09 December 2014

Commentary - 2014 Sharjah Women's Grand Prix

The Sharjah 2014 women's grand prix tournament occurred in late August - early September and featured a number of interesting games.  The following three I found particularly relevant to my study interests and playing style.

In the first game, from round 5, women's world champion Hou Yifan uses an English against Tatiana Kosintseva's Queen's Gambit Accepted type defense.  Remarkably, Hou appears to have the initiative throughout the game, despite some missteps in the middlegame that allow Black to mostly consolidate a won pawn.  Some key strategic decisions are made at various points by White that could have taken the game in different directions, for example on moves 16, 19 and 26.  White appears to elevate some practical considerations, such as preserving her queen, over completely objective ones in her calculations.  This risk pays off in the end, however, as Kosintseva, shortly after gaining an advantage around move 36, apparently lets the continuing White pressure get to her and fails to find an adequate defense heading into the endgame.

In the second game, from round 6, Black (Nafisa Muminova) manages to get the better of her better-known and higher-rated opponent, Zhu Chen, in a Slow Slav, although the final result is a draw.  Muminova makes a questionable excursion with her dark-squared bishop, but after White releases the tension on move 20 and then loses her advantage of the two bishops, this allows Black to fully equalize.  White perhaps overestimates her position and Black manages to gain a significant positional advantage with her better-placed pieces.

In the third game, from round 8, Elena Danelian provides a lesson on how to play what looks like an ordinary non-threatening English Opening against Muminova's Semi-Slav type setup.  The positional crush begins after White forces an exchange of knight for bishop, leaving Black's remaining bishop almost useless while White's two bishops will play decisive roles.  (This makes another excellent example for Mastery Concept: The Effects of Piece Exchanges.)  One of the notable features of this game is how it revolves around multiple White tactical threats to the d5 pawn, none of which are actually implemented, but collectively they tie Black in knots and allow White to break through.

29 November 2014

FT: Natural Pawn Killer

The Financial Times' joking front-page title for its post-World Championship article on Magnus Carlsen.  My favorite portion, which fits in with the idea of chess vs. life balance:
Peter Heine, himself one of the world’s top players, is Carlsen’s most-trusted assistant. “Magnus believes in his pure chess strengths,” he told the FT this week. “You shouldn’t be able to do that in today’s world and none of us thought it was possible. Luckily, we were wrong.”
When preparing for a match, the world champion has better things to do than homework. “We play a lot of basketball,” Mr Heine says.

24 November 2014

Chessplayers are people too...and sometimes wolves

GM Irina Krush's report from an Arctic "wolf camp" is a great story about life outside of chess and how you can (and should) take advantage of chess tournaments to do other fascinating and unusual things.  A fine example of balance in chess vs. life.

As the holidays approach, I'll return to the blog with more chess content, starting with the analysis of some standout games from the Sharjah women's grand prix tournament; I found several which had particular relevance for my repertoire and study of preferred position-types.

15 November 2014

The importance of CCT: example #7

Here is a very recent and topical example - from game 6 of the 2014 World Championship - of why including CCT (checks, captures, threats) as a core part of your thinking process is important.  In this game, even Carlsen and Anand overlook the move 26 tactical idea, initiated by a capture, which is only a couple moves deep.

09 November 2014

Annotated Game #139: Hung by hanging pawns

This last-round game is a fitting end to the tournament, as it reflects the low level of play I had consistently shown throughout.  Coming out of a Colle-Zukertort opening setup that White chose, I had an equal position but could not figure out a worthwhile plan.  This planlessness contributed to poor decisions which tied my pieces up and allowed White to take the initiative and never let it go.  Analysis shows that I had more than one opportunity to level the game after inaccurate moves by White, but my thinking under pressure was muddled and I failed to see my own chances, as well as adequately falsify my moves (move 34 being an excellent example of this).

From a strategic point of view, the game is an interesting look at the hanging pawns structure and how it can be exploited.  White in this case supported them well and eventually after exchanges obtained an advanced passed d-pawn, which tied my pieces down while he switched to a kingside attack.  Hanging pawns are always double-edged, though, and I had plenty of chances to neutralize White's play.

I was glad to get this tournament over with, as you might imagine. We'll eventually see how my subsequent tournament went and to what extent I was able to recover my play.  For a little while, though, I'll plan to do some more master-level commentary games which I've been saving up, for a change of pace (and better examples of play).