29 December 2012

Annotated Game #77: Playing for a draw means losing in the end

If I had to pick one game to best illustrate what my core weaknesses were, this is it.  Playing a significantly higher-rated opponent in the third round of the tournament, I deliberately chose a strategy of trying to exchange down to a drawn position.  In the process, I passed up multiple active choices that could have given White a positional edge and the initiative.  My opponent, no fool, took advantage of my passivity and the positional crush that he executes against me is well played and an object lesson on how to use a space advantage.

In addition to the early decision to play for a draw, this game provides an excellent example of other major errors in my thinking.  In the opening phase, I was limited in my conception of how to play a flank opening, mentally not even considering the move e4 because it would have meant advancing a central pawn (horrors!), although this would have been advantageous at several points.  In the middlegame, I relied on the idea of piece exchanges (starting on move 10) to reach a draw. Exchanges can have far-reaching implications for the rest of the game, among other things determining which side's remaining pieces become more effective, so simply exchanging is hardly a recipe for a draw.  Finally, White's repeated pawn advances created major weaknesses that Black could exploit, showing how I failed to understand their long-term implications.

It's because of games like these that I saw a serious need to improve my mental toughness and stop worrying about ratings.  My attitude was completely wrong from the start here.  It's one thing to aim for a draw later in the game in an even (or worse) position, quite another to ignore any ideas of winning at the start of the middlegame.  Playing for a draw can often lead to losing in the end.

24 December 2012

Analyzing your own games is more than just analyzing your own games

Game analysis is one of those areas which seems to be an obvious necessity for an improving player.  Yet, there is a fair amount of conflicting advice in the chess community on the topic.  Here I want to cut through this and present a practical guide to the benefits of analyzing your own games.  In fact, one can make a strong argument for making this the guiding principle behind your chess study process.

I credit IM Jesper Hall's Chess Training for Budding Champions (Gambit, 2001) for bringing this idea to my attention in a focused, meaningful way.  After a short introductory chapter, the book's second chapter - "I Am Lucky to Have Made So Many Mistakes" - makes the point (based on a short anecdote about a visit to IM Johan Hellsten) that "in your own games, you have all that you need to train with."  The author's reformulation of this is in the first section, entitled "In Your Own Games, There is Everything You Need to Improve."  Why is that?
When you think about analysing your own games, it becomes clear how logical it is that this is the most important and natural way of training.  You are personally involved, you have a deep understanding of the position as you have played the game yourself...This gives depth, but also an insight in to the process of thinking during the playing situation.  That insight is impossible to obtain when you study games by other players.  I therefore recommend that you try to describe, with words, how you thought during the game, mixed with more objective analysis.  Then it will be easier to see what you misjudged during the game.  This is a perfect ground for your training as all aspects of chess are included, even your weaknesses.  With the games as a starting point, you can plan your training and add the knowledge that you lack.
In the same vein, here's a relevant quote from GM Alex Yermolinsky's The Road To Chess Improvement (Gambit 1999), an excellent book which I think I should read again, now that my own chess philosophy and practice has changed considerably.
The problem I had to acknowledge was the stagnation of my development.  I was simply going nowhere.  It's not that I lacked experience - I was 28 years old then, and I had been playing chess for some 20 years up to that point - it was a rather sad realization that my game was not improving.  In search for inspiration I decided to follow the most common advice one can find in the works of Alekhine (my favorite player) and Botvinnik (one of my least favorite ones) which can be put into simple words - study your games.  Ever since, every game I played has been extensively annotated.
Did I follow this excellent advice after first reading these books?  I did not.  Like many chessplayers, I preferred to look for easier ways to improve my chess knowledge than working through my games, many of which were painful losses.  Also, it seemed to me that analyzing my own games would be highly inferior to looking at master-level games, or following master-level advice.

This idea - that your games are of low quality and not worth studying - is one of the main objections or criticisms of the self-analysis process.  However, it ignores the one thing in common for all improving players: you have to do the work and you will be the one sitting down at the chessboard your next game - not someone else.  There are a number of implications to this.
  • In the opening, your understanding of its key positional features - including tactical possibilities - is what will get you to a good middlegame position, regardless of whether your opponent follows your "book" lines.
  • In the middlegame, your thinking process and ability to evaluate different candidate moves, along with spotting opportunities and threats, is what will determine your quality of play.
  • In different types of endgames, recognition of the relevant strategic concepts and positional evaluations will allow you to win (or avoid losing).
In Game Analysis for Improvement in Play I described the practical methods I use for analyzing and annotating a game in approximately two hours.  From a conceptual standpoint, I think the main points to get out of analyzing a game are:
The key point in all of this is that you are the one who has to make all the decisions at the chessboard from move 1.  You have to put it all together and understand what is in front of you.  The best guide to how you will play in the future is therefore how you have played in the past.  For improving players, it comes down to the simple fact that if you can't fix your own mistakes or recognize important gaps in your knowledge, you will not get any better.  No one can be perfect, but recognizing the truth about our own play, however painful it may be, is the first step on the road to improvement (as Yermolinsky noted).  Perhaps the most important realization I have had as part of the game analysis process is that I had failed to use a coherent thinking process in my tournament games.  This realization then resulted in the Simplified Thought Process (That Works).

Analyzing your own games also offers a near-infinite number of ways to improve your chess.  With a database program (free or otherwise), you can explore and analyze how other games in your chosen openings have turned out, focusing on key variations and decision points, and identify model master-level games for further study.  With a chessplaying program, you can take key middlegame and endgame positions that you've identified in your analysis and play them out.  If you've determined that you lack some specific knowledge that is holding you back from better results, you can find books, videos or other tools to address that.  Naturally, this is where chess trainers can come into the picture as well; good ones will look to use your own games as a guide for your training.  In any event, let your own games be the practical guide to what you need to accomplish most.

Below are some resources (some of which have been cited above) for those looking for methods or examples of how analyzing your games can be beneficial.  If anyone has had particularly good (or bad) experiences with other resources, comments are welcome.

This blog:
Other sites:
  • Study Your Games by GM Nigel Davies at chessville.com
  • 10 Tips for Analysing Your Chess Games at roman-chess
  • Professional players may offer services that involve analyzing and reviewing your games.  Ones I have run across references to include GM Nigel Davies and IM Yelena Dembo, although there are many others out there.
  • Over at chess.com there's a new series of videos being made by IM David Pruess on "How to Analyze Your Own Games" - so far it's up to an intermediate-level introduction.  It's behind the paywall, though, so you will need to be a subscriber to watch more than the first two minutes.

23 December 2012

Annotated Game #76: Strategic blunders in the English

The most notable feature of this second-round tournament game is the two strategic blunders made by White out of the opening, an English vs. King's Indian Defense (KID) setup.  Move 10, where White pushes b4 without the a3 pawn to support it, is an excellent lesson in how not to execute the standard queenside expansion plan.  White's rook, after retaking on b4, is pushed around and Black easily takes over the initiative after White's second strategic error on move 13.  With 13. Qc1, White was attempting to play on the kingside and exchange off the Bg7, but this is far too slow and never actually happens.

There are some other interesting points to the game, which I managed to draw in the end.  However, the strategic lessons of 1) not pushing b4 when opposed by a5, until the b-pawn can be supported by the a-pawn, and 2) not haphazardly switching from a queenside to kingside strategy, are the most valuable for anyone playing a similar setup as White.  For those inclined to play the KID as Black, the game and analysis variations included offer a good guide to exploiting these types of errors.

15 December 2012

Annotated Game #75: Colle System goes awry

This game occurred in the first round of the next tournament after Annotated Game #71.  I always enjoy facing the Colle System as Black, as it never really seems to go anywhere against my preferred Slav-type setup, which was played in this game.  I've observed that the Colle seems to work best against Queen's Gambit Declined type defenses, in which Black shuts in his light-squared bishop.

Here, Black exchanges off the light-square bishop immediately and then focuses on development as White goes pawn-hunting on the queenside.  White's sense of danger was not operating and after his queen is nearly trapped, he is forced to give back material in order to save it.  Although the material balance was then roughly equal (3 pawns for a piece), Black definitely had the superior position.

In the remainder of the game, Black passes up several active options for improving his position and pressuring White, which unfortunately has been a common characteristic of my games.  If I get nothing else out of these annotation efforts, they have certainly driven home the importance of playing actively with both pieces and pawns.  In this game, White also missed some active possibilities, including the remarkable 20. f4!? and the counterintuitive 26. b4, which loses the b-pawn but gains a strong positional advantage for White's passed pawns.  In both cases, the strategic idea would have been to effectively mobilize White's pawn majority, where he had a favorable imbalance (to use Silman's term).

White eventually goes for a draw by repetition after striking a tactical blow against Black's kingside and winning a pawn there.  My opponent evidently did not trust his own position due to Black's possible threats.  At the time I was perfectly happy to acquiesce, not seeing how I could make real progress against White, who was also higher-rated.  The final result seems justified in this case, given the board situation.  Had Black been looking to win, it would have been better tried earlier, for example with 18...Ne4!?

11 December 2012

The importance of CCT: example 5 - London Chess Classic Round 9

As another entry in the ongoing series featuring the importance of CCT (Checks, Captures and Threats), here is the final round game from the recently-completed London Chess Classic between Hikaru Nakamura and Luke McShane.  At first glance, on move 32 Black appears fine, with his Ne5 protected and attacked twice after White's 32. R1d5 move. However, a CCT check would reveal that this is not the case and the "obvious recapture" after the move played (33. Qxe5+) simply does not work, due to the Bd7 which will be left hanging at the end of the sequence.

09 December 2012

Annotated Game #74: Round 3 - Round Turkey Tournament

This final round of the 2012 Round Turkey Tournament was the decisive one, as any of the players could theoretically have won it.  I had no idea how Tim Clark (aka Moth) was going to open the game, although I did prep the Caro-Kann Advance variation to some extent, since it is a popular choice for White these days.

Black has a relatively easy time of it in the opening and by move 9 has his pieces comfortably placed.  I decided not to get too fancy in the early middlegame and was thinking about quietly increasing the pressure on the d-pawn when White threw in the tactical surprise of 15. Nxd5.  Black is objectively fine here, but the failure by both of us (apparently) to spot the key ...Nxe5 countermove - made possible by the unprotected White queen on d3 - is quite instructive.  I had the mental assumption when both queens were on the d-file that opening the file would not do anything, only seeing the ...Nxe5 possibility once I had a rook on d8.  This is a good example of how doing a general tactical status check can be a help (and should be a regular feature of one's thinking process).  (I first saw this idea expressed in Understanding Chess Tactics by Martin Weteschnik.)

Despite missing the best reply, I manage to hang on and after the sequence is completed, regain equality.  White nevertheless retained what initiative was left in the position and I soon felt under pressure again after he pushed in the center with 24. d5.  Further inaccurate defending by Black leaves him with a somewhat scary-looking position as of move 29, although it was still objectively OK.  Attempting to counterattack in the center, I play Rxe3, which would have lost had White taken the fleeting opportunity to play d6 that was presented by Black's overloaded pieces.  Luckily for me, I immediately extricated myself and then was able to head for a setup that would force perpetual check.

My opponent didn't want to accept a draw, though, so decided to roll the dice with a rook exchange that lost him two pawns, leaving us with a R+P endgame featuring three Black kingside pawns versus two White kingside pawns.  With time growing shorter, White got very aggressive and failed to do a CCT (checks, captures and threats) check on move 41, allowing White's rook to check and then pick up the b-pawn.  The end came quickly afterwards.

My thanks to Tim for playing an interesting and strong game, which gave me a lot to look at during analysis.

For anyone else who wants to join the fun during the next cycle, the 2012 Double My Egg Nog FICS tournament still has a space available.

How Carlsen makes us feel better about chess

The Financial Times this weekend has another article on chess, this time in its Lunch with the FT column.  Each week a personality - perhaps the best way to describe the people interviewed - has lunch with one of the FT's reporters and has an informal interview and conversation.  This week, it's Magnus Carlsen, who gave the interview just before the start of the London Chess Classic.

Similar to Kramnik's commentary in "How Kramnik makes us feel better about chess", I found Carlsen's approach to chess and his views on playing and training to be refreshing, having a simplicity and mature clarity about them.  When top players matter-of-factly discuss how positions are unclear and admit their own limits, it's an important lesson for improving players as well.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, but I've excerpted some of what I consider the most relevant points on mental attitudes, the importance of developing intuition and the role of planning.
  • "...what at first seems like studied indifference is a genuine character trait of not easily becoming worked up, of taking things in one’s stride rather than needing to feel always in control. In fact, Carlsen seems unfazed by many things, among them not knowing whom he is playing when, how well he has to do in the London Classic to beat Kasparov’s record, or, for that matter, where to meet for lunch." 
  • "...Carlsen says the difficulty with being tired when playing chess is that things don’t come intuitively. I point out that the stereotypical image of the game is that it is won not through intuition but hyperrational analytical powers. 'Of course, analysis can sometimes give more accurate results than intuition but usually it’s just a lot of work. I normally do what my intuition tells me to do. Most of the time spent thinking is just to double-check.'"
  • "Still intrigued by the claim that intuition has pride of place, I ask him about the importance of spontaneity in chess. 'Of course, you make plans but the positions are often too complicated for proper planning. Then suddenly you get an idea.'"
Carlsen also emphasized the importance of being able to feel the joy in chess, rather than having it become a grind.  This and all of the above points I think are quite applicable to the improving player.

02 December 2012

Annotated Game #73: Round 2 - Round Turkey Tournament

Round 2 of the 2012 Round Turkey Tournament featured a struggle with Rocky Rook in the English.  The first three moves produced an Old Indian-style formation on Black's part, as was previously seen in Annotated Game #35.  Unlike with that game, where White played an early d4 to exchange in the center and then fianchetto his bishop on g2, this time a central strategy is followed, with a very different-looking game.

Rocky's decision to push 5...e4 I think determined the whole strategic character of the game.  I was reasonably familiar with the idea, having looked at it in other closed-type English positions, so it didn't bother me too much.  Here I thought it was going a little too far out on a limb for Black, since the pawn would be difficult to support properly.  That is in fact what occurred, as White in the early middlegame is able to pick up the pawn.

I was worried about some of Black's counterplay shortly afterward, for example if he had chosen to penetrate on the second rank with 19...Rc2.  By the time he decides to try for counterplay a bit later on the kingside, however, I was able to calculate - after some initial trepidation - that it would come to nothing.  Once Black's threat was dealt with, I was able to find active, attacking continuations that increased White's positional advantage and eventually led to a mate threat.  This is in contrast to earlier in the game, where I passed up several interesting, aggressive continuations (8. g4!? and 19. e4 stand out) in order to put safety first.

Thanks again to Rocky for an interesting game and of course for his good work organizing the tournament.  I plan on participating in the next one on FICS, the Double My Egg Nog tournament, which still has one space free for an interested player.

28 November 2012

Annotated Game #72: Round 1 - Round Turkey Tournament

This was technically the first round game of the 2012 Round Turkey tournament, although it was in fact played after the round 2 game (analysis forthcoming) against Rocky Rock.  TomG graciously took over Wang's spot, after the latter was a no-show, and played an interesting take on the Slow Slav as White against me.

One of the two main points of analytical interest in this game actually occurs quite early on, with move 6.  Black makes a standard-looking developing move (...Nbd7), which is in fact an unintended pawn sacrifice, a fact which I spotted immediately afterwards.  The variations that flow from the initial tactic, which involves a queen fork on b5, show a dynamic balance between material on the one side, and piece activity and placement on the other, that is worth studying.  White however avoids the line, instead relieving the central pawn tension with 7. c5, at the same time gaining a bit of space on the queenside.  I usually am perfectly happy to see these types of moves, since they pose no immediate problems and offer possibilities of counterplay by attacking the head of the pawn chain.

The second main point of interest is the 17th (and last) move of the game.  As played, it was the result of a misclick, the electronic equivalent of a touch-move fault in an over-the-board (OTB) tournament.  With 16. e4, TomG had thrown down the gauntlet in the center and I was forced to consider the various permutations of pawn exchanges and follow-up moves.  Unfortunately, this type of pawn structure is a particular weakness for me, as I have trouble calculating and evaluating it.  However, that makes it all the more important for me to play.  My intended move (17...Qe5) was fine on the surface, but would in fact have lead to a significant White plus following the next round of exchanges.  Taking with the pawn in the center would have led to equality instead.

Props to TomG for a well-played game until that point, which despite the premature ending still provided value to me in the post-game analysis process.

24 November 2012

Annotated Game #71: Mate in Never

Once the 2012 Round Turkey tournament is completed, I'll post analyses of those games.  This time, I'll continue my past tournament game analysis with this heartbreaker.

Following the relative success in Annotated Game #70 against a higher-rated opponent, in the next round of the quad tournament I faced another Class A player.  My opponent employed an offbeat defense as Black, starting with a queenside fianchetto; see Annotated Game #30 for a similar start.  Although White could have made some early improvements in play, he gets a favorable position out of the opening.  By move 11 there is an opposite-sides castling situation, which even without queens on the board can be dangerous for the player (in this case Black) with a weaker king position.

The course of the rest of the game demonstrates how weak my thinking process was at the time and the dangers of passive play once a winning advantage has been obtained.  Black in the middlegame ignores White's potential threats down the half-open c-file, which eventually are realized on move 22.  Breaking into Black's king position, White misses a mate in 3 on move 26 - a shocking rook sacrifice to shut off the king's escape - but nevertheless emerges with a comfortable winning material advantage.  Here is where things start going wrong, ironically.

Black refuses to go quietly and instead plays the most threatening moves possible, which is the best (and usually only) way to aim for a swindle.  White's key mistake is on move 35, where instead of calmly taking Black's h-pawn, he backs his king into h1. Objectively he is still fine, but the conditions for the swindle have now been created.

Black's immediate next move gives White a mate in 2.  I recall thinking hard about the position, knowing that there must be a winning possibility, but I was simply unable to see it.  The psychological pressure - all self-inflicted - simply got to me.  This is also another example of the importance of CCT (checks, captures and threats) in the thinking process.  The failure to see the mate is also symptomatic of a more general weakness of mine in visualizing mating nets.  I've gotten better at it, especially in the last year, but it's still an area for improvement.  The ratings gap (around 300 points) also contributed greatly to the psychological pressure; I've subsequently learned to put aside ratings fear and instead treat it as an opportunity.

The remainder of the game - still won for White up until move 43 - is a classic example of the winning side making a series of passive moves and failing to calculate the more active ones, for fear of losing.  This is punished effectively by Black, who never stops looking for aggressive continuations and finally traps White's king on the back rank.

I remember that after the game, one of the kibitzers mentioned to me that I had missed a mate.  I told him, feeling somewhat bitter, that I knew that.  Too bad that as it happened, it was a mate in never.

22 November 2012

Book completed: The High Window

From Chapter 15 of Raymond Chandler's The High Window:
The chessmen, red and white bone, were lined up ready to go and had that sharp, competent and complicated look they always have at the beginning of a game.  It was ten o'clock in the evening, I was home at the apartment, I had a pipe in my mouth, a drink at my elbow and nothing on my mind except two murders and the mystery of how Mrs Elizabeth Bright Murdock had got her Brasher Doubloon back while I still had it in my pocket.
I opened a little paper-bound book of tournament games published in Leipzig, picked out a dashing-looking Queen's Gambit, moved the white pawn to Queen's four, and the bell rang at the door.

From Chapter 36:
It was night.  I went home and put my old house clothes on and set the chessmen out and mixed a drink and played over another Capablanca.  It went fifty-nine moves.  Beautiful, cold, remorseless chess, almost creepy in its silent implacability.
When it was done I listened at the open window for a while and smelled the night.  Then I carried my glass out to the kitchen and rinsed it and filled it with ice water and stood at the sink sipping it and looking at my face in the mirror.
'You and Capablanca,' I said.

18 November 2012

2012 Round Turkey Tournament (final update - Nov 26)

2012 Round Turkey Tournament organization 

Organizer: Rocky Rook


Rocky Rook
TomG (replacing Wang)

Time Control: 60 5 (Game/60 plus 5 second increment)

Site: FICS

Round 1:

TomG vs. ChessAdmin   1-0
Rocky Rook vs. Moth    1-0

Round 2:

ChessAdmin vs. Rocky Rook   1-0
Moth vs. TomG  1-0

Round 3:

Moth vs. ChessAdmin  0-1
TomG vs. Rocky Rook  0-1


I'll keep the above updated with results as they come in.  Once I have a chance to analyze my games, I'll also put up annotated versions as separate posts.

Will have to think about my openings selection for this tournament.  Should I use the tried and true ones, but which my opponents can prepare for ahead of time?  Or go with new, untested weapons that may still be partly on the drawing board?  Hmm....

Nov 22 update:  It's been an interesting two games so far.  The one with TomG would have been a whole lot more interesting if I hadn't misclicked and put my queen down a square off, which forced an early resignation. Will be useful to look at the game up to that point in analysis, though.

Nov 24 update:  Had a nail-biter of a game against Moth (Tim Clark), managed to pull it out in the end.

Nov 26 update:  Final results are in and I've won the tournament on tiebreak.  Many thanks to Rocky for coming up with the tournament idea and to him and my other two opponents for playing such interesting games, which will be analyzed over the next week or so.

04 November 2012

Annotated Game #70: Early endgame struggle

This next tournament game is from the first round of a quad.  My Class A opponent chose early to head for a queenless middlegame, which I think mostly benefited Black.  Some interesting tactical and positional themes arose at various points and in the final position I had the only winning chances, but accepted a draw due to the ratings difference (over 250 points).  While an understandable decision, this really isn't the way to improve one's chess, which requires the mental toughness to take on and defeat superior opponents.

Some highlights of the analysis:
  • The White line with 4. a4 is considered a sideline of the Slav with 3. Nc3, apparently with good reason.  Black scores quite well in it and is not seriously challenged.  The counterblow 4...e5 is quite effective here.
  • The tactic on move 9 that White missed is instructive.  The White knight can simply run roughshod over Black's queenside, which is undeveloped, with the dual threat of Nc7+ and Nb6.  The intermediate bishop capture on d2 for Black doesn't help.
  • Black shied away from concrete analysis on move 18 of the obvious pawn advance, kicking the Nc3 and winning a pawn on d5 after the exchanges are through.  The actual move played, 18...Nd4, in fact invalidates Black's potential tactic by blocking the pin on the d-file.  This shows how my thinking on tactics was in the past much more muddled; I was unable to clearly break down the tactical elements in a position.
  • Black keeps plugging away, however, and makes the good strategic choice to simplify down into a minor piece endgame where by move 27 his pieces are relatively stronger.
  • The move 33 variation with ...h5 is an excellent example of endgame strategy and tactics.  Black could have assured his superiority on the kingside with this tactic.
  • The move 39 variation has a game-winning tactic based on promotion and a unique X-ray motif.  Another useful pattern, along with the move 33 variation, to keep in mind for potential endgame tactics.

28 October 2012

Annotated Game #69: It should have been easy

The following, a final-round tournament game, follows the path of Annotated Game #53 through move 10 in a quirky sideline of the Caro-Kann Classical.  In contrast to the previous game, this time I correctly hit on the idea of playing 12...Qa5+ and equalize immediately.  However, I choose a somewhat passive follow-up with ...Qc7 and then give White some chances to obtain the initiative.

A further bit of awkward play by Black allows White to create some menacing-looking threats down the h-file.  White manages to use the optical threat - as the engines point out, there is no real one - to bluff Black out of accepting a bishop sacrifice on move 22.  Black was too afraid of the h-file "threats" to see that White in fact cannot break through.  Despite this, Black is still equal and then manages to build up some real threats of his own on the queenside using the half-open c-file.  Alas, Black mishandles the attack and settles for a drawn position in the end, where his rook perpetually chases the White king around.

This really should have been an easy game for Black, whether to secure equality and a likely draw early on (with 13...Qf5) or to win by picking up the piece on move 22.  Instead, Black sees too many ghosts and makes things much more complicated than they should be.  At least the failed attack on the queenside is instructive, among other things showing how Black should have opened rather than closed lines with his pawns and could have better exploited the c-file.

25 October 2012

Vacation; Blogger Quad Tournament

I'll be on vacation until mid-November.  Or "on holiday" if you speak the Queen's English.

I expect to return refreshed and ready for the chess fight.  Hopefully the Blogger Quad, or as Rocky Rook calls it, the Round Turkey Tournament, will be waiting for me when I get back.  If it goes off as planned, I will analyze the games here for everyone's enjoyment (or horror, depending on how the games go).

20 October 2012

Book completed: The Big Sleep

From Chapter 24 of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep:
I went over to a floor lamp and pulled the switch, went back to put off the ceiling light, and went across the room again to the chessboard on a card table under the lamp.  There was a problem laid out on the board, a six-mover.  I couldn't solve it, like a lot of my problems.  I reached down and moved a knight, then pulled my hat and coat off and threw them somewhere.  All this time the soft giggling went on from the bed, that sound that made me think of rats behind a wainscoting in an old house.

And a bit later...
I looked down at the chessboard.  The move with the knight was wrong.  I put it back where I had moved it from.  Knights had no meaning in this game.  It wasn't a game for knights.

Annotated Game #68: How to deal with the QGD setup in the English?

The following seventh-round tournament game features an old problem: how to deal with the Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) setup in the English.  White tries yet another approach, this time exchanging on d5 immediately.  Analysis of the game shows that this is not a bad way to play, particularly if White had tried a different approach on move 8; the game included in the notes from Jesse Kraai is interesting to see, in that respect.

Prior to embarking on a comprehensive analysis of my tournament games, I had not realized either the frequency with which I had actually faced the QGD, or the difficulties inherent in playing the English against it, rather than simply transposing with d4 to the main lines.  (There of course are plenty of other difficulties involved in that, including the large body of opening theory.)  As a result, I've now worked out a reasonably consistent approach involving an early e3, which I'm satisfiied with (if not completely happy).  This should have better practical results than essentially randomly picking from the variety of other early move choices (4. g3, 4. b3 and 4. cxd5).  As I noted in Annotated Game #64, the lack of such a consistent approach made it feel like I was playing a new, unfamiliar opening each time.

Going back to the actual game, White makes a number of small errors and one significant one on move 13.  The engines' recommendation of 13...a5 I found instructive, showing how Black can use that type of pawn lever against White's queenside formation when it is left underdefended.  Although Black retains a noticeable advantage, thanks to White's somewhat incoherent strategic play, White is smart enough to realize it and then manages to trade down into a drawn position.