17 October 2014

Annotated Game #137: A (mostly) clean win in the Caro-Kann

This seventh-round win may not be completely clean, but it sure looks better than the last few games and shows how effective the Caro-Kann can be as a counterattacking opening.  My opponent avoids theory early on, probably not having prepared anything against the Caro-Kann, and enters a harmless variation that lets Black equalize quickly.

White nevertheless plays quite aggressively as the middlegame phase is entered, signaling with 11. fxg3 that he wants to try for a kingside attack.  However, with both bishops already exchanged off and a solid structure for Black in place, this plan is over-optimistic.  Ignoring an interesting sacrificial theme on f6, which would have forced a draw with a perpetual check, White instead overextends his kingside pawns and essentially traps his own rook on the h-file.  I am then able to switch to operations on the c-file and break into White's back ranks, finishing off his king as it tries to run up the board.  Although as you can see in the notes it would have been better for me to execute some of my ideas a move earlier than I actually played them, I'm generally pleased with my performance.  There are a number of other tweaks that I found in analysis that should also help with future play of similar positions, including avoiding wasted moves and looking out for sacs on f6.

12 October 2014

Annotated Game #136: What exactly happened?

In this sixth-round tournament game, if one looks at it in the early middlegame then White appears to be sitting pretty, having accomplished all he could hope for out of the opening by move 18.  Indeed, as of move 26 I still had all the cards.  At this point, however, I "lose the thread" of the game and start a strategic downhill slide, becoming distracted from my queenside-based pressure while not properly defending the kingside.  The ineffectiveness of my strategic flailing is highlighted around move 29, as pieces begin to simply shuffle back and forth.  Despite this slide and Black's subsequent takeover of the initiative, my position was objectively at least equal until the board sight blunder on move 40, where my opponent seals the win with material gain.

So was it a simple tactical error that lost the game?  In reality, my mental state was poor after failing to grasp what was needed in the position and handing the initiative and its accompanying pressure over to the opponent.  The pressure of defending successfully (even if not optimally) eventually exhausted me and contributed substantially to the actual game-losing error.  On the other hand, if I had stuck religiously to my thought process, using CCT would have prevented the loss.  In the end, the result came from a combination of factors - tactical, strategic and psychological - as is the case with most chess games.

Even though I understand how the game evolved after analysis, it still makes me shake my head and wonder what exactly happened, especially after having a position that any English Opening player would love to see.  At least the analytic process should help me play stronger in future such situations.

05 October 2014

Annotated Game #135: Stopping the bleeding

The best thing that can be said about this fifth-round tournament game is that I escaped with a draw and stopped the bleeding on the scorechart.  As Black, I commit a couple of minor inaccuracies in the opening, especially by misplacing the queen's knight, which then grow into major structural deficiencies.  I was fortunate that my opponent could not find the winning idea in the end, which would be to use a pawn lever to pry open Black's position.  This was another example and an unfortunate continuation of my weak play in the tournament, with worse to come before it gets better.

27 September 2014

Annotated Game #134: Foiled Again!

I was looking forward to this fourth-round tournament game, in order to get revenge for a previous tournament loss against my opponent from Annotated Game #116.  Unfortunately, even with colors reversed, the game followed a similar trajectory and my plans were foiled (again).  I overestimated my chances out of the opening, missed opportunities and played more passively than necessary.  A big psychological blow also occurred when I missed the opportunity to simply take a hanging piece, due to an optical illusion and time pressure affecting my calculations.  Although I recovered somewhat after this, Black maintained the initiative and in the end I could not find the necessary defense against Black's kingside attack.

Other than the calculation and time pressure judgment issues, the main takeaway from this analysis for me is that one should never give up.  Despite everything, I had managed to equalize again on move 34 and then failed to defend properly, in large part due to feeling a sense of desperation.  The psychological lesson is that a player needs to unburden themselves of previous ups and downs in a game, in order to best tackle the actual position in front of them.

21 September 2014

Annotated Game #133: What have I learned?

Following the rather blah and weak second-round draw in this tournament, we come to an even poorer loss.  As Black, I face my own favorite White opening, which is not easy to cope with psychologically.  As early as move 5, I start losing the thread of the game, although it was really 7...Qc8 that put me in a bit of a positional hole.  White misses a couple of chances to make his advantage concrete, including 12. Ne5, which would have given him a winning game.  Despite this, I manage to equalize and even have a shot at an advantage myself, after bringing my queen knight back into the game authoritatively.  The turning point and a swift tactical blow by White come following a big error on my 24th move that effectively puts me away.  My opponent deserves full credit for correctly spotting and calculating the sequence, which includes a neat deflection tactic on h6 and f6.

The big lesson for me from this game was my failure to actively falsify my opponents' moves.  This was obvious on both my 11th and 24th moves, as I failed to see or consider the strong knight moves my opponent had at his disposal.  (The first oversight was much simpler and therefore less excusable; I simply got lucky because my opponent also overlooked the opportunity).  Since by this point I had put together my simplified thought process, this game was just an example of my lack of energy or laziness in not following what I should have learned by now.  Remember: thou shalt always falsify thy moves.