29 September 2012

Annotated Game #65: Mercy Killing in the English Four Knights

This next tournament game sees White achieve an excellent position in the English Four Knights, as Black is too optimistic about his prospects of obtaining a good reversed Sicilian Defense position.  Black's deviation from the database with 11...Qf6 is not properly evaluated by White, however, who misses the latent threat to his Ra1 on the long diagonal.  White tries to be aggressive with 12. e4? and simply loses a pawn, also handing the initiative to Black.  White suffers thereafter and misses another simple threat, this time down the e-file, which costs another pawn.  A couple of interesting tactical resources were overlooked that would have allowed White to regain a pawn and fight on.  However, with a crushing endgame from Black looming, White misses an unusual bishop skewer on the first rank and is put away quickly - a mercy killing, one could say.

What causes lapses like 12. e4?  I was playing on autopilot through the opening and failed to start thinking properly - or really at all - following Black's 11th move.  As part of my (new) thinking process, the question should immediately have been asked what changed about the position, which (one hopes) would have led to identifying the new threat down the long diagonal.  Again, it was the transition from opening to middlegame phase that tripped me up, which was all too typical of my play during this period - and is still something that needs to be worked on.

22 September 2012

Annotated Game #64: What was that opening, again?

This game is a seesaw battle in an English-QGD (Queen's Gambit Declined) setup that illustrates nicely how neither side knew the correct way to handle the position out of the opening.  This was in fact the fourth time I had faced the variation in my tournament career - see Annotated Game #50 for an earlier example -  and I had a general notion of how I wanted to play the opening (which was in fact successful).  The problem was that I still had no real idea of how to approach the resulting middlegame.  This is a typical result of amateur-level opening preparation, which fails to answer the question, "what next?" after the repertoire lines are completed.  Under these circumstances, it's as if you're seeing the opening for the first time - again and again.

Getting back to the game, White selects a positional treatment of the opening with an early b3 that aims for quietly exploiting some small advantages in development and exploitation of the c-file.  However, I rather blindly decide to pursue the b4-b5 push, which makes less sense here.  Black plays very solidly, albeit overly defensively, and then sees an opportunity to make a push in the center starting on move 16.  However, the result of this, following some "obvious" (but not obligatory) exchanges, is a vastly improved scenario for the White pieces by move 22.  Black makes a huge error on the following move by not exchanging White's advanced knight, which then leaps into an outstanding outpost and sets off an attack that plays itself.

Unfortunately for me, once the moves are no longer completely obvious, I fail to find the key attacking themes (including a threatened mate on g7) which would have resulted in a won game.  Instead, exchanges are made and the position is reduced to equality.  As happens so often, this negative change in trend continues with a rapid downhill slide by White, who fails to see a mate threat, then it's all over.

Analyzing this game was useful, as it pointed up the fact that I still need to work on handling QGD structures, which my database tells me occur more often than I think; I simply haven't studied and prepared against them enough.  The missed tactical opportunities are something that I hope I would be able to spot now, having had a great deal more training in that area.  In any case, the potential tactics against the king position and against the Be5 were well worth reviewing, for future application.


18 September 2012

The importance of CCT: example #4 - Lasker's Manual of Chess

Continuing the series on Checks, Captures and Threats (CCT) is the following excerpt from Lasker's Manual of Chess ("21st Century Edition", Russell Enterprises) found in the Third Book: The Combination.
"The consideration of forcible moves is necessary because in this way a short road to victory, provided it is on the board, can be discerned.  The method is also practical because it eliminates all consideration of the immense multitude of nonviolent moves and concentrates the attention upon a few possibilities which the human mind can easily digest."

15 September 2012

Annotated Game #63: Third time's the charm (?)

The first game of my next tournament is already covered in Annotated Game #3: Attack of the Clones (as the original, not the copy).  The second game isn't quite a clone, but it is yet another disappointing example of turning a Caro-Kann into a French (see Annotated Game #47).  If the practice of analyzing a game a week for this blog does nothing else for my game, it will ensure that I never do this again, this being the third time I have seen this error.  Let's hope there's not a fourth one lurking out there...

Unlike the previous efforts, at least I managed to secure a draw in this game.  White's cramped 7. Nd2?! development probably gets most of the credit for this, as does his failure to find a recurring tactical theme of trapping my light-square bishop on the queenside.  Black's setup isn't horrid, but it lacks counterplay until White allows some maneuvering by the Nc6.  The final position is interesting, as White's rooks are cut off from each other and Black ends up chasing the one on the 7th rank around.

Some lessons learned from the analysis:
  • Never get off the boat play ...e6 in the Caro-Kann Advance when there's still a chance to meaningfully develop the light-square bishop.
  • Properly evaluate the effects of minor piece trades, to ensure that you're not getting the worse end of the deal (move 9).
  • Look for the most active square for your minor piece and place it there (move 14).
  • Be wary of taking away squares from your own advanced pieces (moves 18-19)

10 September 2012

Breaking Through to the Next Level

Breaking through barriers is something common to all sports.  Some are harder than others, but reaching a level of true mastery is never easy and often requires many years of struggle.  Many never achieve it, lacking the necessary will, effort, or simply the ability.  All three are required.

As a follow-up to the Chess vs. Tennis post, I'm very pleased to congratulate Andy Murray on his first Grand Slam title, having won the U.S. Open in a five-hour marathon match.  No one could doubt his tennis ability before; now, no one can say that he is not a master of the game.  It's been interesting to see how he has taken his training and mental preparation to the next level, which is what was needed for his own breakthrough.  It can serve as an inspiration for all those looking to achieve mastery of their chosen sport.

09 September 2012

Annotated Game #62: One Must Think in the Opening

This last-round tournament game illustrates the importance of understanding your opening repertoire and being able to think on your own in the opening phase.  After inaccurate play from White (7. c4), Black prematurely launches the ...c5 break on move 9.  Although this pawn break is in fact a standard theme in the Classical Caro-Kann, here it only serves to validate White's inaccurate 7th move and gets an underdeveloped Black in trouble quickly.  Black would have had an easy path with simple developing moves and should have understood that the pawn break needed to be more fully prepared; normally it comes later (moves 12-15) in other variations.

Instead, White is handed an excellent attacking opportunity, which he takes after completing his development, gaining a clear advantage by move 12.  Black neglects his defense of the evil e-file and should have been punished for it on move 15, where the engines show White winning a piece.  However, White loses his nerve and goes for two piece exchanges.  The exchanges allow White to wreck Black's kingside pawn structure, but the disappearance of the attacking pieces and Black's extra pawn mean that the position is level.  White makes some additional demonstrations on the kingside, but his decision to again exchange an attacking piece on move 21 leads eventually to the draw.

Again I am struck by the usefulness of analyzing your own games as an improvement practice.  Had I been serious about this earlier in my career, it would have led more quickly to better performance.  In this case, the neglect of the e-file should have led to a loss and meant that Black was happy to end up with a draw.  My tendency to neglect this necessary defensive aspect of the position was evident in the previously analyzed game, but the lesson had not been learned.

03 September 2012

Annotated Game #61: English vs. KID - danger in the center

This fifth-round tournament game followed Annotated Game #9, which was an interesting look at the 5. Nc5 sideline of the Caro-Kann Classical favored by Fischer.  Here we return to the theme of the King's Indian Defense (KID) setup against the English.

Black's choice of playing ...c6 instead of ...Nc6 allows him to better fight for the d5 square, always a key one for the English.  The drawback is that the pawn on c6 gives White a target for his b4-b5 queenside push.  The early middlegame is always a critical time in these types of positions, as White can either gain the initiative on the queenside, or cede it to Black in the center or kingside, depending on who uses their initial moves most effectively.

In this game, White waits too long for the key b5 push, then when he does make it, it is (ironically enough) insufficiently prepared due to Black's threats on the long diagonal.   By move 16, Black has largely defused White's threats on the queenside and opened the key e-file.  However, he then exchanges away his beautiful Bg7 and White is perhaps slightly better afterwards.  White fails to see some complicated tactical possibilities on move 22 and the position then is equal.

What happens on move 24 is very instructive.  White goes for a cheap threat pinning the Nc5 to the queen without bothering to calculate Black's response (...Qd5+), which is an example of failing to see the opponent's Checks, Captures and Threats (CCT).  Black's check immediately frees him up to take advantage of the ...Nd3 fork threat, which White completely misses, although there was still a defense.  Once Black goes up the exchange, the game is won.

In this game, I failed to appreciate the significance of Black's central counterplay, both originally with his 14...e4 push uncovering the attack on the Nc3 (although I had seen the threat) and then with the ...Nd3 fork and queen maneuver (which I completely missed).  The analysis of this game should help me increase the necessary sense of danger in such situations.