} Qf7 34. Re2 Re5 $17) 33... Qxe4+ 34. Ka1 $6 (34. Qc2 $1 {is found by the engine but would be hard for a human to come up with over the board. Now if} Nxc2 35. cxd7+ Kd8 36. dxe8=Q+ Kxe8 37. Rcxc2 $11) 34... bxc6 {it looks precarious for Black on the c-file, but the Nb4 cannot be challenged without losting material and it does an excellent job of protecting c6.} 35. Rd4 Qe6 {not the most effective choice.} (35... Qe2 {would leave the squares on the e-file open for the rook, with both e3 and e6 being useful places to go. Dragon 3.2 in fact awards Black a winning advantage.}) 36. Qa3 Kb7 $6 {this lets White off the hook, although it must have been concerning for Black to have her king lined up against the Rc1.} (36... Qe3 {counterattacking the loose Rc1.} 37. Qxe3 Rxe3 {perhaps Black did not like the optics of this endgame, but the rook would be very effective on e2, making threats while the rest of Black's position is held together.}) 37. Qxa5 $11 Nd3 (37... Ra8 $2 38. Rxb4+ $18) 38. f5 (38. Rxd3 $2 {this loses now that} Ra8 {is possible, with no checks by White (b3 is protected by the Black queen).}) 38... Qf7 39. Rxd3 {the next sequence is forced.} Ra8 40. Qxa8+ Kxa8 41. Rxc6 {now a draw appears to be the best outcome for Black, who has to worry about being mated by the two rooks.} Qxf5 42. Rb3 Nc5 43. Rc3 Qf1+ 44. Ka2 Qf7+ 45. Ka3 Ne4 46. Rc1 (46. Rc8+ $5 {would force a drawn but unbalanced endgame.} Kb7 47. R8c7+ Qxc7 48. Rxc7+ Kxc7 49. Kb4 $11 {without the Black pawn on the board this would have been a risk-free try by White. As it stands, perhaps White did not want to risk blundering and losing.}) 46... Nd2 47. Kb4 Kb7 {offering to head into the knight-and-pawns endgame.} 48. R6c3 {White still avoids it, but instead this gives her a chance to go wrong with her exposed king.} Qe7+ 49. Ka4 Qd7+ 50. Ka3 $2 (50. Kb4 $11) 50... Qd6+ (50... Qd4 $1 $19 {White can no longer force the queen trade and her rooks are constrained, while she has to worried about being mated as well. For example} 51. Ka2 (51. h4 Kb6 {Black can bring the king up to assist the mating net and White will lose material.}) 51... Qa4+ 52. Ra3 Qb5 53. Rd1 Qd5+ 54. Ka1 Nb3+) 51. b4 Ne4 $6 {this gives White another opportunity to escape with Rc7+} (51... Qa6+ $1 {is the necessary idea, which will allow Black to temporarily pin the Rc3 before moving the knight.} 52. Kb2 Qf6 53. Ka2 Nf3 54. Rc7+ Kb6 {and now the endgame is no good for White after} 55. R7c6+ Qxc6 56. Rxc6+ Kxc6 57. h4 Nd4 $19) 52. Rc4 $2 Nf2 {Black however does not find the idea and the game ends in a draw, with both sides misplaying the endgame, perhaps in time trouble.} 53. Kb3 (53. R1c3) 53... Ng4 (53... Qe6) 54. Rc5 Kb6 (54... Qe6+) 55. Ra1 (55. Rc6+) 55... Nxh2 (55... Qe6+) 56. Raa5 {now the draw can be forced.} Qd1+ 57. Ka3 Qe2 58. Re5 Qc4 59. Rec5 Qe4 60. Rab5+ Ka6 61. Ra5+ Kb6 62. Rab5+ Ka6 63. Ra5+ Kb6 1/2-1/2

05 August 2023

Training quote of the day #45: Robert Greene

From The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene:

Chess contains the concentrated essence of life: First, because to win you have to be supremely patient and farseeing; and second, because the game is built on patterns, whole sequences of moves that have been played before and will be played again, with slight alterations, in any one match. Your opponent analyzes the patterns you are playing and uses them to try to foresee your moves. Allowing him nothing predictable to base his strategy on gives you a big advantage. In chess as in life, when people cannot figure out what you are doing, they are kept in a state of terror - waiting, uncertain, confused.

27 July 2023

Training quote of the day #44: Victor Korchnoi

 From the commentary to game 54 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

A clash of plans is a normal phenomenon in a full-blooded game. There are two ways of behaving in this case. For example, you can continue carrying out your plan in the hope of being the first to create real threats. Or, putting your own problems to one side, in the first instance you can try and prevent the opponent from activating his position. One of the greatest experts of this so-called preventive style was Tigran Petrosian. Mikhail Botvinnik, who was removed from the world chess throne by Petrosian, with a grudge in his voice called Petrosian a 'destroyer of ideas'. This implies that he himself was a creator... Meanwhile, to anticipate the opponent's plans and then forestall them is a great skill, in no way inferior to the skill of 'creating'! 

01 July 2023

Thoughts on "Intelligent Failures"

Failure is inevitable in chess: mathematically speaking, the more games you play, the more games you will eventually lose, because no player is perfect. This fact is why the emotional fear of losing games (and rating points) can be so pernicious to players' performance and growth. Chessplayers - like anyone - often have a hard time with the idea of exposing themselves to potential failure. In what is unfortunately a rather common phenomenon, this can lead to avoidance-type behavior, the logic being that feeling bad about your performance is best avoided - meaning, it is simply best not to play, to avoid losing.

Such behavior manifests itself in everything from dropping out of tournaments to ceasing to play entirely. I've been struck by how often I've seen comments in various places by people who have passed a particular (arbitrary) rating threshold - Class A, Expert, etc. - and then state that they have stopped playing to preserve their new status. This is a sign that such people are not really chessplayers - in the sense of having a love of the game and practicing it - but rather hobbyists for whom status in the community is what is the most important. To be clear, this is a personal choice, but then such people should not go around claiming they are "Expert" level or whatever if they have not played seriously in years; chess strength has nothing to do with old statistics.

I'm certainly not immune to such fears, which are common where status and by extension feelings of personal worth may be involved. So how can we best combat these fears? I think it is most important to divorce one's self-worth from one's rating, as well as suspending judgment of other players based on theirs; see "Ratings Fear and Loathing" for more thoughts on this.

Another important and useful method is to intellectually treat any failure as a learning experience - then actually learn from it. This is another reason why analyzing your own games is fundamentally important to progressing in chess strength.

The above thoughts were generated when reading "Are you squandering your intelligent failures?" on Medium by Rita McGrath. The basic idea is that "intelligent failures" - ones that occur after you do your best in a complex situation or challenge - need to be examined and analyzed for learning purposes; indeed, this is often the only way real learning can take place. These types of failures are in contrast to "basic" ones, which are due to simple inattention or carelessness - for chessplayers, an example would be a one-move blunder or major oversight.

The full article is worth reading, but here's how she characterizes "intelligent" failures from an organizational perspective - which seem very applicable to an individual chessplayer's practice as well, as I've noted in brackets. 

  • They are carefully planned, so that when things go wrong you know why [figure out which of your chess strategies or tactics failed, and why]
  • They are genuinely uncertain, so the outcome cannot be known ahead of time [no chess game outcome is certain!]
  • They are modest in scale, so that a catastrophe does not result [it is good to remember that losing a game is not a catastrophe]
  • They are managed quickly, so that not too much time elapses between outcome and interpretation [analyze the game while you can still recall your thinking about it]
  • Something about what is learned is familiar enough to inform other parts of the business. [you should recognize how to apply the lessons to future games]

04 June 2023

Thoughts on GM Hikaru Nakamura not caring his way back to world #2

As was just reported - for example in this Chess.com news item - GM Hikaru Nakamura has now regained the world #2 ranking, last held by him in 2015. This remarkable achievement, given the level of competition, cannot be simply ascribed to "luck" or other random factor. What explains it then?

Naturally Hikaru has always been a strong competitor with great talent, focus and work ethic - although with ups and downs over his career, like many. One of the key factors I would point out is him "Not Caring My Way to the Candidates" - although it is not directly addressed in the linked video, a useful and entertaining post-mortem of the victory that got him into the 2022 Candidates tournament, the attitude change was important enough to be reflected in the title.

GM Kayden Troff in the (long) blog post "Hikaru Nakamura and the Significance of Playing Without Pressure" at the time went into the significance of how this kind of freeing of the mind leads to better play and better results. The full post is worth reading, but the main points are (quoted):

  • Focus on playing well, not on how terrible it would be to lose.
  • Learn from your mistakes, love your brilliancies.
  • Practice and play.
  • Enjoy the game.

As is common with mental mindsets, simple prescriptions in fact can have profound impact - and simplicity does not mean that something is easy to achieve. (If it were so easy, everyone would automatically be doing it.) Some similar ideas can be found on mental toughness, although if I were to summarize the above points, it would be: to have a serene and positive feeling about chess, while mindfully engaging with your own games (to learn from them) and your opponents (to play well against them).

Adopting this overall attitude has in fact helped me in the past during tournaments. During games, it feels as if a mental weight is lifted, so I can concentrate on each game for what it is - a creation of the moment - rather than worrying about arbitrary, external things such as ratings or tournament results. This is just simple math: the more attention your brain pays to externalities, the less focus it retains on the actual game in front of you.

So give your brain a break and "not care" in the moment about future results, which are simply a distraction, thereby allowing yourself to play the purest and best chess you can. 

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