28 April 2013

Annotated Game #92: Subtle Symmetry

The following sixth-round tournament game featured the Symmetrical English, a rare guest at the chessboard at the Class level.  Black players rarely know the ideas behind it, but then again White has no real possibilities for tactics early on and many White players are also unlikely to know how to play it properly.  What usually happens, as in this game, is that White gets a small positional edge but then lacks the requisite skills to follow up on it in the middlegame and endgame.  Learning how to play more subtly as White in these types of positions will be a necessary part of achieving mastery.

U.S. Chess Championships 2013 -- Fantasy Chess

This year the internet home of the 2013 U.S. Chess Championships is once again hosting a Fantasy Chess site.  The selection method is much improved over last year, which forced users to choose from certain pre-ordered player groups when assembling their teams, which was not completely intuitive and also not very fun.  This year it's a more flexible format, with each user given a budget of Fantasy Bucks to spend on selecting players onto your team, with the object simply being to score the most points over the 9 rounds of the championships.  Naturally, the higher-rated players cost a good deal more than the lower-rated ones.

I went with a more or less balanced approach for my team, going with proven champions currently playing very well internationally (Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush) and then a few players who have done well in the past and that I'm pulling for to do well in the upcoming tournament.  I am for example glad to see GM Ben Finegold back in form and enjoying the game, after previously declaring he would retire from competitive play due to poor tournament results.

The championships begin on May 3rd (opening ceremony is May 2nd), so it should be a good month for chess.

20 April 2013

Annotated Game #91: Opposite-side aggression in the Caro-Kann

This fifth-round tournament game features highly aggressive play from Black right out of the opening, a Caro-Kann Advance by transposition, starting with 8...Nh6.  Black's execution of the idea is somewhat off, but the basic idea is similar to what occurs in some French Defense variations.  White is tempted to play Bxh6, which gives Black the two bishops and the half-open g-file to attack White's king position.  The result is a dynamic game with unbalanced, competing strategies.  Black's decision to castle on the opposite wing further enhances this dynamic.

Although Black does not dominate the game until the later stages, it's clear that his strategic ideas are the ones that are driving the situation, giving him the initiative.  White fails to understand the key factors in the position, for example playing weakening moves such as 18. f4?! followed up by an inaccurate pawn recapture.  Ironically, Black's strategic advantage is then immediately thrown away with the poor choice to exchange his two rooks for White's queen, giving new life to White's pieces and taking away the pressure on White's position.  The position remains complicated, however, and White in turn soon goes astray, chasing Black's king onto a safe square and then allowing Black's queen to take the key d4 pawn.  Black then returns to dominance and finally figures out how to win by pushing his passed d-pawn to victory.

While this is not a particularly high-quality game, the strategic themes and tactical considerations were useful to see in analysis, especially how certain choices lead to rapid changes in both sides' prospects.

14 April 2013

Annotated Game #90: R+P <> N+B

This fourth-round tournament game offers some interesting lessons and contrasts in how to count the material balance.  I did well out of the opening as Black, then faced a major decision on move 10, whether or not to take the f2-pawn.  Houdini validates the choice made in the game, which focuses instead on not falling too far behind in development.  However, several moves later, Black again targets the f-pawn and does the classic B+N for R+P exchange.  This is a classic material counting error, from the days where a piece was considered to be worth 3 pawns.  In reality, it's better to consider a piece as 3.25 pawns, which makes it clear that the above trade is detrimental.  The bishop pair can also be considered to be worth up to 0.5 pawns as a rule of thumb, making the trade even worse on counting considerations alone.

I wasn't completely ignorant of the above at the time, but also made an error in judgment in this particular game that the rooks would be able to compensate by operating down the central files.  This turned out not to be the case, as by move 22 it's clear that the rooks have nowhere to go and cannot penetrate - until White blunders by snatching a pawn and allowing a rook fork on the second rank.

As a secondary lesson, this game pointed out a consistent thought process error, which was Black's failure to advance the g-pawn (on two different occasions) to attack and trap the White knight.  Black simply failed to even consider the possibility of a g-pawn advance, based on the "general principles" of not making weakening pawn moves in front of the king.  This is another example of where using CCT (Checks, Captures and Threats) would have resulted in finding the correct candidate move (the threat to trap the knight), which was worth far more than the resulting positional weakness.

09 April 2013

Training quote of the day #2

I fear Benedict.  He is unlike any other being in Shadow or reality.  He is the Master of Arms for Amber.  Can you conceive of a millennium?  A thousand years?  Several of them?  Can you understand a man who, for almost every day of a lifetime like that, has spent some time dwelling with weapons, tactics, strategies?  Because you see him in a tiny kingdom, commanding a small militia, with a well-pruned orchard in his back yard, do not be deceived.  All that there is of military science thunders in his head.  He has often journeyed from shadow to shadow, witnessing variation after variation on the same battle, with but slightly altered circumstances, in order to test his theories of warfare.  He has commanded armies so vast that you could watch them march by day after day and see no end to the columns.  Although he is inconvenienced by the loss of his arm, I would not wish to fight him either with weapons or barehanded.  It is fortunate that he has no designs upon the throne, or he would be occupying it right now.  If he were, I believe that I would give up at this moment and pay him homage.  I fear Benedict.
From The Guns of Avalon by Roger Zelazny 

07 April 2013

Opening Study Model: Typical Positions (QGD)

For opening study, while I have occasionally run across some excellent resources, it has been difficult to find published works which take a holistic approach to explaining opening play, which should include the typical middlegame plans that result from an opening.  Too often opening lines are presented and analyzed up to the middlegame, then abruptly abandoned for the next line.  This means that someone who is an openings specialist, especially at the Class level, can easily fall into the trap of knowing what to do in the opening phase, achieving a good position and then quickly botching it a few moves into the middlegame.

I'd therefore like to start highlighting resources that are models for a comprehensive approach to opening study.  Some are already mentioned on this blog as review summaries of books or DVDs that I've completed.  The one I'm highlighting today is the Chess.com article by WIM Iryna Zenuk Typical Positions (Part 2).  It is humble, practical and shows how an improving player can research and better comprehend key lines in their chosen opening.  In this case, she looks at some key Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) positions and the typical plans for both White and Black, using her own recent Philadelphia Open game as the starting point and then examining how top-level professionals have treated the positions.  Even if you don't play the QGD, a look at the methodology and ideas can be valuable.  I noticed some common themes with some English Opening positions, for example, that involve a space advantage for White and an open a-file.

This may seem like a lot of work - and it is.  That is one reason I want to point out these atypically useful opening resources which offer us specific revelations of middlegame plans.  It still requires some effort to understand and digest the analysis, but the insights provided by these model opening studies can save a player a great deal of frustration (and losses).

06 April 2013

Annotated Game #89: Counting a Loss

The outcome of this third-round tournament game was decided by a counting error - luckily made this time by my opponent, not myself.  Ironically his miscalculation on move 16 came immediately after I handed him two possible combinations, one involving a use of his rook versus my queen on the c-file, the other being a thematic bishop sacrifice on g2.  The counting error involved captures on multiple squares, so it's easy to understand how my opponent went astray.  This Dan Heisman article at ChessCafe describes the problem of counting errors in detail.

Analysis of the opening and endgame phases of the game also offer up some instructive points.  I failed to take advantage of Black's incorrect handling of a Nimzo-Indian setup (the bishop retreat 5...Be7), instead parroting the original moves for the Nimzo-English contained in my opening repertoire.  This was done out of ignorance, since at the time I had no idea about what strategies are involved with the Nimzo-Indian setup.  In this case, the fight for e4 (a key Nimzo theme) is immediately won by White after Black retreats, something which I should have punished by 6. e4 or 6. d4.

The endgame is completely won for White, but I still had to win it.  Black played until the bitter end, attempting to use his two connected passed pawns on the queenside as compensation for the material.  However, White's rook is dominant (and could have been used to even greater effect on move 21), while Black's pieces cannot effectively support the pawns.  White finishes Black off in an effective manner after finding a clear way to win, the key being to calculate variations giving him safe, obvious winning advantages rather than searching for the most rapid kill.