26 June 2016

Annotated Game #160: Focus and accurate calculation

In this last-round tournament game, I was able to elevate my level of play significantly when compared to the earlier games, which I attribute to a better level of focus on my part.  Correct application of opening principles (countering in the center on move 4, for example) led to me having a comfortable position as Black in a Slav Defense. After a minor misstep on move 12, I was able to recover and accurately see the best continuation, including the most effective in-between move (14...Nxe3). Most importantly, I was able to concretely parry the temporary initiative that my opponent generated, then find the tactical refutation to his too-aggressive play. I was pleased to be able to continue the accurate play afterwards and correctly ignored his kingside attack while setting up my own fatal blow.

While it's always important to look for improvements in your wins (for example on move 12) as well as your losses, I think that for improving players it's also important to take some pleasure in good play (it's always great to see the engine agreeing with your choices over multiple sequences).  Even more important, though, is seeking to remember and emulate the factors that led to that good play, for use in future games.

Class A - ChessAdmin

Result: 0-1
D10: Slav Defence: cxd5 (without early Nf3) and 3 Nc3
[...] 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.¤c3 dxc4 4.a4 immediately preventing Black from playing...b5 to reinforce the c4 pawn. 4...e5 countering in the center like this is a dynamic way for Black to play, taking advantage of the fact that White is temporarily a pawn down, so having the e5 pawn taken would not even be a gambit. 5.e3 exd4 capturing is indicated here, otherwise the e-pawn is too difficult to defend for Black. 6.exd4 ¥e6 the natural developing move that also keeps the c4 pawn. 7.¤f3 ¥e7 I played this to continue to control g5, which would not have been the case after ...Nf6.
7...¤f6 would be fine, though. 8.¥g5 (8.¤g5 ¥d5µ) 8...¤bd7 followed by ...h6 gives Black a plus.
8.¥e3
8.¤e5 ¤f6 9.¥xc4 ¥xc4 10.¤xc4 ¤a6 11.O-O O-O 12.¥f4 ¤b4 13.£d2 ¤fd5 14.¦ad1 ¦c8 15.¥e5 ¦e8 16.¦fe1 ¥f8 17.¤e4 ¦e6 18.f4 b5 19.f5 ¦h6 20.¤e3 ¤xe3 21.¦xe3 ¤d5 22.¦f3 f6 Kazansev,A (2275)-Ovsjuchenko,S (2199) Krasnodar 2002 0-1 (44)
8...¤f6 (8...¤d7!? would help combat White's next idea more effectively.) 9.¤e5 working to recover the pawn on c4. 9...¤bd7 10.¤xc4 here Komodo gives a slight edge to Black. The knight is somewhat misplaced on c4 and Black has a small development advantage (4 pieces to 3).
10.¥xc4 ¥xc4 11.¤xc4 now compared with the game continuation, both White and Black have equal development (three pieces).
10...O-O
10...¤b6?!11.¤e5 (11.¤xb6 £xb6 just helps Black's development) 11...¥d6 12.¥d3 ¤bd5³
11.¥d3 ¤d5 12.O-O ¥g5 not a terrible move, but not addressing the needs of the position. It is more important to utilize the knights effectively and the bishop is fine where it is. The text move would be great for Black if White captured on g5, but that's not going to happen. (12...¤b4!?) (12...¤7f6) (12...¤7b6) 13.£h5 an effective way to equalize for White. 13...h6 this is now forced, due to the double threat against the Bg5 and h7. 14.f4?! this is overly aggressive.
14.¤xd5!? must definitely be considered, comments the engine via the Fritz interface. 14...¥xd5
14...¤xe3³ a beneficial in-between move for Black, who does not have to react directly to the threat against the Bg5. 15.¤xe3 Black now has the pair of bishops.
15.fxg5?15...¤xf1 16.gxh6?16...g6 17.¥xg6 ¥xc4−⁠+ and White does not have enough pieces in the attack to do anything to Black's king.
15...¥f6³16.¤c2 a somewhat passive follow-up to the overly-aggressive f4 push.
16.d5 would be more in the spirit of the previous aggression. 16...¤b6 (16...cxd5 17.f5 ¥xc3 18.bxc3 ¤f6 19.£f3 ¥d7³) 17.dxe6 £xd3³ with a more complicated picture and opportunities for White.
16...¤b6µ increasing pressure on d4 from the Qd8. 17.¤e2 (17.¢h1 ¤c4µ) 17...¥c4 the correct square (c4) to focus on, but the bishop is not the most effective piece.
17...¤c4!? now Black has a series of threats to the b-pawn that White has a very hard time dealing with. 18.b3 (18.¥xc4 ¥xc4 19.¦fd1 ¦e8 20.¤c3 £b6−⁠+) 18...¤d2 19.¦fd1 ¤xb3−⁠+
18.£f5 g6 the obvious response, which is rather awkward for White. 19.£h3 ¥xd3 this prematurely releases the tension.
19...¦e8 this indirectly protects the h-pawn, by attacking the Ne2 and not allowing White to exchange on c4 without subsequently taking care of his knight. 20.¥xc4 (20.¦fe1 ¥h4µ) 20...¤xc4 21.£c3 £d5µ
20.£xd3³20...¦e8 I still have a small positional advantage, including being able to target the isolated d-pawn, but White has fewer problems to worry about now. 21.¤g3 c5 the idea - which the engine agrees with - is to take advantage of the pin on the d-pawn against the hanging Qd3, but White's next move is the best response and one that I did not anticipate. 22.a5 ¤d7 23.f5 g5 24.¤e4 White is enjoying some initiative here and I definitely felt pressured during the game. However, I am able to focus and calculate properly. 24...cxd4 25.¤d6?? my opponent gets too aggressive and fails to see the tactical response, which wins for Black.
25.¤xf6+!?25...¤xf6 26.£xd4 £xd4+ 27.¤xd4 ¦ad8µ here Black's rook activity provides an endgame edge.
25...¤c5−⁠+ simultaneously attacking the Qd3 and Nd6. 26.£h3? desperation, although White has no good alternatives. (26.£g3 ¥e5 27.¤xf7 ¢xf7−⁠+ and Black is a full piece ahead.) 26...£xd6 27.£xh6 d3 the quickest way to victory. 28.¢h1 dxc2 29.h4 ¦e2 30.hxg5 due to his own vulnerable king, White simply doesn't have time to do enough with his kingside attack, which I can effectively ignore. 30...£g3
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24 June 2016

Viktor Kortchnoi stops playing chess


'I will only stop playing chess when nature forces me'
The last New In Chess interview with Viktor Kortchnoi

This month, GM Viktor Kortchnoi stopped playing chess.

Some of this blog's commentary on the legend and his games:

31 May 2016

The phenomenon of plateauing


Lately there have been several top-flight articles in the international chess media about training for the improving player, highlighted here have been the interview on improving your chess with Boris Gelfand and the "How do you become a Life Master" blog post from Dana Mackenzie.  Another recent one and well worth the read is "Chess Progress: making the big leap" by IM Albert Silver.  Silver's take on improvement focuses in part on the phenomenon of plateauing, which is common to many long-term training programs.  Essentially you get diminishing returns, or show little progress, for an extended period of time before making another significant incremental gain in performance - or the "big leap" of the article title.

This phenomenon is well-documented across a large number of disciplines, including martial arts and sports, so it should be no surprise that chessplayers have to deal with it as well.  I've experienced it before in other contexts as well, including learning mathematics.  I recall quite well the effort needed to truly absorb and understand more complex topics like calculus, where it took a lot of extra, sustained effort for me before a mental lightbulb went off and I was able to grasp and apply the concepts.

Part of the lesson to take away from a proper understanding of the phenomenon is that sustained, regular effort will in fact pay off in the end, as long as it can be considered "effortful study" - that is, not simply doing rote exercises or ones that are already comfortably in your knowledge base.  The problem for me has been to free up enough time and energy to in fact concentrate on moving forward my chess knowledge and performance; for now, I don't feel like I'm making enough progress.  As an adult chess improver, it's been work and travel that has often gotten in the way and sometimes there's no good way around that - the job takes precedence or sucks up the majority of your time and energy for a while.  In fact, I'll be traveling for most of June and will be away from serious chess (and this blog) as a result.  But I have hopes for the second half of this year that I can dedicate the requisite time and focus more regularly on chess training.

I'll conclude this post with what I think is a relevant observation from the Silver article, worth reading in its entirety (linked above).
Chess progress for beginners, or at the very least players who have never truly challenged their limits, is more about spurts and bursts than slow and steady. The size and depth of this burst is what varies the most. Sometimes that burst of results is a blip on the radar, a magic performance we are unable to sustain, and sometimes it is simply our new reality. The latter is what we all wish for. How do we achieve that leap forward, and how do we know we aren't simply 'stuck'?

29 May 2016

Annotated Game #159: The dangers of distraction

This next tournament game illustrates the dangers of getting distracted from the central features and truths of a position.  As White, I achieve a comfortable game out of the opening and have a clear target in the form of my opponent's king in the center.  Then, at a key point (move 15) I allow myself to be distracted by my opponent on the queenside and a couple of moves later he has equalized, which was a disappointing turn of events.  Luckily, he then distracts himself with potential queenside prospects and moves his queen offside, allowing me to resume an attack in the center after all.

While there are some interesting tactical and positional points in the analysis, the main overriding theme for the game is the need to focus on central control and find any way to get at the opponent's king, including sacrifices to open lines (such as the variation on move 14).  Another personal theme revealed is my difficulty, which is something that has been highlighted repeatedly in analysis, of visualizing attacks, especially mating nets.  I had trouble looking at the series of moves from 22-25 and selecting the most effective ones, although my opponent had even more trouble finding his way and was fatally distracted by snatching a queenside pawn.  As a result, I was able to clearly see the sequence starting on move 26 and win.

ChessAdmin - Class C

Result: 1-0
A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5
[...] 1.c4 d5 2.cxd5 exchanging a flank pawn for a central pawn is usually a good idea and this early on there are no potential drawbacks. 2...¤f6 3.¤c3 ¤xd5 4.¤f3 ¤xc3 5.bxc3 White is quite comfortable here, with a small lead in development and no challenges from Black. 5...¥f5 this move is something of a time waster.
5...g6 is the main idea for Black here, developing the kingside and staying flexible.
6.£b3 a (good) obvious move to take advantage of the bishop leaving the queenside. 6...£c8 ...b6 or ...Be4 are alternatives to protect the b-pawn, but White still gets more out of the Qb3 move than Black does in any of his options to counter it. 7.¥a3 not a bad move, but I should be focusing on control of the center and completing my own development. The idea is to make Black's own kingside development more difficult by restraining ...e6 due to the threat of Bxf8. My opponent decides (erroneously) that this is fine, however, so the move turns out well for me.
7.g3 e6 8.d3± and after Rb1 and Bg2, Black is going to have problems defending threats down the b-file and the long diagonal.
7...e6
7...c5 is a way to resolve the problem, costing a pawn but leaving White without any remaining threats. 8.¤e5 ¥e6 9.£b5+ ¤d7 10.¤xd7 ¥xd7 11.£xc5 £xc5 12.¥xc5²
8.¥xf8±8...¦xf8 this leaves Black's king more centralized and therefore vulnerable. (8...¢xf8) 9.d3
9.d4!? is more to the point, with Black's king stuck in the center, as White needs to seize territory and pry open the position.
9...h6 while preventing a knight hop to g5, this is dangerously slow for Black's development. (9...¤c6 10.¤h4±) 10.e4 not a bad continuation, but I could have done more with the position.
10.g4!? for example is now possible, since taking the pawn would lose to a queen fork on a4. 10...¥h7 11.¦b1 and now the b-pawn is doomed, for example 11...b6?!12.¥g2 c6 13.¤d4 e5 14.¤b5! and the Bg2 proves its worth on the long diagonal, since taking the Nb5 loses material for Black, but the knight's attack on the d6 square anyway becomes decisive. 14...£d7 15.£a3 f5 16.¤d6++⁠−
(10.¦b1 is also good.) 10...¥h7 11.¥e2 ¤d7 12.O-O ¦b8 13.¦ad1 now that Black has defended the b-pawn adequately, the obvious place to put the rook is on d1, to support a pawn advance. The Rf1 should stay where it is, as it can be better used on either the f- or e-files. 13...c5 14.e5 played to enable a follow-on push by the d-pawn, but this was not in fact necessary.
14.¤d2 is a solid move that would support the e-pawn and help reposition the knight to a better square.
14.d4!? immediately is something the engine likes. 14...¥xe4 15.¦fe1 ¥d5
15...¢e7 16.d5 ¥xd5?! (16...¦d8 17.dxe6 ¤f6 18.exf7 ¢f8 19.¥c4±) 17.¦xd5+⁠−
16.¥c4 ¥xc4 17.£xc4 cxd4 18.£xd4± White is a pawn down but Black is under heavy pressure in the center, with kingside weaknesses. For example
14...b5 trying to get some space and counterplay on the queenside. This in fact works, as it distracts me from the task in the center. (14...¢e7 15.d4 ¦d8 16.¤d2²) 15.¦c1 (15.d4± continues the plan without distraction.) 15...£c7 16.d4 c4 now it's clear that the rook moves back and forth have just wasted time. 17.£d1?!
17.£b2 makes much more sense, keeping control of the b4 square. 17...a6 18.a4 this is a common positional theme, temporarily sacrificing a pawn to render the entire structure weak. 18...bxa4 19.£a3±
17...¤b6 Black now defends the d5 square and prevents a White breakthrough. I now have to regroup and come up with a different approach. 18.¤d2 ¤d5 the optics of the centralized knight look good, but the practical consequences are bad for Black. (18...¢e7 19.¥f3) 19.¥f3² the bishop would be happy to exchange itself for the Nd5 and open the way for the e-pawn to advance. (19.a4!? is again a good idea as well.) 19...¥d3 the Black bishop springs annoyingly back to life, although this is not a real threat. 20.¦e1 £a5? this removes Black's most powerful piece from the defense of his king, which is about to become the target of White's operations. (20...¤f4!?21.g3 ¤h3+ 22.¢g2 ¤g5 23.¥e2 ¥f5±) 21.¥xd5 exd5 22.e6+⁠−22...fxe6 23.¦xe6+?! premature. I thought for a long time here about the queen moves, but my brain by this point was fuzzy and I could not see a clear way to an advantage. My opponent however does not find the one defensive move that works.
23.£g4 seems obviously superior in hindsight, although it's a long variation to get to the final advantage. 23...¦f6 24.£xg7 £d8 25.¤f3 ¦g6 26.£h8+ ¢e7 27.£xd8+ ¢xd8 28.¤e5 ¦g8 29.¤c6+±
(23.£h5+ ¢d7 24.£e5±) 23...¢d7?
23...¢f7 and Black is OK. 24.£g4 ¦b6 25.¦ce1 ¢g8 26.¦e8 £a3
24.¦e5 again, Qg4 would be better, but now this is sufficient for the win.
24.£g4 and White wins, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. 24...g6 (24...¥f5 25.£xg7+ ¢xe6 26.¦e1+) 25.¦a6+ ¥f5 26.£xf5+ ¦xf5 27.¦xa5 b4 28.¦xa7+ ¢d8+⁠−
24...¢c6 (24...¢c7 25.£g4 ¦f7 26.¦xd5 ¦d8 27.¦c5+ ¢b8+⁠−) 25.£h5 I thought again for a while and picked the wrong queen move. (25.£g4 £d8 26.£xg7+⁠−) 25...£xa2?? this is the real losing move, as the queenside finally proves a fatal distraction. (25...¦bd8±) 26.¦e6+ now I am able to construct the win with clear calculation, not worrying about getting there the fastest, just the surest. 26...¢c7 27.£xd5 only the third fastest route to mate, according to the engine, but a sure one.
27.£e5+ ¢c8 28.£xg7 £a6 29.¦xa6 ¦g8 30.¦c6+ ¢d8 31.¦d6+ ¢e8 32.£d7+ ¢f8 33.¦f6#
27...£a3 28.£c6+ (28.¦c6+ ¢b7 29.¦d6+ ¢c7 30.£c6#) 28...¢d8 29.¦d6+
29.¦d6+ £xd6 30.£xd6+ ¢c8 31.¦e1 ¥e2 32.¦xe2 ¦b6 33.£xf8+ ¢b7 34.¦e7+ ¢a6 35.£c8+ ¢a5 36.¦xa7+ ¦a6 37.¦xa6#
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