31 January 2024

Book completed: My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition)


I recently completed My Best Games (2011 edition) by Victor Korchnoi, which I originally started in late 2022. It took that long for me to go through the 110 games (half as White, half as Black) at a fairly regular pace, with around 20-30 minutes to review each with a physical board. As part of my training process, I normally have an annotated games collection in the study mix, ideally one that includes a player's own comments and considerations, which provides special firsthand insight into the thinking process.

This collection did not disappoint in that regard, as Korchnoi offers a number of valuable insights into chess thinking and performance, beyond specific game considerations and variations; you can see some of them in several previously posted training quotes of the day. I particularly have enjoyed going through Korchnoi's games here and in other collections, such as the My Life for Chess ChessBase video volumes, for several main reasons:

  • Korchnoi was never a chess prodigy and is an example of someone reaching the highest levels (#2 in the world) through "normal" training and hard work. Of course his career and abilities were far beyond average, but the main point is that it did not come automatically to him as a childhood gift.
  • Perhaps for that reason, he has perhaps unique observations and insights into chess performance, principles, and practical considerations - and can articulate them well.
  • While Korchnoi was extremely competitive - being known as "Victor the Terrible" at the height of his career - he also was candid about his mistakes and failings in annotations. He offers up a number of examples of where he passed up draws or played objectively weaker moves or opening setups out of curiosity, fighting spirit, and/or a simple desire for variety. This makes for more interesting chess.
  • Associated with that approach to chess, Korchnoi had one of the widest repertoires and knew how to play a large number of position types.
As with any games collection, when going over it a student needs to do work to understand it on a more personal level, and read it critically. Korchnoi is not particularly consistent in the level of his annotations, sometimes taking the time to give a short variation with a tactic as an explanation, other times simply noting a particular move would be tactically bad, meaning you have to figure out why for yourself. This of course is part of the learning process and why reviewing annotated games in an active way can be so helpful to advancing your chess, because you have to engage with the material and not just accept it.

There are the usual typos or incorrect information present in a few of the game scores and annotations, but I would say no more than around a half-dozen in the entire volume, which isn't bad; all the large game collections I've been through have them due to editorial oversight.

21 January 2024

Annotated Game #263: A lucky draw

I'm not a big believer in luck in chess, although in practical terms it does apply in a sense to what your opponent decides to do, since that is out of your control. In this last-round game I was attempting to break the downward trend of this comeback tournament (win-draw-loss) and did well enough out of the opening, a Symmetrical English.

My opponent varied the symmetry on move 7 and I entered a line where after a number of exchanges the engine shows that it is a drawn game, which was a little disappointing for me. In addition, my opponent maintained a space advantage and some psychological pressure, which was compounded by my innacurate visualization and calculation of the transition into a rook endgame. I was simply lucky that my opponent did not spot the winning idea I allowed for her - but I will at least give myself credit for spotting it before she did and then shutting it down immediately when she missed her one chance to play for a win.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A38"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "87"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. Nc3 Nc6 7. d3 d5 {I give my opponent credit for being bold enough to break the symmetry here; ...d6 leads to a more sedate game.} 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nxd5 Qxd5 10. Be3 Qd6 {the first deviation from standard lines, although my opponent appeared to be thinking on her own from an early stage.} 11. Qc1 {after a lot of thought, I decided that other moves (Qd2, Rc1) had too many detractions. This pressures c5 and introduces the idea of Bh6.} (11. Rc1 {is more active, developing the rook. The queen flexibly can still go to d2 to form the Q+B battery, or develop to a4 or b3. And if} Bxb2 12. Rxc5 $16) 11... b6 {the obvious reaction, also preparing to fianchetto the bishop.} 12. Bf4 {played to push the queen back and control e5 tactically.} Qd7 13. Ne5 {resulting in multiple exchanges, which I thought were to White's benefit, but evidently not enough for more than equality.} Bxe5 14. Bxe5 Bb7 15. Bc3 (15. Bxc6 $5 {it seems counterintuitive to trade off the bishop on the long diagonal, but things are equal after} Qxc6 16. f3 $11 {similar to the structure reached in the game.}) 15... Nd4 {this was unwelcome, targeting the weak e2 square. I thought that eventually kicking the knight with e3 would cause more problems than it solved, although the lack of control over d4 would be a continuing problem after the exchange.} 16. Bxd4 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Qxd4 {the position is still equal, although Black has a space advantage.} 18. Qc3 {this does nothing in particular for me.} (18. b3 $5 {would at least help control c4.}) 18... Qd5+ 19. f3 Rfd8 20. a4 {restraining b5, with the idea of a minority attack. This was over-optimistic, as White has no way of following it up properly.} Rac8 21. Rfc1 {my opponent rejected a draw offer here, which was useful for me to see how the rest played out.} a5 {I thought this locking of the pawn structure made the position more drawish, somewhat ironically.} 22. Qc4 $6 {the right idea, to get the queens traded, although Black does not have to oblige.} (22. b3 {is still a good idea.}) 22... Qxc4 (22... Qe5 $15 {and Black's centralized queen is better, with ideas of getting her rooks into event more play via c6-e6 or d4.}) 23. Rxc4 (23. dxc4 $2 Rd2 24. Kf2 Rxb2 $19 {with a won endgame.}) 23... Rd4 24. Rac1 {while the engine shows the position as drawn, White is still under pressure after} e5 {although it was psychological rather than real.} 25. Kf2 Rcd8 26. b3 f5 27. Rxd4 {this is fine, but I continued having trouble finding my way in the endgame.} Rxd4 28. Rc4 {of course it's a draw with the exchange of rooks.} Kf7 29. h4 {exchanging immediately might have been simpler here, as my king is closer to the pawn action in the center.} (29. Rxd4 cxd4 30. f4 $11) 29... h5 30. Rc3 {this just makes things more difficult. I was hallucinating potential breakthroughs for Black if I exchanged on d4, however.} (30. Rxd4 exd4 31. f4 $11) 30... Ke6 31. e4 {I continue making things more complicated for myself, although this works.} (31. Rc4) 31... f4 32. g4 {played after long thought and the only correct move. The outside 2v1 would be better for White than allowing Black to get a 3v2 on the kingside.} (32. gxf4 $2 exf4 $19 {and eventually Black can create a passed h-pawn after playing ...g5}) 32... Kd6 (32... hxg4 33. fxg4 Rd7 34. Kg2 $11) 33. gxh5 {here I should have just locked it up with g5, as the open g-file it turns out is riskier for White.} gxh5 34. Ke2 Rb4 {Black locks her rook in to pressure the b-pawn and the 4th rank.} 35. Kd2 Ke6 36. Kc2 Rd4 {now I noticed - which I should have done several moves earlier - that Black can make her rook more mobile and penetrate down the g-file.} 37. Kb2 $2 {I saw nothing better, failing to calculate properly. Unfortunately the White rook and king are awkwardly placed and interfere with each other in the confined space. Black can now lift her rook over to the kingside.} (37. Kd2 {holds after} Rd7 38. Rc1 Rg7 39. Rf1 Rg2+ 40. Kc3 $11 {since} Rh2 {winning the h-pawn is offset by the White king penetrating and winning the Black b-pawn.}) 37... Kf6 $19 {Black is now winning, if she finds the right idea.} 38. Kc2 Rb4 $2 {I was very thankful she missed the chance to redeploy the rook to the kingside, and moved immediately to lock it up.} 39. Rc4 $11 Rxc4+ 40. dxc4 {now it's a forced draw unless Black wants to lose a pawn with ...b5. My opponent still played it out until the three-move repetition.} Ke6 41. Kc3 Kd6 42. Kd3 Ke6 43. Kc3 Kd6 44. Kd3 1/2-1/2

07 January 2024

Annotated Game #262: An unhappy introduction to the Fantasy Variation

This next tournament game was an unhappy introduction for me to the Fantasy Variation of the Caro-Kann. I've had it in my repertoire for some time, but had never played it at the tournament level before, so was unable to solve the early problems at the board and went astray quickly. White chooses the most classical (and threatening) setup in response to 3...g6!? and while I correctly concluded 5...Qb6 was the correct response to White's bishop development, I was unwilling to go for the "poison pawn" on b2 as a follow-up - which is the only correct move, however. The rest of the game demonstrates the superiority of White's pieces in the face of solid-looking but erroneous play.

For chess improvers, this is a very pointed example of why regular tournament games, accompanied by analysis and refinement of your own play and repertoire, is a necessary and virtuous cycle. You are much more likely to recognize, remember and respond to situations on the board that are familiar firsthand as well as studied, rather than simply memorized. This is one of the reasons chessplayers typically lose more often with a new opening, but then accumulate experience and start winning more. I look forward to establishing a more effective battle rhythm.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B15"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "35"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 {this was the first time I had faced the Fantasy Variation in tournament play.} g6 {this is an alternative way of declining it that avoids standard book variations and leads to some strange-looking positions. Unfortunately this was about all I remembered about it.} 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. Be3 Qb6 {I thought for some time on this and according to the database it's the best move. Black takes advantage of the missing bishop from the queenside and pressures d4.} 6. Qd2 {unfortunately I really had no idea what to do by this point. Taking on b2 is necessary, but I eventually went for the "safer" text move.} e6 $2 {unfortunately this move in fact puts Black in considerable jeopardy.} 7. O-O-O {White already has a near-winning advantage here, which at least makes me feel less bad about the subsequent blunder on move 9. The queen is doing nothing useful anymore on b6 and Black is behind in development, with king safety starting to become a problem.} Nd7 8. h4 {my opponent clearly understands how to play this type of position, while I do not. This is a natural attacking plan, now that the king is on the opposite wing. Now comes the blunder on move 9, after a futile queen move; however, the engine already gives White a +2 advantage.} (8. Qd3) 8... Qc7 9. h5 b5 $2 {the main thinking process lesson from this move was ignoring the ability of White to change the "static" central structure, as the Black c-pawn is now positionally overloaded. I also partly hallucinated that a White Nb5 would be unprotected - in fact the Bf1 does that.} 10. exd5 $1 cxd5 {the other recapture is slightly better according to the engine, but I couldn't bring myself to open the file to my uncastled king.} 11. Nxb5 {after this and the follow-up move the game is essentially over, although I had (very small) hopes of a swindle based on pinning the Qd2 against the king, or some sort of cheapo mate on b2.} Qb6 12. Bf4 g5 13. Nc7+ Ke7 14. Nxa8 Qb7 15. Bxg5+ f6 16. Bf4 Kf7 (16... Qxa8 {Black is still very lost here, but I didn't even realize I could take the knight, focused as I was on the cheapo mate possibilities.}) 17. Nc7 Ne7 18. Nb5 1-0

06 January 2024

Annotated Game #261: Let's be realistic

The next tournament game following my return to OTB chess last year had me faced with a completely new response by Black (to me) in the English Four Knights (4...g6). I responded reasonably well and found (a bit late) the key to the position, which was advancing d4-d5 before Black blocked it. By move 10 I have a pleasant positional plus as a result. However, by move 22 this is gone and the game is completely level, with Black having some initiative. 

It's worth looking at how that happened in the analysis, but another main takeaway from this game is that I was properly realistic about the situation and did not foolishly try to recapture the lost advantage. Black pressed a bit at the end but had nowhere to go, so the game correctly ended in a draw. Sometimes it's easy to fool yourself into trying to win, when the position dictates otherwise. Psychologically this often happens, and we see a game trajectory where someone gets an advantage, spoils it, then either does not realize it or desperately tries to win regardless, which can easily lead instead to a loss. Accepting reality is the better way.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A28"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Dragon 3.2"] [PlyCount "53"] 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 {my opponent appeared somewhat unfamiliar with the opening, given some pauses, and now played something I hadn't faced before.} g6 5. d4 {the usual reaction for White to a move that does not pose a challenge in the center.} exd4 {choosing to liquidate then play against the center} 6. exd4 {the normal choice for White to recapture, giving him a bigger center. Unlike in a normal KID setup, Black no longer has the e-pawn to challenge it.} Bg7 7. Be2 {played without thinking enough about the position, as a "standard" move.} (7. d5 {immediately is a better idea, to seize the central space and prevent Black from occupying the square.}) 7... O-O (7... d5 8. Bg5 Ne7 $11) 8. d5 {I was a little uncertain about playing this, but saw the prospect of perhaps having to play an unenticing IQP game as being worse, if Black gets in ...d5. The engines agree it is the correct idea.} Nb8 {this seems less useful than the alternative ...Ne7} 9. O-O (9. d6 $5 {is an interesting idea I considered, but I did not want to spend a lot of time on it in an unfamiliar position.}) 9... d6 10. Bg5 $14 {now all my minor pieces are developed, while Black's queenside is still at home.} Re8 {neglecting somewhat his own minor piece development, which is probably more urgent.} 11. Re1 {I thought for a while here and was hopeful I could dominate the e-file eventually. This turned out not to be the case.} (11. Qd2 {immediately is more to the point, looking to potentially exchange the Bg7.}) 11... Na6 {at first glance this move is a bit ugly, but the c5 and b4 squares would be good for the knight, and it definitely needs to get out.} 12. Qd2 {connecting the rooks and getting on a more useful diagonal, with the Q+B battery.} Bf5 $6 {getting another piece out while targeting c2 and controlling e4, but the bishop is vulnerable here.} (12... Nc5 {would be the logical follow-up.}) 13. Nd4 $16 {the second-best choice by the engine. I thought for a while here and decided the exchange would be good for me, plus the knight is well-placed.} (13. h3 $5 {would take away the g4 square first.}) 13... Qd7 14. Nxf5 {this gives Black too much play and justifies the queen move. Better was to patiently increase the pressure.} (14. f3 $5 {is ugly but effective, controlling the key e4 square. It looks wrong to block the Be2 in, but it was going nowhere useful on the d1-h5 diagonal anyway. Meanwhile, Black cannot take advantage of the a7-g1 diagonal's opening.}) 14... Qxf5 $14 15. Bd3 {Dragon 3.2 validates this choice, which was also the result of a long think. Basically the queen needs to be kicked out of the center before anything else can be accomplished.} Qg4 {this gives me the move h3 for free.} 16. h3 Qd7 {unfortunately, now I was unsuccessful in coming up with any meaningful plan, beyond vague notions of dominating the e-file. Patience and maneuvering are required, as there is no immediate breakthrough.} 17. Rxe8+ (17. Rac1 $5 {would be one useful waiting move.}) (17. Bc2 {would proactively remove the bishop from potential attack, anticipating ...Nc5.}) 17... Rxe8 18. Re1 Nc5 19. Bc2 {the engine validates this choice as well. The bishop covers critical squares on both wings.} h6 20. Be3 {I had to check the tactics here, unfortunately they work in Black's favor, thanks to the overloaded Qd2.} (20. Bf4 $5 {would prevent Black's next move in the game.}) 20... Nce4 {now there is nothing better than to trade.} 21. Nxe4 Nxe4 22. Bxe4 $11 {this trade however was unnecessary and now any vestige of an advantage is gone. White has various queen moves possible.} Rxe4 {Black now has actively placed pieces, while mine are somewhat passive. Luckily Black has no breakthrough opportunities.} 23. b3 h5 24. Kf1 Qf5 {I had missed this move, which by protecting the Re4 removes some potential tactical ideas for White. I looked at the Black queenside pawns, but decided there were too many downsides to attempted pawn snatching with either the Be3 or after Qa5. The engine agrees.} 25. Re2 {playing without a real plan, other than to continue covering squares and maybe rearrange the pieces a bit. Here, however, the lack of ambition is entirely correct.} Re5 26. Qe1 {not bad but it feels awkward.} (26. Qc2) 26... a6 {unnecessary, since the bishop would be trapped after taking on a7 by ...b6, but Black has nothing concrete either.} 27. Kg1 {it might have been better to continue shuffling major pieces, since this is a (very) little weaker according to the engine, but my opponent offered a draw anyway.} 1/2-1/2

01 January 2024

More pop culture chess imagery - imposter syndrome and getting ahead of 99% of people

I randomly ran across the below recently, which are some more good examples of pop culture chess imagery - which is often wrong or misleading, so maybe not good.

Visual by Harsh Darji - artist's Instagram

This one I originally encountered in the article 10 Powerful Visuals You Need To See Before You Enter 2024 on Medium.com. It has a superficially valid chess metaphor: the queen looking at a mirror and seeing a pawn, as an illustration of "imposter syndrome" - but it seems to me that it doesn't really work. Visually there's the fact that it depicts a White queen is looking at a Black pawn, which doesn't make much sense in a chess context - switching sides is not an option for pawn promotion. There's also the overall squishiness about the imposter syndrome concept, so its depiction isn't necessarily clear.

The next one is a stock photo used to head the Medium.com article by Alexandru Lazar entitled Ten Habits that will get you ahead of 99% of people. You can find it various places on the internet, but the imagery is clear: a White king on a bare board knocking over his counterpart, normally done when taking a piece. A powerful-looking visual intended to convey supremacy - but in fact an illegal move in a position that is a forced draw. Authors who use faulty chess imagery like this tend to lose credibility instantly, at least with chessplayers, so here's a plea for people to avoid doing that.