19 May 2024

Annotated Game #276: The KISS principle

The first round of the next tournament I played unfortunately kept to a familiar pattern: lose as Black. Often I play worst the first round, having to "shake off the rust" from not having played in a while, then my form improves. In this case I did not have that excuse, it coming just two weeks after the previous tournament - so perhaps that was the problem?!?

Regardless of the overall circumstances, game analysis shows I did not follow the KISS principle, which is very important in many endeavors - "Keep It Simple, Stupid" is the version I learned. Nowadays it appears that is considered offensive. In any case, the point is that making something needlessly complex = stupid, as overcomplicating things often leads to errors and failure. This is a repeated observation in this game - and in some of my other games - as I do things like avoid simple development and unnecessarily weaken my position. Eventually my opponent is able to take advantage of this, but really it was my repeated, unnecessarily complex moves that tipped the scale. When a move looks natural and good, maybe it just...is.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "67"] [GameId "489173303297"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. O-O Bg4 {so far a standard response to the Reti, having adopted a Slav formation.} 5. h3 Bh5 6. c4 Nbd7 (6... e6 {immediately is a more natural response, giving Black a choice of pawn recaptures on d5.}) 7. d4 e6 8. cxd5 cxd5 {choosing to preserve the symmetry and not provide a target for a minority attack on the queenside by White.} 9. Nc3 Rc8 {a little premature, with Black's king still in the center. Best to continue with simple development.} (9... Be7) 10. Bf4 a6 {again delaying development. It is useful to take away the b5 square from the knight, but not necessary at this point.} 11. Qa4 (11. Qb3 {would be more to the point.} b5 12. e4 $14 {gaining the initiative by starting operations in the center while Black's king is still there.}) 11... Rc4 {now the rook actually has something to do.} 12. Qd1 {b3 would again have been the more active square.} Bxf3 {choosing to exchange off a good attacking piece for White, so control of the e5 square is less important.} 13. Bxf3 Nb6 $6 {I resolutely continue ignoring the development of my bishop.} (13... Bb4 $5) 14. Rc1 Bd6 {finally!} 15. Bxd6 Qxd6 16. b3 Rc7 $11 17. e4 {my opponent correctly initiates action in the center, but with fewer pieces on the board there is less attacking potential, and the position is equal.} dxe4 18. Nxe4 Nxe4 19. Bxe4 O-O 20. Qh5 f5 $6 {this is unnecessary, weakening the e-pawn, although Black can still hold.} (20... g6 {is much simpler.}) 21. Bg2 Rd7 {a worse square than e7, reinforcing the e-pawn. Simply exchanging rooks would be fine, as well.} 22. Qe2 {correctly pressuring the one weak point in Black's camp.} Nd5 $6 {still not seeing the danger sufficiently, plus removing the threat to the d-pawn.} (22... Re7 {and Black has an extra tempo to play with.}) 23. Rfe1 $14 Re7 24. Rc5 Rfe8 {essentially forced. Black is now passively defending, but at least still defending.} 25. Qd2 b6 $6 {kicking the rook unfortunately does not help.} (25... f4 $5) 26. Rc4 a5 {hoping to support a knight on b4 and prevent a White queenside advance.} 27. Rec1 Qb8 {played for lack of a better idea.} 28. a3 Kf7 $2 (28... f4 $1 $11 {this freeing idea with counterplay did occur to me briefly, earlier, but by this point I was far too focused on passive defense.}) 29. Qg5 $16 {still not decisive, but I still crumbled under the pressure.} g6 $2 {now the kingside is too full of holes.} (29... h6 {would be a better pawn move.}) (29... Nf6 {would add to the defense.}) 30. Rc6 {good enough to keep the advantage and continue squeezing.} (30. Bxd5 exd5 31. Rc6 $18) 30... Kg7 $2 {now White finds the correct attacking idea.} (30... Qd8 $16) 31. Bxd5 h6 (31... exd5 32. Qf6+ Kg8 33. Rxb6 $18) 32. Qh4 g5 33. Qh5 exd5 34. Qxh6+ 1-0

18 May 2024

Mastery Concept: Tactical Defense

Periodically I'll post what I have identified over time as key ideas at the board that distinguish Master-level chess from amateur level; they are collected in the sidebar in Mastery Concepts: Amateur vs. Master. Today's is the concept of Tactical Defense.

The fundmental idea behind "mastery concepts" is that they often do not occur at all to non-masters, but can be seen often in master-level chess. Sometimes we have the illusion that every possibility can be seen and calculated at the board, which is simply not the case. If you do not already have the idea in your mind - which also can be described as recognition of a pattern for a possible move - then the candidate move or necessary sequence is unlikely to even be considered as part of your thinking process.

Tactical defense of a piece means that your opponent cannot capture it, without suffering a heavier loss in return. This concept allows a player to effectively ignore an opponent's threat to a piece and do something else on the board. In terms of the thinking process, this means you are free to consider choices beyond physically protecting or moving the attacked piece - the most basic and "normal" candidate moves. This concept can be particularly crucial as part of an attacking sequence, or perhaps can simply allow for better positional play. As in the first example below, it may also mean you can consider moving a piece to where it is technically "en prise" but it cannot in fact be taken without consequences.

Naturally the best way to start identifying and absorbing concepts is to see examples of it in action. Below are several games that illustrate this type of play, mostly master-level but including one from my own game analysis.

Included in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi, Game 100 (move 18) 

[Event "Muenster Masters op"] [Site "Muenster"] [Date "1996.??.??"] [Round "6"] [White "Kupreichik, Viktor D"] [Black "Kortschnoj, Viktor Lvovich"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C02"] [WhiteElo "2510"] [BlackElo "2635"] [Annotator "carlo"] [PlyCount "134"] [GameId "284824192668"] [EventDate "1996.10.14"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "GER"] [SourceTitle "CBM 055 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1997.01.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1997.01.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Qb6 5. Nf3 Nc6 6. Be2 Nh6 7. b3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Nf5 9. Bb2 Bd7 10. g4 Nfe7 11. Nc3 h5 12. Na4 Qd8 13. g5 Ng6 14. Qd2 Rc8 15. Rc1 Bb4 16. Bc3 Ba3 17. Rb1 Be7 18. Nb2 Nh4 19. Rg1 (19. Nxh4 Bxg5) 19... Nxf3+ 20. Bxf3 Qb6 21. Na4 Qc7 22. Be2 b5 23. Bxb5 Nxe5 24. Bxd7+ Nxd7 25. f4 O-O 26. Ke2 Bd6 27. Rbf1 Rfe8 28. Bb4 Bxb4 29. Qxb4 Qc2+ 30. Qd2 Qe4+ 31. Kd1 e5 32. fxe5 Nxe5 33. Nc3 Rxc3 34. Qxc3 Nd3 35. Kc2 Nb4+ 36. Kb2 Qe2+ 37. Kb1 Qxa2+ 38. Kc1 Nd3+ 39. Qxd3 Rc8+ 40. Kd1 Qa1+ 41. Ke2 Qb2+ 42. Qd2 Rc2 43. Rd1 Qxb3 44. g6 fxg6 45. Rxg6 Rxd2+ 46. Rxd2 Qh3 47. Ke1 Qf5 48. Rgg2 a5 49. Ke2 Qe4+ 50. Kf1 h4 51. Kg1 a4 52. Rge2 Qg4+ 53. Kf1 Kh7 54. Rf2 Qe4 55. Kg1 h3 56. Rfe2 Qg4+ 57. Kf2 Qf4+ 58. Ke1 Qf3 59. Kd1 Qc3 60. Ke1 g5 61. Kf2 Kg6 62. Re6+ Kf5 63. Ree2 a3 64. Kf1 Kg4 65. Kf2 Kf4 66. Kg1 Qc1+ 67. Kf2 Qh1 0-1

Included in Grandmaster Performance by Lyev Polugaevsky, Game 43 (move 19)

[Event "URS-ch45 Final"] [Site "Leningrad"] [Date "1977.12.08"] [Round "7"] [White "Bagirov, Vladimir"] [Black "Polugaevsky, Lev"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D32"] [WhiteElo "2480"] [BlackElo "2620"] [Annotator "carlo"] [PlyCount "76"] [GameId "272191901158"] [EventDate "1977.11.29"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "URS"] [EventCategory "12"] [SourceTitle "URS-ch"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 e6 6. e3 d5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. Be2 Bd6 9. O-O O-O 10. Bf3 Be5 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Bd2 Qd6 13. g3 Bh3 14. Bg2 Bxg2 15. Kxg2 c5 16. f4 Bxc3 17. Bxc3 Ne4 18. Qf3 Rfe8 19. Rfd1 Qb6 20. Rac1 (20. Rxd5 Nxc3 21. bxc3 Qb2+) 20... Rad8 21. Rc2 d4 22. exd4 cxd4 23. Be1 Qa6 24. Qb3 h5 25. Qc4 Qb7 26. Qc6 Qe7 27. Ba5 Rd6 28. Qc7 Qe6 29. Qc4 Rd5 30. Bb4 a5 31. Ba3 h4 32. Qc6 h3+ 33. Kg1 d3 34. Qxe6 Rxe6 35. Rc8+ Kh7 36. f5 Ree5 37. Rc4 d2 38. b4 Nc3 0-1

Kramnik - Fridman, Dortmund 2013 (move 31)

Krush - Eswaran, U.S. Women's Championship 2014 (move 35)

Paikidze - Melekhina, U.S. Women's Championship 2015 (move 29) 

Annotated Game #98: An Attacking Slav (move 21)

12 May 2024

Annotated Game #275: An opening shock and a bit of redemption

This final round game put an end to my bad run as Black, thanks to an opening shock that was the proximate cause of my opponent overlooking an unusual knight fork. I've been the victim of such assumptions in the opening phase myself, in which I don't look for tactics (or overlook them) because of the mental presumption that they are not possible so early in the game. Here, the 3...dxc4 line in the Slav after 3. Nc3 is not all that unusual, but most people play 3...Nf6 and I've repeatedly seen surprise on my opponent's faces at the Class level.

Despite being down major material, my opponent still was up for the fight, so I focused my strategy on eliminating any possible counterplay; perhaps some thanks are due to previous study of Petrosian's games. This included giving back some of the material to eliminate White's strongly placed knight, a useful counter-example to some of my past too-materialist thinking, and the decision was fully validated by the engine. Thinking about the board situation in this type of dynamic (rather than static) fashion is what I need to do more. 

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.12.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "66"] [GameId "487233073238"] {[%evp 0,66,19,31,23,-7,26,30,30,-7,-7,-23,-23,-32,-32,-32,-32,-46,-4,-102,-108,-411,-411,-444,-444,-494,-502,-504,-512,-529,-457,-509,-491,-492,-488,-525,-527,-536,-455,-467,-457,-477,-423,-454,-477,-529,-458,-496,-484,-563,-585,-644,-530,-530,-534,-582,-582,-582,-510,-614,-614,-622,-649,-664,-664,-667,-702,-743,-872]} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 dxc4 4. a4 {my opponent seemed unfamiliar with the move three capture, thought for a bit, then played a standard move preventing (for now) Black's b-pawn advance.} e5 {my opponent had a long think after this, clearly not expecting it.} 5. dxe5 Qxd1+ 6. Nxd1 Bb4+ {I remembered this idea (vaguely) from my opening prep and it certainly seemed best at the board.} 7. Bd2 Bxd2+ 8. Kxd2 Nd7 {a key idea to target the e5 pawn and develop.} (8... Be6 {is also possible and perhaps simpler.}) 9. f4 {this looks obvious to protect the pawn, but now Black's knight becomes strong.} Nc5 $15 {Dragon 3.2 already shows a small but significant positional advantage. I also noted the potential fork on b3 at this time.} 10. Nc3 $4 {my opponent misses the unusual knight fork, no doubt influenced by being in unfamiliar opening territory.} (10. Ke1) 10... Nb3+ $19 11. Kd1 Nxa1 {naturally this is fully winning for Black, but I still have to extract the knight and activate my pieces. So I did not take the win for granted and was careful to examine my opponent's potential counterplay possibilities.} 12. e3 Be6 13. Ne4 {heading for the d6 outpost, no doubt the idea behind the previous move, leaving e4 clear for the knight while opening the diagonal for the Bf1.} O-O-O+ {I thought about this for a while, and Dragon 3.2 agrees that it's best. Black will give back some of the material to simplify and eliminate White's counterplay.} 14. Nd6+ Kc7 (14... Rxd6+ {immediately is also possible and is considered best by the engine.} 15. exd6 Nf6 $19 {the d-pawn is not going anywhere and can be ignored for the short term, while Black gets more pieces into play.}) 15. Kc1 Nb3+ {first extracting the knight, with tempo.} 16. Kc2 Rxd6 17. exd6+ Kxd6 {now I'm a clear piece and pawn ahead and White is not able to develop any meaningful counterplay, although I still have to be careful.} 18. Nf3 f6 {controlling the knight's potential outpost squares at g5 and e5.} 19. Be2 Ne7 20. e4 b5 {reinforcing c4 and mobilizing the queenside pawns.} 21. axb5 cxb5 22. Rd1+ Kc7 {White will not control the open file for long.} 23. f5 Bf7 {keeping an eye on the h5-e8 diagonal.} 24. g4 Nc6 {powerfully activating the knight, which covers some excellent squares in the center and on b4.} 25. h4 Rd8 26. Rxd8 Kxd8 {now I control d4.} 27. Nd2 Ncd4+ {with the forced reduction in available material, there is no longer any real counterplay possibility for White.} 28. Kd1 Nxe2 29. Kxe2 Nxd2 30. Kxd2 Kd7 31. Kc3 Kd6 32. Kd4 {White's king is well centralized and keeps mine from advancing, but now the queenside pawns further mobilize and will eventually win.} a5 33. g5 h5 {designed to neutralize any possibility of a kingside breakthrough. My opponent thought for a while here and then resigned, having no possible prospects for counterplay.} 0-1

11 May 2024

Annotated Game #274: The en passant rule and a repertoire hole

In this next game my opponent played well in the opening against my Stonewall Attack, and indeed put her finger (figuratively) on a significant repertoire hole for me. By move 9 I am significantly worse positionally and do not help my cause by delaying a knight jump into e5. However, things turn around due to my opponent not fully comprehending the en passant rule, attempting to execute it illegally and then being forced to move the pawn involved, which dropped a piece. I did not take the win for granted, however, and seriously focused on calculating out my defense afterwards, given some potentially scary-looking operations by Black down the now-open g-file. This was successful, thanks to a well-placed knight and rook combination, even though my kingside ended up denuded of pawns. I was then able to break through in the center and unleash my queen decisively.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "117"] [GameId "487213742334"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. e3 d5 3. Bd3 (3. Nf3 $5 {in light of White's problems in this line that are soon illustrated, perhaps a better choice.}) 3... c5 4. c3 {attempting to reach standard Stonewall Attack lines.} (4. dxc5 $5 {and then the engine line goes} e5 5. b4 a5 6. c3 {with both sides in strange opening territory.}) 4... Nc6 5. f4 {the main problem with this type of Stonewall Attack formation is Black's next move.} (5. Nf3 $5) (5. dxc5) 5... Bg4 $17 {engines typically undervalue the Stonewall, but in this particular case I do consider its assessment of a Black advantage as valid. The main problem is that White cannot get the "Pillsbury knight" to e5 soon, and Black will be able to exchange off the light-squared bishops, a key part of White's normal attacking game.} 6. Nf3 e6 7. O-O Bd6 8. h3 Bf5 9. g4 (9. Bxf5 {I didn't like the resulting pawn formation, which favors Black by restraining g2-g4 and also fixing White's backwards e-pawn on the half-open file. However, it's still objectively best, according to the engine.} exf5 10. Qd3 Ne4 11. dxc5 Bxc5 $17 {Black is ahead in development and has more space, so this is not losing perhaps but rather miserable for White.}) 9... Bxd3 10. Qxd3 {in contrast with the above variation, Black's central pawn formation is stronger.} Qd7 11. Nbd2 $6 (11. Ne5 {immediately looks better, removing the pressure of the Bd6 on the f-pawn, which is a common issue if an exchange is possible on d4.}) 11... O-O-O $15 {this gets the king out of the way of White's kingside pawn expansion, but allows me to get my knight to its to ideal square, while creating a target for play on the queenside. Now opening the c-file isn't such a great idea for Black.} (11... cxd4 {forcing open the c-file.} 12. cxd4 {normally White would prefer to capture with the e-pawn, but the Nd2 is blocking the Bc1 and the f4 pawn would be hanging.} Rc8) 12. Ne5 Qc7 13. b3 {the idea being to restrain c5-c4 and perhaps support a future c-pawn advance.} (13. b4 $5 c4 14. Qe2 {and looking to follow up with the e4 pawn lever or an a-pawn advance would be more aggressive.}) 13... h5 {this was probably played in error, since after} 14. g5 $11 {my opponent tried to illegally take en passant on g4. After that was confirmed by the TD, she was then forced to play} h4 {having touched the h-pawn.} 15. gxf6 {still required some thought in order to calculate its safety, however, as now Black gets pressure down the open g-file.} gxf6 16. Nxc6 $18 Qxc6 17. Nf3 {I will still have to sort out my pieces from here, so Black has a bit of initiative, but no real attack.} Rdg8+ 18. Kf2 c4 19. Qd1 {interferes on the back rank a bit, but I wanted to maintain protection of the Nf3 and put the queen on the d1-h5 diagonal. Moving Qe2 immediately would have been fine.} Qe8 {this is too slow.} (19... Rg3 {is the critical try, but is stopped easily by} 20. Rh1 $18) 20. Bd2 (20. Rg1 $5 Rxg1 21. Qxg1 Rg8 22. Qf1 $18) 20... Rg6 {again too slow to create threats.} (20... e5 $5 {looks like the best practical try.}) 21. Qe2 Qg8 $6 {this helps set up a tactic shortly.} (21... Rg3) 22. Rg1 {now with the queen out of the way, exchanging on g1 simply benefits White.} Rg3 {this no longer works for Black, due to} 23. Nxh4 $1 {removal of the guard theme} Rxg1 24. Rxg1 {coming with tempo, since it hits the queen instead of a rook} Qh7 25. Nf3 Qxh3 {While Black has regained the material, strangely enough the queen and rook are effectively out of play on the kingside, as the Nf3 and Rg1 cover everything, so now I can turn my attention to breaking through in the center, with Black's king looking vulnerable behind it.} 26. bxc4 Be7 27. cxd5 exd5 28. Qf1 {by this point I felt it would be easier just to exchange into a won piece-up endgame, rather than keep queens on the board. I also saw I could harass Black's queen if it weren't traded, then take control over the kingside files.} Qh5 29. Rg2 f5 $2 {this effectively ends the game, cutting off the queen's retreat.} (29... Qf5 30. Rh2 Rxh2+ 31. Nxh2 Qc2 32. Nf3 Qxa2 33. Qh3+ Kc7 34. Qh5 $18) 30. Rh2 {skewering the queen against the rook.} Qxh2+ 31. Nxh2 Rxh2+ 32. Ke1 {now I simply had to be careful not to blunder into a Black tactic, for example pinning one of my pieces against the king.} Bh4+ 33. Kd1 Rf2 34. Qh1 Bg3 35. Qh3 Bh2 36. Qxf5+ Kc7 37. Qxf7+ Kc6 38. Qe6+ Kc7 39. Qxd5 {my opponent, like many scholastic players, appears to have been trained to never resign, even when it is hopeless. This doesn't bother me any more, since I have decided to just play completely safely to win in response; if there are extra moves involved, that's then more agony for my opponent, rather than myself.} Bg3 40. Qh1 a6 41. Qg1 Bh4 42. Qg7+ Kb8 43. Qh8+ Kc7 44. Qxh4 Rg2 45. Qe1 Rg8 46. e4 Re8 47. f5 b5 48. e5 a5 49. e6 Kb7 50. Qe5 Kc6 51. Qc5+ Kb7 52. Qxb5+ Ka7 53. Qxe8 a4 54. f6 a3 55. f7 Kb6 56. f8=Q Kb7 57. Qd6 Ka7 58. Qee7+ Ka8 59. Qdd8# 1-0

07 May 2024

Training quote of the day #47: Michael Prusikin

 From the introduction to Attacking Strategies for Club Players, by GM Michael Prusikin:

In some ways, learning how to play chess is like learning a foreign language. Both chess and languages are comprised of blocks of information, so-called 'chunks', that we memorise and then must put together / apply correctly on the board (or when speaking). In chess we generally talk in this connection about 'patterns', a typical example being the different mating motifs such as the back-rank mate, smothered mate etc. Of course, there are also corresponding chunks for the topics of strategy and the endgame. A strong chess player differs from one less strong primarily by the greater number of chunks that he has internalised. Talent and creativity have an impact when the player, in a tournament situation, 'digs out' from his memory the right chunks at the right time and puts them together. As useful as general rules and strategic explanations may be, the number of internalised tactical and strategic patterns is, as already mentioned, the crucial factor when it comes to playing strength.



04 May 2024

Annotated Game #273: A bad run as Black

In our chess careers, sometimes we have extended "runs" (good ones with wins, or bad ones with losses) with the results for one color; with this tournament game, I managed to extend my Black run to five losses over multiple tournaments. It is relatively easy under those circumstances to start seriously questioning your repertoire choices, having an sinking feeling whenever you see a Black on the pairing chart, etc. Here the value of analyzing your own games and better understanding what is actually going on helps combat over-reactions.

Last seen in Annotated Game #262: An unhappy introduction to the Fantasy Variation, this opening is also sub-par for me, but not an unmitigated disaster. The key lesson from the early phase is the idea - also seen in my preferred answer to the Caro-Kann Advance variation - of using the ...c5 pawn lever against White's center. Unfortunately it's an idea that I completely missed - but will remember in the future.

Instead I make the strategic mistake on move 10 for going for a closed position, which resulted in an initiative for White and awkward cramping for myself, until I finally get some counterplay going with a b-pawn advance. I then get a bit lucky when my opponent misses a pin-related tactic on move 20, but mishandle the calculations. It's also notable that my thinking is too materialistic, a repeated observation I've had recently.

While my opponent was legitimately lower-rated, he was certainly much stronger than his actual rating - I would estimate high Class C / low Class B - and I give him props for fighting spirit after suffering a tactical blow, then taking full advantage of my blunders, with the game effectively over after the sequence starting on move 27.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class E"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "113"] {[%evp 0,113,19,36,77,74,60,14,44,34,22,-18,45,43,60,12,11,20,-1,3,9,-42,17,20,37,20,9,27,29,42,68,76,51,52,69,35,31,25,21,6,7,-38,-57,-16,-59,-46,57,59,51,9,-11,-5,-21,-72,100,55,136,145,133,136,113,110,138,137,158,145,140,138,150,130,137,100,203,213,217,217,217,217,247,218,218,218,208,203,212,159,159,159,159,118,124,110,120,110,133,133,138,144,229,233,233,133,133,125,196,133,133,125,469,516,1015,1016,1128,1353,1503,1020]} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 g6 4. e5 Bg7 5. Bd3 Nh6 {this is useful in most lines of the Fantasy Variation with an advanced e-pawn, as the h6 square is the natural outlet for the knight.} (5... c5 $11 {is the key idea in this position, however, undermining the e5 pawn immediately while Black has a chance. This is similar to the 3...c5 approach in the Advance Variation.}) 6. Ne2 {a reasonable developing move.} Bf5 $6 {played with the idea of exchanging off Black's "bad" bishop. However, the placement is awkward and other moves are better for development.} (6... c5 {remains the best idea.}) (6... O-O) 7. Ng3 $6 {premature movement of the knight. White could have more immediately taken advantage of the situation on the kingside with a pawn thrust.} (7. g4 $5) (7. h4) 7... Bxd3 {now I get my exchanging idea in and the immediate danger passes.} 8. Qxd3 O-O $11 {the simple approach to equalizing.} (8... e6 {is also good here, along with the ...c5 idea.}) (8... f6 {challenging the head of the pawn chain should furthermore be considered.} 9. exf6 exf6 10. Qe2+ Kf7 {is actually slightly better for Black, as the king is perfectly safe on f7 and now ...Re8 is threatened.}) 9. O-O f6 10. f4 {naturally choosing to reinforce the e-pawn. Now would be a good time to get the queenside moving for Black, but I am too fixated on the advanced White pawns and have blind eye for the idea of the ...c5 break in this position.} f5 $6 {played to get a closed position, but Dragon 3.2 evaluates that as favorable for White, with the strong advanced e-pawn effectively hampering Black's coordination. It is very club player-esque to seek to reduce tension in the position when it is not needed, or as in this case unfavorable.} (10... c5 11. c3 (11. dxc5 fxe5 12. fxe5 e6 $15 {Black is temporarily a pawn down but with better central control and play coming. For example} 13. Bxh6 Bxh6 14. c4 Qc7 15. cxd5 Qxc5+ 16. Kh1 Rxf1+ 17. Qxf1 exd5 $17) 11... cxd4 12. cxd4 Nc6 $11) 11. Bd2 $16 Nd7 12. Bb4 $6 {this loses some time and space for White.} (12. h3 {cutting off the g4 square for the Nh6, which could be a future threat.}) (12. a4 {this or b4 would grab space and help stifle Black on the queenside.}) 12... a5 $14 {finally I actually start some counterplay on the queenside, but only after having been offered an obvious chance my opponent to hit the bishop with tempo.} 13. Ba3 b5 14. c3 Nb6 {this looks good visually, but it's better to have a rook for support on the b-file, or immediately break the pin on the e7 pawn.} (14... Re8 $5) 15. Nd2 Re8 (15... Nc4 $5 {immediately looks more to the point after my last move.}) 16. b3 $16 {a good prophylactic move by my opponent, limiting the reach of the Nc6.} Bf8 {I was torn between this and e6, which seems like a cleaner option. I am still cramped here.} 17. c4 $6 {this allows me to equalize now and gain activity, relieving the cramped position.} (17. Bc5 e6 18. Ne2 $16 {maintaining the tension, as} Bxc5 $6 19. dxc5 Nd7 20. b4 {simply increases White's positional stranglehold.}) 17... dxc4 18. bxc4 b4 $11 {shutting out the bishop and gaining further space.} 19. Bb2 (19. c5 $5) 19... e6 {solidifying control of d5. Suddenly White's center is looking weaker and I have made my own space gains.} 20. c5 $2 {this idea comes one move too late, as my opponent misses the tactic now available, thanks to the opening of the diagonal for the Bf8.} Bxc5 $17 {taking advantage of the pin on the d-pawn and surprising my opponent tactically. However, I thought carefully before going down this path.} (20... Nd5 {was the "strategic" alternative I considered, where I felt I had a positional advantage. However after} 21. Nc4 $16 {White appears to be doing quite well.}) 21. Rac1 Na4 (21... Bf8 {is simplest and best to secure a dynamic advantage, but I was too materialistic in my thinking.} 22. Rxc6 Nd5 $19 {and now Black can mobilize the advanced 2-1 queenside majority effectively, while blockading White's center.}) 22. Ba1 Nc3 $6 {in addition to the aforementioned ...Bf8 idea, other ideas also work just fine if Black wants to protect the c-pawn. Instead, I mishandle some relatively complex tactics - but so does my opponent.} (22... Rc8) (22... Qd5) 23. Bxc3 $14 bxc3 24. Nb3 $6 (24. Nf3 Bb4 25. Ne2 $14) 24... Bb4 $11 25. Ne2 c5 {so far, correctly calculated by me after White's 24th.} 26. Rfd1 $6 {a good idea in general, to protect the Qd3 and allow for dxc5. However, there is a tactical flaw...which I failed to spot.} a4 $2 (26... c4 $1 {is the sacrificial idea found by the engine, which allows the Nh6 to be reactivated with immediate threats. Later on I start thinking more desperately about how to get the sidelined knight back in the game, but could have done it now.} 27. Qxc4 Ng4 28. Qd3 {and now} a4 29. Na1 Qh4 $1 $19) (26... cxd4 $11 {would be safe and equal. I in fact calculated this and then misplayed the sequence, having gotten confused about which variation worked.}) 27. Nxc5 {I simply missed this. The Qd3 is now protected so the pin on the d4 pawn is gone, which I had previously observed during my calculations, but then forgot when it came time to make the decision on the board.} Qd5 $2 {another idea which would have been useful earlier, but here played too late. Now White is winning.} (27... Qa5 $1 $16 {I considered but not thoroughly enough. There is still a significant White advantage but perhaps not decisive, for example after} 28. h3 {preventing threats from the Nh6} (28. Nxc3 $6 Bxc5 29. dxc5 Qxc5+ $11) 28... Bxc5 29. dxc5 Qxc5+ 30. Kh2 Nf7 31. Rxc3 Qf2 $1 $14) 28. Nxc3 $18 Bxc3 29. Rxc3 Qxa2 30. Ra3 $18 {also missed this, but Black is losing in all variations now.} Qd5 31. Rxa4 Rab8 32. Qc4 {assures a winning endgame.} Qxc4 33. Rxc4 Ng4 {I resist as best I can, but White's extra d-pawn, space advantage and better piece coordination make it hopeless...unless there's a blunder.} 34. Rc3 Rb2 35. Rdc1 Rd2 36. h3 Nf2 37. R3c2 Rxc2 38. Rxc2 Nd1 39. Nd7 Re7 40. Nf6+ Kg7 41. Rc8 h5 42. Rg8+ Kf7 43. Rh8 Nc3 44. Rh7+ Kf8 45. Rxe7 Kxe7 46. Kf2 h4 47. Ke3 Kd8 48. Kd3 Na4 49. d5 exd5 50. Nxd5 $2 {this lets the Na4 back into the game.} (50. Kd4 $18) 50... Nc5+ 51. Kc4 Ne4 $4 {I saw that I might get a pawn back, but it's meaningless in the end.} (51... Ne6 $1 $11 {I don't know why I didn't consider this more, although of course fatigue and time pressure played its role, perhaps along with materialistic thinking. White cannot in fact make progress after this, for example} 52. Kb5 Kd7 53. Nf6+ Kc7 $11) 52. Nf6 Ng3 53. Kd5 Ne2 54. Kd6 Nxf4 55. e6 Nxe6 56. Kxe6 Kc7 57. Nd7 {and the Black pawns are helpless.} 1-0

01 May 2024

Annotated Game #272: The power of the pawn lever

After a disappointing first round loss, I was set to fight back as White and was able to get a classic Stonewall Attack on the board, with the result living up to the opening's name. I'm still learning about the ins and outs of the position type, with the primary lesson from this game being the huge power of the e4 pawn lever when the conditions are right. This idea kept reappearing in analysis, including in a final version with a rook sacrifice. The main point is that White's pieces can be unleashed against an insufficiently defended Black kingside, so the sacrificed material is irrelevant. This is a common theme across similar openings, such as the Colle System, so is important to keep in mind, even early on.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "59"] 1. d4 d5 2. e3 {my opponent thought for a while here, evidently not familiar with the opening setup.} c6 3. Bd3 Nf6 4. Nd2 e6 5. f4 c5 {actually the best move according to the engines, but of course it's still a waste of a tempo moving the c-pawn twice. This is one of those chess opening paradoxes that it is best not to think too hard on.} 6. c3 {we now have the Stonewall Attack formation.} Be7 7. Ngf3 c4 {gaining space, but at the expense of lessening the central pressure on d4.} 8. Bc2 Nc6 9. O-O {castling is fine, but not the only option.} (9. e4 $5 {this pawn lever is a key idea which I did not fully examine, being a temporary pawn sacrifice.} dxe4 (9... Nxe4 {is similar after} 10. Nxe4 dxe4 11. Ne5 {and now} f5 $2 {loses to} 12. Qh5+) 10. Ne5 $16 {with the c4 pawn threatened, while Black's e4 pawn is indefensible.}) (9. Qe2 {is also a standard preparatory move for the e-pawn lever, both to project force along the e-file generally and to defend the e3 square in particular.}) 9... O-O (9... Ng4 {targeting the e3 square is something White players always need to look out for, although here it's not scary.} 10. Qe2 f5 {and now White has several good options, including the thematic Ne5 or simply h2-h3.}) 10. Ne5 Nd7 {clearing the way for the f-pawn to kick the Ne5, although this increases the level of cramping in Black's position.} 11. Rf3 $6 {this is premature. In addition to the idea of the e4 pawn lever, which was examined before, there are other useful moves.} (11. e4 {still looks best and most aggressive:} f5 (11... dxe4 $6 12. Bxe4 $1 {keeping the b1-h7 diagonal open for the attack is more important than getting the Nd2 centralized immediately, especially since it continues to pressure c4.} Ncxe5 (12... Qc7 13. Ndxc4 $18) 13. fxe5 f5 14. exf6 Nxf6 15. Bf3 $18 {this is essentially a positionally won game for White, whose pieces are all better with no real weaknesses, while Black has to cope with weak e- and c-pawns.}) 12. exf5 exf5 13. Nxd7 Bxd7 14. Qf3 Be6 15. Qh3 $16 {White has attacking possibilities on the kingside and e-files, While Black will struggle to find counterplay.}) (11. b3 {looking to provide an outlet for the dark-square bishop and pressure the c-pawn.}) (11. Ndf3 {giving White's minor pieces more space.}) 11... Ndxe5 $2 {this removes an attacking piece, but White's e5 pawn is very strong as a replacement on the square.} (11... f5 $1 $11 {blocking the attacking diagonal and preventing further f-pawn advances.}) 12. fxe5 $18 {visually it's not hard to see White's advantage, with most of his pieces pointing towards a bare Black kingside.} f6 (12... f5 {now this doesn't work to block the file.} 13. exf6 {followed by e4, after the recapture on f6.}) 13. Rh3 $16 {the pressure down the h-file is good enough for an advantage, but not optimal. White can effectively enter the above variation with} (13. exf6 Bxf6 14. e4 $1 $18 {unleashing the energy of White's pieces.}) 13... h6 14. Qg4 $14 {I have an edge with pressure on the kingside at this point, but still have not unblocked my pieces for development, especially the Nd2 and Bc1; these would all be helped by an e3-e4 pawn break. The other rook also needs to get into play. I thought here for a while and thought g4 would be a flexible place to develop the queen while making threats; h5 is perhaps better.} (14. Qh5 f5 15. Rg3 Bh4 16. Rg6 Ne7 17. Rxh6 gxh6 (17... Bf2+ 18. Kxf2 gxh6 19. Nf3 $16) 18. Qxh4 $16) 14... f5 (14... fxe5 {is preferred by the engine but would appear risky-looking over the board.} 15. Rxh6 Bg5 16. Bh7+ Kh8 17. Rh5 Bh6 18. Bc2 Qf6 {holds.}) 15. Qg3 $16 {maintaining the pin on the g-file and therefore threatening to capture on h6.} Kh8 {breaking the pin.} 16. Nf3 (16. Qg6 {I thought about and rejected because of} Qe8 {which just helps Black's queen move to the defense.} 17. Qg3 $16 {preserves the advantage, however.}) (16. e4 {I did not consider because it seems like just losing the pawn, but the engine prefers it due to the follow-up sacrifice on e4, unleashing White's pieces.} dxe4 $2 17. Nxe4 fxe4 18. Bxh6 $1 $18 {is the point, as the bishop now decisively enters the game.}) 16... Kh7 {covering the g6 and h6 squares, so the e4 sacrificial lever no longer works.} 17. Bd2 {I thought for a while here and judged it best to activate the Ra1.} Rg8 {now I became worried about Black pushing the g-pawn towards a pawn fork on g4.} 18. Qf2 {this is sufficient to keep the advantage.} (18. Re1 $1 {the engine spots a strong sacrifice on e4, again to unleash White's pieces. Moving the rook into the game would also be consistent with the previous move.} g5 19. e4 {now ...g4 is not possible, due to the Bd2 being unleashed against h6.} dxe4 (19... fxe4 20. Qg4 {exploiting the absence of the f-pawn to penetrate Black's kingside, while the Nf3 is protected tactially by the pin on the b1-h7 diagonal.} Bd7 21. Rxe4 $18 {and Black can't take on e4 without exposing his king.}) 20. Rxe4 $1 {the most important idea is to open the diagonal for the bishop.} fxe4 21. Qg4 $1 {the immediate bishop capture on e4 should also be good enough, but the queen's penetration into Black's camp after capturing on e4 cannot be denied.} Kg7 22. Qxe4 $18) 18... g5 {this looks very threatening, but actually loses.} 19. g4 $1 {the only move that keeps the advantage, which I spotted when deciding to play the previous one. The g-pawn is physically blocked from advancing, while the pin on the f-pawn is decisive.} Kg7 20. Qg2 $18 {lining up against the king, which sets up the follow-on tactic.} Bd7 {this is too slow, but other moves don't help much either. If the king tries to run away, the h-pawn hangs.} 21. Rf1 {bringing another piece into the attack before moving to break through.} (21. gxf5 {immediately is also possible and considered best by the engine.} exf5 22. Nh4 $18) 21... Qb6 22. gxf5 exf5 23. Nh4 $1 $18 {this evidently suprised my opponent. Now his position crumbles.} Qxb2 {desperately trying to distract from the kingside attack underway.} 24. Nxf5+ Bxf5 25. Bxf5 Raf8 26. Rg3 {simple and sufficient to win.} (26. Rhf3 $5) (26. Qxd5 {is the engine's choice, but much more complicated to see at the board.} Qxd2 27. Qe6 Rxf5 28. Rxf5 {with mate to follow, unless Black exchanges queen for rook, for example} Qd1+ 29. Rf1 Qxf1+ 30. Kxf1 $18) 26... Kh8 27. Qh3 $1 {now White has too many pieces against Black's thin defense.} Kg7 {my opponent showed surprise at the queen sac that now came.} 28. Qxh6+ $1 Kf7 29. Bd7+ {elegantly cutting off Black's escape at the same time a discovered check is given.} Bf6 30. Qxf6# 1-0

27 April 2024

Annotated Game #271: Play what you know - or at least what your opponent does not

The first round of the next tournament I played featured a poor strategic choice on my part. I hadn't properly prepared the opening (a Caro-Kann Two Knights) so was afraid to enter into my own repertoire line. Instead, I chose to play the main line - having no real experience in it - and handed my opponent a big lead in development, positional plus and an early attack. My deficient understanding in the line was bad, but really the strategic opening decision was even worse, choosing something that logically my opponent would have more experience in, rather than "risking" entering into my own repertoire sideline, which it was much less likely my opponent would know, even if my memory was also faulty.

Showing the value of not giving up early, analysis identified where I objectively got back in the game (and could have even achieved counterplay, with some active choices). However, my opponent did not give up her attack either, and eventually broke through. A well-deserved win on her part.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "43"] {[%evp 0,43,28,43,66,57,57,28,63,37,29,33,46,15,44,44,64,56,49,49,45,29,16,-4,21,34,70,77,75,32,35,-20,4,13,13,13,29,23,89,-9,67,147,1096,325,1234,1171]} 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 {out of my own personal book here, but I had not prepared for the Two Knights variation and did not trust my normal choice of line without that.} 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. exd5 exd5 $6 {the start of my troubles.} (6... cxd5 {I was overly concerned about Bb5+, but after ...Nc6 there is nothing for White.}) 7. d4 Be7 {rather slow and passive development.} (7... Qf6 $5) 8. Bd3 $16 {now White is significantly ahead in development.} Nf6 9. Be3 Nbd7 $6 {this is too slow, as White is already ready to launch an attack if she wants.} (9... O-O) (9... Na6 {would at least threaten to go to b4.}) 10. Ne2 {this is also rather slow, although the idea of bringing the knight around to the kingside is ultimately useful.} O-O (10... Qa5+ $5 {would be a bit more active.}) 11. g4 {now my opponent decides to get active, although it would have been even more effective the previous move.} g6 $2 {this was played to block the diagonal against the Bd3, but otherwise worsens Black's position, creating a target for the coming pawn storm.} (11... Qa5+ 12. c3 Bd6 $14 {is more active and prevents O-O-O.}) 12. O-O-O $18 {now White is very well developed and has the obvious plan of a kingside pawn storm, while I have no meaningful counterplay.} Ne8 {after this White can just roll through.} (12... Nb6 $5 {at least trying to get another piece active, eyeing c4.}) 13. h4 Nd6 14. Bh6 $6 {this just slows things down for White, but was what I was expecting.} (14. h5) 14... Re8 15. g5 $6 $14 {at this point I felt that I had roughly equalized and Dragon 3.2 agrees. Locking in the Bh6 goes completely against what White needs to do on the kingside, contradicting the idea behind the pawn storm.} Rc8 $6 {this is too optimistic, I should have continued focusing on immediate defense.} (15... Bf8) 16. Rdg1 Ne4 $6 {I thought the interference on the diagonal would be more effective that it turned out to be. White avoids the trap of taking the knight and resumes her pawn storm.} (16... c5 $1 {would be consistent with the previous move.} 17. h5 c4 $11 {hitting the bishop just in time.}) 17. h5 (17. Bxe4 dxe4 18. Qxe4 $2 (18. Qh3 $14) 18... Bxg5+ 19. Bxg5 Rxe4 20. Bxd8 Rxd8 $17) 17... Nf8 $2 {poorly calculated on the defense. Protecting h7 is not enough.} (17... Bf8) 18. hxg6 fxg6 19. Nf4 $2 {now I can take on g5 with either piece, and choose the wrong one.} (19. Qg2 $18 {is best per the engine, but not so easy to find.}) (19. Bxe4 {maintains an edge, although is not necessarily decisive.} dxe4 20. Qh3 $16) 19... Nxg5 $4 (19... Bxg5 $1 $11 20. Bxg5 Nxg5 21. Qg2 Rc7 {and now if} 22. Qxg5 Re1+ $1 {a deflection tactic aimed at the Qg5, which I missed.} 23. Kd2 Qxg5 24. Rxg5 Rxh1 $19) 20. Qg4 $18 {The Ng5 is indefensible and now pinned against g6, with the threat of Bxf8 followed by taking on g6 to break through.} Nf7 21. Bxf8 Bxf8 22. Bxg6 1-0

24 April 2024

Book completed - American Grandmaster: Four Decades of Chess Adventures


I recently completed American Grandmaster: Four Decades of Chess Adventures by GM Joel Benjamin. I had picked it up as a bargain used book from a dealer at chess tournament a while back, and finally decided to read it during lunchtime at work, my interest primarily being for daily annotated games review. It was not particularly well suited for this, however, as the majority of the actual chess content consisted of individual positions, game fragments, or complete scores but with only a couple comments included. There were enough games at a sufficient level of annotation to be worth going through, but this was a minority of it. If you are looking for something more comprehensive and challenging for annotated games but still with a personal perspective, My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi is world class, while GM Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse is a much more detailed and improvement-oriented version of a chess career book with well-annotated games.

From my perspective, it seems the book tried to be multiple things, but was mostly a breezy and candid, but not quite a tell-all, recounting of GM Benjamin's chess career. This mostly consisted of complaints (and occasional praise) about tournament conditions, memories of poor treatment (or occasionally special experiences), and chess politics. The Deep Blue vs. Kasparov project got an interesting treatment and GM Benjamin's perspective was certainly unique, although the narrative was not exactly comprehensive. The book was published in 2007 but the focus was on Benjamin's junior and earlier career, really through the 1990s. As such, a lot of the references - especially to the politics and various failed professional associations - feel quite dated. If you weren't around the 1990s, therefore, it's probably not going to be particularly relevant.

07 April 2024

Annotated Game #270: Learning the Slow Slav the hard way

This last-round tournament game is yet another example of the main lesson from Annotated Game #267: How openings are really learned. Here it's a Slow Slav that I had little depth on previously, but studying this game and looking at a couple database examples now have armed me much better for future clashes in the opening.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "55"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bf5 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nh4 Bg6 7. Nxg6 hxg6 8. Bd3 Qc7 {targeting h2 and prompting White's next.} (8... Nbd7 {is the standard move here.}) 9. h3 Nbd7 10. Bd2 Be7 11. Rc1 O-O 12. O-O {up to this point, although we have not followed the full main line, play has been pretty standard as both sides develop. Now I have to start thinking for myself in the middlegame, without however having much experience with it.} a6 $5 {not a standard idea in this position, but not a bad one either. The point is to possibly prepare b5, while also serving as a waiting move.} (12... Rfd8) (12... Rac8) 13. Qf3 {increasing pressure on d5 and connecting the rooks.} Qd8 (13... dxc4 {is a common liquidation of the center at this stage.} 14. Bxc4 c5 {would be a standard follow-up.}) 14. cxd5 cxd5 $6 {this poor decision is the start of my problems. Opening the c-file is a bad idea, with White's rook already occupying it.} (14... exd5 $11) 15. e4 $6 {however, this is an overly aggressive reaction.} dxe4 {the correct response.} 16. Nxe4 b5 {I saw White's next move, but did not handle it properly.} 17. Rc6 Nb8 $6 {this contributes to the cramping of Black's position and un-develops a good piece.} (17... Nxe4 18. Bxe4 Nf6 $11) 18. Rc2 $14 Nbd7 19. Rfc1 {now the c-file is a much more obvious problem. Essentially I have done nothing in the last few moves while my opponent has managed to double his rooks on the only open file on the board.} Nd5 {best chance to keep things together, centralizing the knight in front of the isolated queen pawn.} 20. Nc5 {the best choice to keep up the pressure. The defense becomes more complex now and I falter.} Bf6 $6 {this pressures d4 but underestimates White's attacking potential.} (20... Bxc5 {I considered this but obviously did not like the creation of a strong passed pawn. However, it should be containable.} 21. dxc5 Ne5 $1 $14 {and the knight can blockade on c6 or exchange off the Bd3, both of which would be helpful.}) 21. Qg4 {now sacrifices on e6 and g6 are in the air.} Nxc5 22. Rxc5 $6 {this lets up the pressure.} (22. dxc5 $16 {the Nd5 is not in as good a position to blockade the c-pawn, plus White's two bishops look dangerous.}) 22... Be7 $11 {enough for equality.} (22... Ne7 {is better, thereby guarding c6 and c8 and g6, while jumping to f5 later would also be good.}) 23. Rc6 Bb4 {not wrong, but it betrays my lack of understanding of the need to keep pieces available to defend the kingside.} (23... Bf6) 24. Bg5 Qa5 $2 {the losing move. Now White unleashes a breakthrough sacrifice.} (24... Be7 $11) 25. Rxe6 {now I realize that I'm simply lost, so try a desperation shot at counterplay.} Qxa2 26. Rxg6 Qxb2 27. Rxg7+ Kxg7 28. Be7+ 1-0

06 April 2024

Annotated Game #269: Symmetrical = wild??

Due to having a bye round in the tournament (and having quickly lost my first game as Black), I surprisingly ended up having two Whites in a row. This one, despite being a Symmetrical English, turned into one of the wildest games I have played in at least the past few years. 

Similar to Annotated Game #265 and others, I often get the sense from my opponent's initial hesitation to respond to 1. c4 that they have decided to simply mimic moves, rather than actually follow a prepared repertoire. The problem from White's perspective is that in this opening, that works reasonable well for Black up until around moves 8-9. The positive aspect, as I've also learned, is that once asymmetry is reached, Black may have less of an idea about what to do in the middlegame.

In this game, Black's asymmetric move 9 allows White to obtain a small positional plus and led to what could be a comfortable, even winning middlegame. One of the main lessons for me was a failure on move 14 to kick Black's strong centralized knight on d4 - this is something that I recognize I have repeatedly failed to do in other games, also with poor results. A big benefit of analyzing your own games is recognizing these types of specifc patterns that recur and then correcting them; I articulated this in more detail in Annotated Game #192: The problem of mental perspective

Starting on move 17 the game gets a lot crazier and mutual time pressure contributes to a number of swings in evaluation. I wish I had been able to spot the more sophisticated way to play, but felt relatively good at the end of an exhausting wide ride, escaping with a draw.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A38"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2/Stockfish 16"] [PlyCount "117"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. d3 d6 8. Rb1 Rb8 {this sort of mirror-imaging can be annoying, but ultimately it has to stop somewhere, and does the next move.} 9. a3 Ng4 $6 {this is a dubious maneuver, however, since it does nothing to counter White's queenside plans or help Black's development.} 10. Bd2 $14 Nge5 {this was evidently the idea behind the maneuver, but the knight has taken up time to move to a square which is not evidently better.} 11. b4 (11. Nxe5 Nxe5 12. b4 $14 {is a similar idea to get in the pawn advance while opening the long diagonal; it seems to be easier/better for White to play, since the bishop in the game loses a tempo retreating from f3.}) 11... Nxf3+ 12. Bxf3 Nd4 13. Bg2 {although it's only a small positional advantage for White, I was quite happy here with control of the long diagonal and the d5 square, and having already got in b2-b4.} Bd7 14. bxc5 {this wins a pawn, but Black has significant compensation.} (14. e3 {is the engine recommendation, getting the strong centralized knight out of d4. A common flaw in my play has been leaving such knights in place for too long.} Nc6 15. b5 Ne5 16. f4 Ng4 17. Qe1 $14 {covering e3 and preparing to push the e-pawn.}) 14... dxc5 15. Bxb7 Nc6 $6 {this passive move allows White to keep the pawn and a positional advantage as well.} (15... Bg4 {is the most aggressive response, pressuring e2 and combining well with the centralized Nd4.} 16. Be4 {simply retreating does not help.} (16. Bf4 e5 17. Bd2 {eliminates the threat to the Nc3, but after} Qc7 {Black renews his threats and can pick up the e-pawn again by capturing on b1.}) 16... Rxb1 17. Qxb1 Bxe2 $11) 16. Ne4 $16 {now my own centralized knight causes Black problems.} Na5 {this seems to just lose another pawn, but eliminating the bishop is better for Black.} 17. Nxc5 (17. Bd5 $1 {positionally alone this might be best, but there is also a tactical justification.} Rxb1 18. Qxb1 e6 19. Nxc5 $1 exd5 20. Nxd7 {and the Na5 will be hanging if the Qd8 moves off the diagonal to recapture, so} Nxc4 21. dxc4 Qxd7 22. Rd1 $18) 17... Nxb7 {I thought for a while here and picked the wrong piece to recapture with.} 18. Rxb7 $6 (18. Nxb7 Qc7 19. Na5 $16) 18... Rxb7 19. Nxb7 Qa8 $1 $11 {I had missed this idea, which exploits the weakness of the long diagonal on White's king position.} 20. Na5 {essentially forced} (20. Nc5 Bh3 21. e4 Qc6 22. Be3 Rc8 23. d4 Bxf1 $17) 20... Bh3 21. e4 {this works to block the mate threat, but leaves the e-pawn as a target for a Black pawn lever.} (21. f3 $5 {I don't recall considering this at length, not sure why.}) 21... Bxf1 22. Kxf1 $15 {Black has a small advantage in the middlegame, as his pieces will be able to coordinate better and White's two extra pawns are not yet able to be mobilized.} Rb8 (22... f5 {would immediately hit at White's e-pawn and threaten to open more lines for the rook.}) 23. Nb3 $6 {it's understandable that I wanted to get the knight off the rim, but this is too slow.} (23. Bb4 $11 {mobilizing the bishop with tempo, as it threatens e7.}) 23... Rb7 (23... Qc6 $1 $17 {and Black threatens to move to a4, causing greater problems for White.}) 24. Ke2 {it's still a little early to be moving the king. Again, mobilizing the bishop looks better.} Qb8 25. Bb4 {I finally hit on the best idea, although it is not quite as effective as before. At least the b-file is shut off, and I felt that I could hold the position now.} Bd4 $4 {both my opponent and I hallucinated that the bishop was safe on the square. Mutual time pressure likely played a part.} 26. Nc5 $4 (26. Nxd4 {and wins.}) 26... Bxc5 (26... a5 $1 {is even better.} 27. Nxb7 axb4 28. Na5 bxa3 $19 {and the advanced passed a-pawn will be decisive.}) 27. Bxc5 Qe5 28. Bb4 Qh5+ $6 {this sequence was what I had anticipated with my (erroneous) calculations on move 26, and in fact it is balanced.} (28... a5 $17 {is the idea that both my opponent and I overlooked, which would allow the rook to penetrate.}) 29. Ke1 Qe5 30. Qd2 {again failing to defend against ...a5. However, luckily my opponent continues to miss it as well.} (30. Qa4) 30... Qa1+ 31. Qd1 Qd4 32. Qd2 $6 (32. Qc2) 32... e5 33. Bc3 {some complex and rather stressful defensive calculations were required here.} (33. Ke2 $5 {looks simpler.}) 33... Rb1+ 34. Ke2 Qd6 35. Bb4 $11 {now there should not be any threat of a breakthrough.} Qf6 36. Bc3 {just playing it safe.} g5 {my opponent meanwhile continues to try to press.} 37. Qe3 Qe7 {covering a7.} 38. Bb4 Rb2+ 39. Kd1 {keeping the king attached to the defense of the f2 pawn is a much better idea.} (39. Ke1) 39... Qf6 {immediately targeting f2.} 40. Qc5 $2 {this aggressive counterattacking defense has a major flaw, but Black overlooks it in time pressure.} (40. Bc5) (40. Bc3) 40... Qd8 $6 (40... h6 $1 $19 {and Black's king will be able to eventually avoid White's checks, while the Q+R combo can effectively penetrate and attack White's position.}) 41. Qd6 $11 {forcing the queen trade, to what should be a balanced position.} Qxd6 42. Bxd6 Rxf2 $2 {this is too greedy, but I miss the refutation.} (42... f6 $11) 43. Bxe5 $6 {thinking too materialistically here.} (43. c5 $1 $18 {passed pawns must be pushed! Leaving the bishop in place covers the f8 square, so Black's king is cut off.}) 43... Kf8 $11 44. c5 {one tempo too late.} Ke8 {as often happens in endgames, sometimes good-looking moves have subtle refutations.} (44... Ke7 $11) 45. h4 $2 {I was obviously worried about protecting the h-pawn, but this is done better with} (45. g4 $11) (45. d4 $1 {and the central connected passed pawns win, as the engine points out.} Rxh2 (45... Rf1+ 46. Kd2 Rf2+ 47. Ke3 Rc2 48. Kd3 Rc1 49. Bf6 $18) 46. d5 $18) 45... f5 $1 $19 {now Black should be winning.} 46. Ke1 Ra2 $2 {now White should be winning.} (46... Rf3 $1 $19) 47. exf5 $1 gxh4 48. gxh4 Rxa3 49. Ke2 $6 {another subtle endgame misstep and we are back to equality.} (49. Kd2 {and the king can chase the rook on the queenside.}) 49... a5 $11 50. c6 Ra2+ 51. Ke3 Rc2 52. c7 a4 53. d4 $2 {looks reasonable, but should lose.} (53. Kd4 a3 54. Kd5 Kd7 55. f6 a2 56. f7 Rf2 57. c8=Q+ Kxc8 58. Ke6 Kd8 $11 {and now neither pawn can queen.}) 53... a3 $19 54. d5 a2 55. d6 Kd7 56. f6 {desperate pressure added to Black, but it works. There is only one winning move.} a1=Q (56... Rc5 $1 57. Bd4 Rc1 $19) 57. Bxa1 Kxd6 58. f7 Ke7 59. Bf6+ {this is a little flashy and sets an obvious trap, but my opponent sees through it. Draw agreed.} (59. Be5 {also draws.} Kxf7 60. Kd3 $11) 1/2-1/2

30 March 2024

Video completed: 3 Steps To Think Like a Grandmaster by GM Igor Smirnov

3 Steps To Think Like a Grandmaster by GM Igor Smirnov (in his "Remote Chess Academy" series) is a 20-minute video that offers what I consider as another useful and practical contribution to a chess improver's thinking process. It outlines three broad steps, which I'll paraphrase:

1) Identify reasonable candidate moves

2) Remove ones from consideration that do not advance your plan

3) Calculate the ones left for safety (in other words, blunder check), then select the most aggressive of the valid moves remaining

Any chessplayer who has looked at constructing or analyzing their own thinking process - my version is the Simplified Thought Process (that works) - knows that it can be easy to build a lot of complexity into it, a tendency which quickly becomes self-defeating. A well-defined thinking process should not attempt to incorporate the sum total of your chess knowledge; any attempts to do so remind me of the Jorge Luis Borges story "Del rigor en la ciencia" ("On Exactitude in Science") about the project to make a 1:1 scale map.

To simplify the process and make it effective, it is necessary to focus on the "meta-cognition" piece of it - which can be defined as thinking about how you think. On a practical level, this means coming up with a formula describing how best to focus your (limited) attention and energy on those discrete elements of playing chess which are most important in decision-making. Temposchlucker's blog is one amateur's outstanding example of devoting a lot of thought to thinking.

Returning to the video content, I would say that its focus on basic principles is its strength, including citing common (but still useful to hear) ones like seeking to improve your worst piece in the absence of other obvious candidate moves, and limiting your calculations to only those few moves and situations which require them. It will not answer all the necessary questions about your thinking process, and of course will only reflect your current chess strength in terms of evaluating candidate moves, tactical considerations, and strategic plans. However, sometimes sticking to first principles can indeed help cut through a lot of unhelpful noise, and help you focus on the signals the position in front of you is sending.

EDIT: Smirnov provides some similar follow-on thinking process illustrations in "How I went from 1600 to 2260 Chess Rating in 1 Year" - which isn't about chess training, as I originally thought, but is a useful adjunct to the concept of a simpler, principles-based thinking approach. Examples of muddled thinking around the 1600 level were especially relevant (and unfortunately familiar).

26 March 2024

Annotated Game #268: When a winning advantage evaporates

In my next "comeback" tournament, I blundered early (move 8) in my first round game after having a distracting morning, which was not worth analyzing beyond remembering the obvious lesson of avoiding that particular blunder again. We'll therefore start with the second round game, which helped highlight the previous theme of Annotated Game #267: How openings are really learned, as it featured a dubious variation from Black in an English Four Knights. I had faced it before twice in my tournament career, but did not recall the previous games at the time. After looking at this one, I should remember the ideas better and be more confident in choosing how to respond (either of two main options for White on move 7 are good for an advantage.)

The new theme for this game is the evaporating winning advantage. In this case, I go up a pawn early and also have a nice positional edge heading into a major and minor piece endgame. This should be an easy win, but I let Black get too much play on the kingside and then end up in a drawn rook endgame, despite retaining the extra pawn. It is a helpful illustration of how quickly even a decisive positional advantage validated by the engines can quickly dissipate, based on some inaccurate calculations and visualization. At least it wasn't a loss, is my only consolation.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "80"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bb5 f6 {I've faced this twice previously in tournaments. Black is attempting a reversed Sicilian formation, but with a tempo down this weakening of the king position benefits White.} 7. O-O $14 {emphasizing king safety before commencing operations in the center. An immediate d4 is also possible.} Nb6 {seemingly a safe choice, but} 8. d4 $1 $16 Bd7 9. dxe5 a6 $18 {White should now just be winning, after the following.} 10. Bxc6 Bxc6 11. Nd4 {I thought for a while here, and the engine validates my choice. The centralized knight is a strong attacking piece, while Black's king remains in the center and White is also a full pawn up.} Qe7 12. Nxc6 {the clearest road to a positionally won game.} bxc6 13. exf6 {so far so good.} Qxf6 {White now has a decisive positional advantage, with Black's weak doubled c-pawns and king position, but there is no immediate knockout.} 14. e4 {played to control d5 and open up the diagonal for the bishop.} Bd6 15. Qh5+ (15. Be3 $5 {simple development is good.}) 15... g6 16. Qg4 h5 $5 {provocative, but playing it safe won't get Black much either.} 17. Qg5 {I would be happy to trade queens and grind the position in the won endgame.} Be7 18. Qxf6 Bxf6 {With a 4-2 advantage on the kingside and Black's shattered queenside pawns, this should be a simple win.} 19. e5 {a good start, advancing the passed pawn and seizing more space. It is tactically protected.} Be7 (19... Bxe5 $2 20. Re1 $18 {and the bishop is lost.}) 20. Rd1 {perhaps an inaccuracy, although not terrible.} (20. Ne4 {played immediately is good, leaving open where to put the rook. Here if} O-O $6 21. Bg5 $18 {essentially forcing another minor piece trade, bringing me closer to a simplified victory.}) 20... O-O 21. Ne4 {this has less punch now.} (21. g3) 21... Nd5 22. g3 {with the idea of advancing the f-pawn.} Rf5 23. f4 g5 {here I thought for a while and miscalculated the resulting position.} 24. Nxg5 $2 (24. Rf1) (24. Nc3) 24... Bxg5 $16 {Black regains the material.} 25. fxg5 Rxe5 $14 {Black hasn't fully equalized, but his active rooks and centralized knight largely compensate for White's (doubled) 3-1 kingside majority.} 26. Bf4 Nxf4 $6 {this gives back some hope to White, by undoubling the pawns.} (26... Re2) 27. gxf4 $16 Re4 28. Rf1 Rf8 29. Rad1 $2 {unfortunately after the following sequence White has no real threats. It was necessary to get back the material.} (29. Rac1 $1 Rexf4 30. Rxf4 Rxf4 31. Rxc6 Rg4+ 32. Kf2 Rxg5 $2 (32... Rf4+ $16) 33. Rxa6 $1 $18 {and White's outside passed pawn should win.}) 29... Rexf4 30. Rxf4 Rxf4 31. Rd8+ Kg7 32. Rd7+ Kg6 33. Rxc7 Rc4 {now White can't avoid giving Black a passed pawn and we reach a drawn rook ending.} 34. h4 Rxh4 35. Rxc6+ Kxg5 $11 36. Rxa6 Rf4 37. b3 Rg4+ 38. Kf2 Rf4+ 39. Kg2 Rg4+ 40. Kf2 Rf4+ 1/2-1/2

22 February 2024

Video completed: The 4...Nf6 Caro-Kann by Nigel Davies


I recently completed the FritzTrainer The 4...Nf6 Caro-Kann by GM Nigel Davies, which was published in 2016. It covers lines in both the Bronstein-Larsen (5...gxf6) and Tartakower (5...exf6) variations for Black, which is unusual, since Caro-Kann opening resources normally focus on one or the other, because of their major structural differences. The content description is copied below; there are also 16 quiz positions at the end, mostly from the Bronstein-Larsen side. In each of the lines, a full game is presented as the baseline, although certain sub-variations or ideas are demonstrated within it. There is also a separate, larger database of model games included in both variations.

As is reflected in my annotated games database attached to this blog, I've long played the Classical (4...Bf5) variation of the main line Caro-Kann. I have no intention of giving it up, but the 4...Nf6 variations are of interest both from a general improvement standpoint and for potentially expanding my personal repertoire. The position-types that result have some resemblance to familiar ones, but especially the Bronstein-Larsen requires a more dynamic, attacking approach from Black. The positional imbalances that result are also a useful way to deliberately (if more riskily) play for a win as Black, versus the normally more staid positions of the Classical variation.

Although this video set is one of the more comprehensive ones available on the topic, it still covers a lot of territory without much depth, particularly in the main line Bronstein-Larsen 6. c3, where Davies recommends ...h5 as Black's response, rather than the much more common ...Bf5. The database supports this choice, however, with ...h5 scoring significantly better. White has a large number of 6th move possibilities, as can be seen below, so this lack of depth is probably unavoidable.

I avoided the Tartakower variation when originally building my personal repertoire largely because of Korchnoi's defeat against Karpov in the world championship series while relying on it. That said, it's certainly solid and in fact underwent something of a renaissance several years after this video was published. I don't believe it's quite as trendy at the moment, but there are many current games with it and it scores significantly better than the Bronstein-Larsen, so it may be worth delving into further. If you are looking for an introduction to the modern (2017 and on) treatment of the Tartakower, this blog post by GM Max Illingworth on Chess.com may be of interest: https://www.chess.com/blog/Illingworth/the-modern-caro-kann-antidote-to-3-nc3

  • The 4...Nf6 Caro-Kann: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6
  • 01: Introduction [06:28]
  • 02: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 Strategy 1 - Kavalek,L - Larsen,B [11:17]
  • 03: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 Strategy 2 - Victor Ciocaltea - Mikhail Botvinnik [10:09]
  • 04: 5.Nxf6 exf6 Strategy 1 - Rosino,A - Bilek,I [14:29]
  • 05: 5.Nxf6 exf6 Strategy 2 - Torre,E - Kortschnoj,V [12:00]
  • 06: 5.Nxf6 exf6 Strategy 3 - Tarrasch,S - Tartakower,S [07:56]
  • 07: 5.Nxf6 exf6 Strategy 4 - Perez - Alekhine,A [07:52]
  • 08: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.c3 Bf5 - John Fedorowicz - Nigel Rodney Davies [09:47]
  • 09: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.c3 h5 - Eggleston,D - Short,N [15:40]
  • 10: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Be2 Qc7 8.Be3 - Tiviakov,S - Short,N [06:42]
  • 11: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Be2 Qc7 8.0-0 - Lombaers,P - Jones,G [06:46]
  • 12: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.g3 h5 - Nakar,E - Paichadze,L [10:29]
  • 13: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Bc4 Bf5 7.Ne2 Nd7 8.Ng3 Bg6 9.0-0 - Aseev,K - Bronstein,D [05:17]
  • 14: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Bc4 Bf5 7.c3 e6 8.Ne2 - Pohla,H - Bronstein,D [06:09]
  • 15: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Bc4 Bf5 7.c3 e6 8.Qf3 - Ivanovic,B - Bronstein,D [08:58]
  • 16: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Bf4 - Davies,N - Groszpeter,A [04:45]
  • 17: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Be3 - Bakulin,N - Bronstein,D [08:53]
  • 18: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Ne2 - Kopaev,N - Bronstein,D [07:35]
  • 19: 5.Nxf6 gxf6 6.Qd3 - Barczay,L - Bronstein,D [05:32]
  • 20: 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.Qc2 Re8+ 9.Ne2 Kh8 White castles short - Tiviakov,S - Spraggett,K [10:37]
  • 21: 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.Ne2 Re8 9.Qc2 Kh8 White castles long - Fontaine,R - Asrian,K [07:19]
  • 22: 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.c3 Bd6 7.Bd3 Be6 - Arakhamia-Grant,K - Korchnoi,V [07:33]
  • 23: 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.Bc4 Qe7 7.Qe2 Be6 8.Bxe6 - Ivanovic,B - Miladinovic,I [09:03]
  • 24: 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.Bc4 Qe7 7.Qe2 Be6 8.Bb3 - Estevez,G - Lechtynsky,J [09:43]
  • 25: 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.Bc4 Qe7 7.Be2 - Karjakin,S - Jobava,B [11:19]
  • 26: 5.Nxf6 exf6 6.Bc4 Bd6 - Bednarski,J - Donner,J [11:38]
  • 27: 5.Ng3 g6 - Sax,G - Larsen,B [16:23]
  • 28: 5.Ng3 h5 - Elezi,E - Akopian,V [09:21]

19 February 2024

The learning cycle articulated

In Annotated Game #267 ("How openings are really learned") I highlighted the cycle for acquiring deeper understanding of openings and their early middlegame plans: play consistently, analyze your games, and you will inevitably expand your understanding of them step by step.

Separate but closely related to that, I recently ran across what I thought was a well-articulated (and simple) version of the broader learning cycle at Chessmood:


The full article addresses other things like the importance of mindset, but below is how they present the cycle. It's worth clarifying that the "Practice" step, in the sense we are talking about, does not mean reviewing your stored opening repertoire (or other knowledge) by yourself; rather, it is about using your chess knowledge (opening, middlegame, endgame) under actual combat conditions. Improvement via analyzing your own games then becomes an iterative process that yields concrete results over time, even if temporary setbacks occur.


The chess improvement formula

It’s quite simple.
Study -> Practice -> Fix -> (Repeat)

You learn something first.
You practice it; otherwise, you’ll forget it.
You fix the mistakes you make.
Then you learn new things, and the cycle continues.

Annotated Game #267: How openings are really learned

This final-round game illustrates several useful themes, including recent ones highlighted like the importance of playing an idea at the right time and the power (and necessity) of simple development. The mutual "??" moment on move 32 shows how time trouble was affecting my game, as I had a chance to turn things around, and played the correct move one tempo too late. 

This game is also a perfect example of a broader theme of how openings really get learned - namely, the hard way.

During the game it was clear that my opponent as White was out of his personal experience in the opening phase of a Panov variation of the Caro-Kann. This however did not stop him from finding the correct attacking setup and plan, which to be honest is not that hard for an experienced White player. In contrast, never having faced/studied the position starting on move 11, I struggled to adapt and ended up committing the sin of moving a piece multiple times in the opening to no good effect, which essentially handed my opponent the initiative and an excellent attack.

I did not feel too badly about missing the one tactic, since my opponent had simply outplayed me for most of the game, although it stung a bit. The main lesson for me was the need to keep playing consistently, analyze my games, and constantly expand my understanding of openings and early middlegame plans in that manner. Databases and references are great, but understanding comes from the actual fight on the board.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B14"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Stockfish 16"] [PlyCount "73"] 1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 {the Panov variation, by transposition.} Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nf3 Be7 {my opponent did not seem particularly familiar with the opening, or at least this variation, based on the amount of time he took at the board. However, he found a good path as White - perhaps not to difficult to do.} 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Bd3 Nc6 9. O-O O-O 10. Re1 Nf6 11. Bg5 {I was only familiar with the a3 line, so now had to start thinking about the differences.} h6 {logical and objectively best.} (11... Nb4 {would be the direct way to take advantage of White's failure to guard the b4 square.} 12. Bb1 {the bishop is fine on this square, but the drawback for White is locking the rook on the a-file.}) 12. Bh4 a6 $6 {this turns out to be too slow.} (12... Nh5 {immediately trades off a minor piece, reducing White's attacking prospects.}) (12... Bd7 {simple development is also good, while clearing the c8 square for a rook.}) 13. Rc1 Nb4 $6 {this is now possible, but is only a distraction for Black, as the light-square bishop is just fine on b1. This would have made more sense played earlier, as shown on move 11.} 14. Bb1 Nbd5 $6 {compounding my loss of time in the opening. White will now get an attack rolling without my pieces being well-enough developed to counter it.} (14... Bd7 $16 {would be at least somewhat better, also allowing the bishop to go to e8 on defense.}) 15. Qc2 $16 Nb4 16. Qd2 Nbd5 17. Ne5 {I thought for a long time here and could not find a good response. I thought the text move would hold, but White is able to bring too many pieces into the attack.} Ne8 (17... Ne4 {is the engine's best try.} 18. Qc2 Bxh4 19. Qxe4 f5 20. Qf3 $16) 18. Nxd5 Bxh4 19. Qd3 f5 {this was basically as far as I originally saw in calculating the sequence on move 17.} 20. Nf4 $1 $18 {now, however, the knights are dominant.} Bg5 21. Neg6 Bxf4 22. Nxf4 Qd6 23. Qe3 Nc7 24. a3 {restricting the Black queen's activity by controlling b4.} Nd5 25. Nxd5 Qxd5 26. Rc5 {I missed this, which ends up giving White too much pressure on e6 by driving away the queen.} Qd8 27. Ba2 {the game is essentially over at this point, but I play on in hopes of a blunder from my opponent.} Kh8 28. Qe5 Bd7 {far too late for this basic developing move.} 29. Rc7 {well played by my opponent, as Black has no good response.} Rc8 30. Rxb7 Rf6 31. d5 Rg6 {setting up some desperation tactics involving the g-file. This was the correct practical choice, especially under mutual time pressure.} 32. dxe6 $4 (32. Qd6) 32... Qg5 $4 {the wrong choice of threat to make, in time pressure.} (32... Bc6 $1 {forking g2 and the Rb7 wins. I saw this earlier as a possibility, but somehow hallucinated that White had an effective comeback that negated the threat.} 33. g3 Bxb7 $19) 33. g3 $18 Bc6 {too late.} 34. Rb8 Rxb8 35. Qxb8+ Kh7 36. e7 Qh5 37. Qg8# {I had not seen this, with the Ba2 now covering g8.} 1-0

18 February 2024

Annotated Game #266: The importance of playing an idea at the right time

I happened to get two Whites in a row and I was not unhappy, given the previous result, that this game paralleled Annotated Game #265's Symmetrical English until move 8. Black's asymmetric reaction in the center with ...e5 created an imbalance in the position which I could have reacted to with the idea of Bg5, looking to trade the now "bad" bishop off. However, I pass up several early opportunities, only to play it at a much worse time later in the game, which nearly gets the bishop trapped. A similar theme applies to my light-square bishop's back-and-forth maneuvers.

The game overall was more stressful than the previous one, with Black's space advantage and better piece activity keeping me on the ropes for much of the time, although I had a number of chances to equalize (and did so several times). Time trouble for both sides played a major role in the outcome, as well.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A37"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Stockfish 16"] [PlyCount "99"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 g6 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O O-O 7. d3 d6 8. Rb1 e5 {first break in the symmetry. Black opts to seize territory in the center, at the cost of obstructing the Bg7.} 9. a3 {continuing with the plan of the b-pawn advance.} a5 10. Ne1 (10. Bg5 $5 {is an interesting idea, now that there is an obstructing pawn on e5. Normally the bishop is needed on d2 (or perhaps b2) to help counter the Bg7's pressure.} h6 11. Bxf6 {exchanging the "bad" bishop for Black's good knight.} Bxf6 12. Ne1) 10... Be6 11. Nc2 {it would be better to develop the bishop.} (11. Bg5 {fights for d5 indirectly as well.}) 11... d5 {now Black's central play equalizes.} 12. cxd5 {at the time, I thought there was no other real option. However, the Bg5 idea is still good.} Nxd5 13. Ne3 (13. Ne4 $5) 13... Nde7 14. Bd2 {finally developing the piece. Black has a space advantage by this point, so I have to look for ways to give my pieces greater scope.} Rb8 15. Nb5 {played after long thought. I felt this had better long-term prospects than alternatives such as Na4. I did not consider Ne4 here, having dismissed it earlier.} Qb6 {first move out of the database. I didn't think the queen was well-placed on b6. However, it does provoke my next move, which helps resolve the situation on the queenside for Black.} 16. a4 {this gives up the idea of the b4 break, but I didn't think it was happening anyway by this point in the game. I thought it was a solid option to maintain the knight outpost.} (16. Qa4 $5 {would be one way to develop the queen and free up space for other pieces. White can then chase away the black queen with Nc4.}) 16... Qd8 $15 17. Nc4 {pressuring a5 and controlling d6. Black according to the engine still has a small advantage, but at least I was now striking back in his territory.} b6 18. b3 (18. f4 $5 {is an interesting alternative, preferred by the engines. In the game, I considered it for a while and ultimately did not like due to the opening of the g1-a7 diagonal, which I thought would be better for Black.}) 18... Bd5 19. Bh3 $11 {choosing to preserve the bishop. My opponent seemed surprised by the maneuver. I was heartened by the seizure of the h3-c8 diagonal, which makes things more equal, and provokes Black's next move. Exchanging on d5 also would have been fine.} f5 20. Nc3 $6 {unfortunately at this point I had run out of ideas in the position. More active play would keep the balance.} (20. Bg5) (20. f4) 20... Bf7 $15 21. Nb5 Nd4 22. Nxd4 {effectively getting rid of the annoying outpost knight, as exchanging it is better than leaving the strong Nd4 in place.} Qxd4 23. Bg2 {bringing the bishop back into the game.} Nd5 24. Ne3 {another longer think without a good result. It's better to try to get the queen into the game, or at least more actively supporting the other pieces.} (24. Qe1) (24. Qc1) 24... Nxe3 (24... Nb4 $5 {would have maintained more pressure.}) 25. Bxe3 $6 {an example of stereotypical thinking, rejecting the idea of creating doubled pawns, which would actually give White a more dynamic position.} (25. fxe3 {I should have considered this more seriously, but was in significant time pressure by now.} Qd6 26. e4 $11) 25... Qd6 $17 {Black has a significant space advantage and better piece activity.} 26. Qc1 Rfe8 27. Rd1 Rbd8 28. Bg5 {this idea comes too late to be effective, as Black easily sidesteps with his rook.} Rd7 29. Bf1 $2 {a blunder, missing the danger the Bg5 is now in of being trapped.} Bd5 {luckily my opponent was also in similar time pressure and missed the refutation, giving me time to retreat it.} (29... f4 $1) 30. Bd2 Qc6 31. Bc3 (31. e4 {is actually possible and probably best here, due to the latent tactical possibility of a skewer on the a4-e8 diagonal.} fxe4 32. dxe4 Bxe4 33. Bb5 {and Black can only save himself by} Qf6 $11) 31... Qb7 32. f3 {playing it safe by blocking the diagonal, although the position is still very problematic for White.} e4 $6 {an attempt to force the situation in the center, which simply dissolves Black's pressure.} 33. Bxg7 Rxg7 34. dxe4 fxe4 35. f4 $11 e3 {after the last sequence, White should be equal now and out of the woods. I thought for a little while here, but was unsure of the best way to proceed.} 36. Qc3 Qc6 37. Rbc1 Rf7 38. Rd3 {this is a little slow.} (38. Qd3 $5) (38. Bh3 {reactivating the bishop.}) 38... Qe6 39. Rcd1 Rf5 40. Bh3 $2 {blunder at the time control. Another example of a good idea played too late, and in this case without considering my opponent's responses.} (40. Bg2 {was necessary.}) 40... Qe4 $1 {threatening mate on h1.} 41. Rxd5 {essentially forced.} Rxd5 42. Rxd5 Qxd5 $19 43. Bg2 Qd2 $6 {this allows White's next move, giving me a saving burst of activity against his king.} (43... Qd1+ 44. Bf1 Qd4 $19 {and the White pieces have nowhere to go.}) 44. Qc4+ $1 Kg7 45. h3 {giving the king an escape square, so the bishop would not have to go to f1 following a queen check.} (45. h4 $5) 45... Re7 46. Kh2 Qd4 47. Bd5 $2 {played in the (correct) expectation that Black would feel obliged to trade queens. However, the engine shows it would be better for White to keep the queens on.} (47. Qb5) 47... Qxc4 (47... b5 $1 48. axb5 Rd7 49. Be6 Qxc4 $19 {and now the endgame is winning for Black.}) 48. Bxc4 Kf6 49. g4 g5 50. Kg3 {low on time, my opponent offered a draw, believing I had a viable fortress. I thought it was not 100%, but it would have been difficult to break down. The engine considers Black the victor.} 1/2-1/2

17 February 2024

Annotated Game #265: The importance of a sense of danger

This second game from the tournament featured a Symmetrical English, which had a great deal of symmetry indeed, only varying on move 9. If one chooses to play as White in this way, then patience is the key to success, rather than an ability (or desire) to pursue an attacking, imbalanced game. It can be annoying when Black clearly has no experience with the opening, but can still get a good position simply by mimicking moves. However, sometimes the patient approach pays off, as in this game after Black gets impatient and presses too hard with his queen, at a time when a sense of danger was necessary.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A38"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "148"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. g3 Nf6 4. Nc3 {the Symmetrical Four Knights} g6 {my opponent took some time in the opening and did not appear to be acquainted with the Symmetrical English, going for mimicing moves simply on principle.} 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O d6 7. d3 {I seriously considered breaking new ground by playing d4 here, since Black postponed castling by a move, but eventually decided to stick with a position and strategy with which I was more familiar.} O-O 8. Rb1 {this scores best in the database, although I'm not sure how much difference move order makes for the basic plan, threatening b2-b4.} Bd7 9. a3 a5 {restraining the b-pawn advance} 10. b3 {with b4 having been prevented for now, I switch to a plan with a goal of swapping off Black's Bg7 and keeping the pressure on the light squares and center.} (10. Bd2 {is most played here, keeping White's options open.}) 10... Qc8 {choosing the common plan of seeking to exchange the Bg2.} 11. Re1 {choosing to keep the light-square bishop on the board, by clearing the diagonal so the bishop can retreat to h1.} Bh3 12. Bh1 h6 {controlling g5, otherwise Ng5 could harass the bishop on h3.} 13. Bb2 {following up on the plan decided on move 10.} Re8 {I thought for a long time here about what would be best to do. I looked at Nd2 as the other main candidate move, which is a standard maneuver to unlock the light-square bishop on the long diagonal. In ultimately choosing the text move, I preferred to maintain more control over the center and the d4 square. However, I did not see my opponent's response.} 14. Nb5 (14. e3 $5 {is another idea, suggested by Dragon 3.2}) 14... Na7 {here I could lock up the queenside with a4 and gain a bit of space, but I saw that I could force through b4 after the exchange, and preferred to try to open lines.} 15. Nxa7 Rxa7 16. Nd2 {it was between this or the immediate b2-b4, either of which are fine.} Bd7 {a surprise, but the obvious idea being to reposition the bishop on the long diagonal.} 17. Ba1 {played more out of minor frustration at not having anything apparently better. Now b4 seemed easier and I felt I was keeping my options more open.} (17. Bg2 $5 {has some value as a waiting move. The engine likes the plan of gaining space and restraining ...b5 by playing a4 afterwards.}) 17... Bc6 18. b4 Bxh1 19. Kxh1 Ng4 {this was also a surprise, threatening a fork on f2.} (19... axb4 $5 20. axb4 cxb4 {is tricky and would have been a better try for Black, perhaps. The point is that} 21. Rxb4 $2 (21. Kg1 $11) 21... Ng4 $1 {wins, due to the double attack on the Ba1 and the threatened fork on f2.}) 20. Kg2 {the idea being I could then play h3 to kick the knight.} Bxa1 {my opponent saw he could win a pawn here and became obviously eager to do it. However, the doubled b-pawns will offset the material gained with their weakness.} 21. Rxa1 axb4 22. axb4 Rxa1 23. Qxa1 cxb4 {I thought for a while here again, because I spotted the tactical issues with the weakness on f2 and Black's Q+N combination making threats.} 24. Qb2 (24. Rb1 $5 {is simpler and better, as the rook is much better employed on the b-file.}) 24... Qc5 25. d4 {played after long thought.} (25. Ne4 {I also considered, but ultimately was a little unsure of the Ne4's ability to defend in all variations.}) 25... Qh5 {a bit of a crude threat. Now for some reason I didn't even consider h3 to defend, in part due to some time pressure.} 26. Nf3 $11 {this is still good for equality.} Qa5 27. Ra1 {Black is out of immediate threats and now I felt good about taking over the initiatlve, although I still need to be careful with Black's queen still threatening to penetrate on the 2nd and 1st ranks in some variations.} Qb6 28. Ra4 b3 29. Ra3 {ready to safely round up the pawn and restore material equality.} Qb4 30. Nd2 {my opponent evidently did not consider this, which protects the c4 pawn and allows me to capture on b3 with the rook.} (30. Qxb3 {is even simpler.}) 30... Rb8 31. Rxb3 Qa5 32. f3 {finally kicking the Ng4 and also closing the long diagonal.} Nf6 33. Rb5 {played after some thought. I felt it kept more pressure up on Black and that the 5th rank was also a good place for the rook, if nothing else.} Qa4 {Black again threatens to peentrate with Qd1.} 34. Kf2 {protecting the e-pawn.} Qd1 $6 {Black plays this anyway, evidently hoping to go to h1. However this is over-ambitious and the queen has very few squares left.} 35. Nf1 {I felt this was the safe choice, as I did not have time to calculate out the situation after ...Qh1.} Kf8 $4 {Black is unaware of the threat to the queen.} 36. Ra5 $1 {sealing the queen's fate.} b6 37. Ra1 Qxa1 38. Qxa1 {White now has an easy win, but Black plays on almost until mate, hoping for a stalemate. I stay patient and "go to sleep" in the endgame, per Dan Heisman's advice, pursuing an inevitable winning strategy while avoiding any chance of stalemate.} Rc8 39. Ne3 e6 40. Qa7 d5 41. cxd5 Nxd5 42. Nxd5 exd5 43. Qxb6 Re8 44. Qd6+ Kg7 45. Qxd5 Re6 46. Qc5 Kf6 47. d5 Re8 48. Qc6+ Ke7 49. Qc7+ Kf6 50. d6 h5 51. d7 h4 52. d8=Q+ Rxd8 53. Qxd8+ Kg7 54. Qxh4 Kg8 55. e4 Kg7 56. e5 Kg8 57. Qf6 g5 58. Qxg5+ Kf8 59. Qh6+ Kg8 60. Qd6 Kg7 61. h4 Kh7 62. f4 Kg7 63. f5 Kh7 64. e6 Kh6 65. g4 f6 66. g5+ Kh5 67. Qd1+ Kxh4 68. g6 Kg5 69. e7 Kh6 70. e8=Q Kg7 71. Qf7+ Kh6 72. Qh1+ Kg5 73. Qg2+ Kf4 74. Qg3+ Ke4 {and my opponent decided he had suffered enough.} 1-0

03 February 2024

Annotated Game #264: Lessons learned from an Exchange Caro-Kann

This next game started off my second "comeback" OTB tournament last year. My opponent was comparable in strength and we came out of the Exchange Caro-Kann opening in an equal but positionally dynamic situation. The variation I chose (6...g6) results in a structural imbalance, which in this case ended up with Black having an isolated queen pawn (IQP) position in favorable middlegame circumstances. That said, my planless and overly optimistic early middlegame play allowed White to gain a small advantage, but I hung close and eventually she was essentially forced into going for a three-time repetition to secure the draw.

It is always striking to me how analyzing your own games inevitably highlights significant lessons and insights into your play and how it can be improved. Even in cases like this, a relatively quiet, largely strategic and positional struggle, certain ideas can shine through clearly:

  • The strength of simple development and importance of optimal piece placement. I missed in various ways the effectiveness of just getting my bishop out with ...Bd7 and allowing the activation of the queen's rook; this did not happen until move 22. Another key positional idea was to retreat the dark-square bishop on move 14, which would have preserved the two bishops.
  • Immediately dissolving the tension on move 18, rather than searching for other improving moves. This urge to immediately swap pieces and resolve tension is a common feature (and drawback) of play at the Class level.
  • Missing good moves due to the calculation "horizon" effect - I stopped calculating too soon once I saw an "obvious" advantage for my opponent in a variation, without seeing additional tactical possibilities for myself.
I was nonetheless reasonably satisfied with my level of play, including the ability to recover after handing my opponent some advantage, and it's not a bad start to draw a similar-strength opponent at the start of a tournament.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "68"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 6. Bf4 g6 (6... Bg4 {is the more standard move.}) 7. h3 {this is the second-most played move in the database, but I had not seen it before.} Bg7 {the most played response.} 8. Ne2 {I thought this was an inferior square for the knight, relinquishing control over e5.} O-O 9. O-O Re8 {played as a useful waiting move. I was considering the ...e5 break, as well as the ...Bf5 idea.} 10. Nd2 Nh5 {increasing control over e5 prior to pushing the pawn.} (10... e5 {is playable immediately, although it results in an isolated queen pawn. The engine has no problem with this, however.} 11. dxe5 Nxe5 $11 {and Black's piece activity and scope compare favorably to White's, compensating for the isolated pawn.}) 11. Bh2 {Although not obligatory, I expected this was the main idea behind h2-h3 earlier.} e5 $11 {Black has fully equalized by this point.} 12. dxe5 Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Bxe5 {Black now has an IQP position but active pieces and control of central squares to compensate, as in the above variation.} 14. Nf3 {at this point I did not have a real plan and played what I thought was a useful waiting move, taking away b5 from the White bishop and potentially a future knight. The Be5 however should be retreated, preserving it.} a6 (14... Bd6 $5 {I did not see an antidote to} 15. Bb5 {during the game, but calculated poorly.} Re7 {did not even occur to me. The d5 pawn is tactically protected.} (15... Bd7 {was what I calcuated, but it still works after} 16. Qxd5 $2 Bxb5 17. Qxb5 {I stopped calculating here, assessing that White was simply a pawn up} a6 $1 {is found by the engine, the point being that the queen is tied to the defense of the Ne2 and can be forced off the diagonal, losing the knight.}) 16. Qxd5 $4 Bh2+ $1 $19) (14... Bg7 {is simple and good.}) 15. Re1 (15. Nxe5 {White should take the opportunity to rid Black of the two bishops.}) 15... Qb6 $6 {still planless and I also overlook that the Be5 will not be protected sufficiently after the Ne2 moves. My opponent goes for the straightforward capture, however.} 16. Nxe5 (16. Ned4 Qd6 {Black suffers an earlier wasted tempo by the queen.} 17. Nxe5 Rxe5 18. Rxe5 Qxe5 19. Qb3 $14) 16... Rxe5 17. Qd2 {connecting the rooks and getting the queen on a better diagonal, while also covering b2.} Qf6 {admitting that the previous queen move was erroneous and moving it to where tactical threats are possible against White's king position. This is perhaps overly optimistic.} (17... Bd7 {simple development is likely best.}) 18. Nd4 Rxe1+ {a bit hasty to exchange, bringing White's other rook into the action. One consistent flaw in Class players is an inability to maintain tension between pieces while looking for other moves that improve the position.} (18... Nf4 {immediately is more useful.}) 19. Rxe1 $14 {White's pieces are now better and more active than Black's, giving a positional plus.} Be6 $6 {the engine doesn't like this due to the potential exchange of pieces on e6, as White still has a rook to pressure the backward pawn on the e-file.} (19... Bd7) 20. Bc2 {White apparently liked his centralized knight and did not want to exchange it. The text move gets the bishop out of the way of the queen on the d-file and to a better (d1-a4) diagonal for other possibilities.} Nf4 {still dreaming of tactics against White's king.} 21. Qe3 {this brings the queen over to cover the bare king, but allows Black to get the rook in the game and catch up on development.} Re8 $11 22. Qg3 Bd7 {the engine applauds the bishop finally going to its best square, also allowing for neutralization of White's rook.} 23. Rxe8+ Bxe8 24. Kh2 Ne6 {now the exchange on e6 is fine, without the rooks on the board.} 25. Nxe6 fxe6 {here I was concerned about the isolated pawn having enough support, although recapturing with the queen would have been fine.} (25... Qxe6 $5 {would avoid some of the awkwardness on the back rank.} 26. Qb8 Kg7 {and if} 27. Qxb7 Qe5+ $11 {however I did not calculate past the pawn capture on b7, thinking that was sufficient for a negative evaluation.}) 26. Qb8 Qf7 $6 {unnecessarily awkward} (26... Kf8 27. Qxb7 $2 Qf4+ $1 $19 {and Black picks up the Bc2 with a subsequent queen fork.}) 27. Bb3 {an inaccuracy which helps me get out of the pin with little damage.} (27. Ba4 b5 28. Bb3 {the point is that the Black a-pawn is now vulnerable.} Kf8 29. Qd6+ Kg7 30. Kg1 Qf5 31. Qxa6 $14 {and now Black's queen is sufficiently active after ...Qb1+ to probably draw, but playing a pawn down is no fun.}) 27... Kg7 28. c4 Bc6 $11 {now I'm out of danger in all variations.} 29. cxd5 exd5 {White can easily draw with the queens on the board, but I thought she had to be a little careful here with the Black passed pawn.} 30. Kg3 Qf5 31. Qc7+ Qf7 32. Qb8 Qf5 33. Qc7+ Qf7 34. Qb8 Qf5 {as is mostly the case these days with scholastic players, they are taught to play out a game until the final result, in this case a three times repetition.} 1/2-1/2