30 June 2013

Book completed: Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953

After two years I've completed David Bronstein's classic on the 1953 Candidate's Tournament.  Rather than give a review or a full description of the book, which has been done many times elsewhere (or you can see the link above), I'd like to focus on its benefits for training purposes.

The first benefit of the book is its breadth and unbiased game selection (containing all 210 games of the tournament).  GM Alex Yermolinsky observed in The Road to Chess Improvement that when looking at game collections for improvement purposes, you should be wary of an author's selection bias.  This means that authors can, consciously or unconsciously, select games that support their particular viewpoint, while excluding ones that could contradict or undermine their assertions.  Tournament books such as this one are by nature complete and unbiased in terms of selection, which if you think about it is a rather rare thing in modern chess.  (Tournament books used to be much more popular in chess literature, which is another topic.)

Another benefit is the accessibility and relative compactness of the game annotations.  Running through a game a day at the office while on lunch break, which typically took from 10-20 minutes, has been a key component of my being able to maintain a consistent engagement with chess.  This is important, as both consistency and constancy are necessary to the success of any long-term training program; progress made is much more likely to be lost if effort is only made sporadically.  I found myself able to maintain the necessary state of mindfulness, even during a busy workday, with that level of effort.  Just as important, the amount of time taken was both meaningful and sustainable.  Coming away from a study period with just one observation or insight that could help my play was sufficient, as there were 210 of them in the book.

Bronstein has been criticized by some purists for not providing full annotations for the games (or perhaps even doing much of the analysis himself).  However, for my purposes, that was not the point of going through the book  - nor in fact was it Bronstein's own stated goal in writing it.  Rather, it was to obtain useful, discrete insights into the chess struggle in practice (a title of an earlier edition of the book) in an enjoyable way.  Bronstein's writing style is very engaging and understandable, which helped provide a welcome distraction during the workday as well as contributing to my chess studies.

I expect to continue the practice of studying individual games during breaks at the office and will look for something new from my collection that's suitable, probably Korchnoi's annotated game collection.  We'll see how long it takes to get through that.

29 June 2013

Annotated Game #96: A Return to Chess

This next game marked another "return to chess" after a several-year gap following Annotated Game #94.  I had moved again for my job and did little in the way of chess study or play at my new location.  Before playing in this tournament, I spent several weeks getting back into the game and reviewing my openings, primarily, in order to prepare.  At the start of the tournament, I was pleased to be paired up in the first round against a strong Expert, since I felt no real pressure to perform and could just concentrate on the game.

Several points came out of this game analysis:
  • Unusual openings are unusual for a reason.  Simple, principled and powerful play would have given White an earlier edge.
  • My repeated neglect of development issues led to losing the initiative by move 15, even with Black's rather passive opening play.
  • I correctly identified the game's major turning point and critical move (22), but flubbed the calculations in a complex position.  At critical points like that, a player needs to take as much time as needed to calculate clearly and understand the ideas of the position (which I did not)
  • While defending, always look to get back in the game and take advantage of any errors by the attacker.  This is often difficult to do because of psychological factors, for example when Black erred on move 26.  I still felt the same amount of pressure, though, which contributed to a failure to objectively evaluate the situation.
  • Materialism is bad, even when defending.  Jettisoning a pawn in exchange for dynamic compensation or long-term positional benefit would have allowed me to equalize after Black's error.
  • Computer analysis must always be viewed critically.  The original Fritz 12 analysis showed exaggerated evaluations of a White advantage at several points in the first part of the game, where Houdini showed either a small advantage or equality, which seems more reasonable to me.
Not a terrible effort for being out of tournament practice for several years and the game itself is instructive, both for the errors and how Black tactically exploits White's positional weaknesses in the final phase of the game, even after White had managed to temporarily keep material equality and get the queens off the board.

23 June 2013

Amateur vs. Master

As part of my studies, I periodically run across examples, both from my own games and from master-level ones, that highlight discrete concepts that I believe are key stepping stones on the path to mastery.  Recognizing and comprehending different concepts of play, then internalizing them so they become part of your game, is critical to gaining strength at the board.

This identification and absorption of key concepts is part of any serious training program, in both tactical and strategic terms.  It's much more difficult, or even sometimes impossible in practical terms, to calculate a tactical win if you don't have an idea of what the final position should look like, for example a particular mating pattern.  Similarly, failure to recognize key strategic or positional factors can lead to missed opportunities or being effectively dominated by an opponent who is able to capitalize on them.

Future posts along these lines will be documented here for reference, under two categories:

Amateur Hour
Instances of what not to do and why, as illustrated by mistaken concepts at the amateur level.  The Amateur's Mind by IM Jeremy Silman has a book-length and systematic approach to covering some of the most common issues and is part of my library.  A more recent treatise on the topic, more from the professional's point of view than the amateur's, is Grandmaster versus Amateur (Quality Chess, 2011) edited by Jacob Aagard and John Shaw.  Based on reviews (included the linked one above) it seems to offer useful insights, although I don't yet have it myself (perhaps in part because of the silly cover).  A classic example of the genre is Max Euwe's Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur, which would be a great candidate for an updated "21st century edition".

Mastery Concepts
I periodically run across clear, fascinating examples from master play that cause a lightbulb to turn on inside my head.  These concepts are worth documenting for my own use in training and in general should be known by any strong player.

17 June 2013

Annotated Game #95: Rocky Rook and the Caro-Kann Advance

This was played relatively recently against Rocky Rook on FICS at a 60 5 time control and was an interesting struggle in the opening and early middlegame.  Black achieves a dream setup against White in a Caro-Kann Advance variation (by transposition), but I failed to capitalize on this tactically on move 19, after an unsuccessful (lazy?) attempt to calculate the permutations of ...Nxd4!  Instead I picked a safe option which I knew was somewhat passive, but then was fortunate when White overlooked a latent skewer threat and the game was essentially over.  Some additional tactical possibilities in the subsequent analysis provide some entertainment, although in the game I largely stuck with moves that I calculated would win sufficiently rather than win brilliantly.  I believe this is part of the secret of high-performance chess, so I don't feel so bad about the wonderfully better moves the engine pointed out during analysis.  A good game for training purposes.

11 June 2013

Publishing chess games in 2013 (updated)

When starting this blog in 2011 I looked around at the various options for publishing chess games on it.  Having recently acquired some new software (Houdini 3 Aquarium) with publishing features, I thought I'd do another look at what's available now in 2013.  In truth, there doesn't seem to be much difference, although now the Aquarium publishing feature seems to work better with Blogger, although with a still very annoying bug (see below). (UPDATED - see Chess.com entry below #4 and also a new link to an Aquarium 2014 publishing example.)

For demonstration purposes I use the same game (Annotated Game #1, a simul against GM Walter Browne) in several different publishing formats for comparison.  While this isn't a comprehensive list of publishing resources, it includes several different options that I think are worth considering.  For my own purposes, I want the following features from any publishing program:
  • View full annotations (symbols and text)
  • See variations in annotations displayed on the board
  • Board and annotations must be visible together (i.e. not having the board scroll off the page)
  • Board should be flippable (White or Black can be displayed at the bottom)
  • Can use mouse or arrow keys to go through the moves
  • Can publish a full game as part of a self-contained blog post (no separate files or web hosting required)
Personal preferences will vary as will people's taste for aesthetics, but below are some reasonably objective observations on each option that might help those interested in publishing their own game.  If anyone has a favorite method not on the list that works in Blogger, point me to it and I'll add a sample.

1. ChessFlash PGN Viewer Quick Publisher / Knight Vision PGN Publisher (its new name) - this was what I ended up with as my primary publishing tool.  It had all of the features I wanted and is very easy to use.  It is not the most aesthetically pleasing, but the functionality is more important for me.
  • Copy & paste of PGN all on one webpage
  • Variety of options for pre-publication display, including color and width/height adjustment
  • All annotations are visible in the scrolling textbox and variations are displayed on the board
  • Requires Shockwave Flash

2. Aquarium 2012 - I seriously considered using Aquarium for my publishing purposes and did the work to track down how to use it with Blogger (as you can see in my tutorial for Aquarium 2011, which aside from the patch update is still valid).  I think it looks good aesthetically and has the desired functionality for the display.  I originally rejected it in 2011 for use with this blog, since there was a bug in its code that made all of the subsequent posts on the main Blogger page disappear.  With the 2012 version, this is no longer the case every time, but it still appears to cause problems with the main page.  Publishing this post caused all other posts on the main page to disappear below it for me, while publishing the Aquarium game in a post by itself resulted in the last post on the main page being cut off, so this is not a Blogger bug.  If the software publisher made Aquarium easier to use for publishing, got rid of its bug for use with Blogger, and did things like include full instructions in the manual/help file, I think they could create a lot more visibility for it via user-published content.  (EDIT: see this new example of Aquarium 2014 publishing on the Chess Expert Challenge blog.)
  • Commercial product (not free to use)
  • Need outside instructions for use (instructions not included)
  • Not all parameters adjustable
  • Pleasing design aesthetic, including presentation of the annotation text and variations
  • Does not automatically scroll text when advancing through the game with arrow keys

8 8
7 7
6 6
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4 4
3 3
2 2
1 1

Browne, Walter - ChessAdmin
1/2-1/2, ?.
[#] 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.h4 h6 7.Nf3 Nf6 This sub-variation is relatively rare in practice, with Nd7 being played most often. I evaluate it as just as sound and less famiiliar for most White players, making it good for Black. 8.Ne5 Bh7 9.Bc4 e6 10.Qe2 Nd5 This last sequence is essentially forced after Ne5, which is White's all-out attacking attempt. 11.Bb3 Nd7 12.Bd2 Qc7

[My personal opening book is 12...a5 13.a4 Nxe5 14.dxe5 Qb6 15.O-O-O O-O-O as the a5/a4 moves give the Nd5 an outpost on b4 if needed. In general, the idea is to exchange the e5 knight and castle queenside, with the queen deployed to either b6 or occasionally c7, depending on white's play. In the actual game, this is the point where I did not remember the book continuation, although I did remember the idea behind it.]
13.O-O Nxe5 14.dxe5 O-O-O 15.h5 Bc5 16.Rad1 Rd7 17.Rfe1 Rhd8 18.Bc1 Qb6 This illustrates why the normal move earlier is Qb6 rather than Qc7, that would have saved a tempo on the position. 19.c3 Ne7 20.Rxd7 Rxd7 21.Bc4 Nd5 This rook exchange sequence gains Black the d-file and reduces the number of heavy pieces available for White to attack with. 22.Qf3 Qd8 Both Fritz and Houdini at this point prefer Qc7, which in words means the queen pressures e5 and also helps cover the 7th rank on defense. While doubling up on the d-file looks good, the points of potential rook invasion are at this point well covered by White. 23.Ne4 Bxe4 24.Qxe4 Be7 Not the best. Houdini recommends f5 first, which would prevent a future queen invasion on h7. 25.g3 Prevents any funny business from Black on h4 25...Bc5 26.Kg2 Ne7 It would be better to anticipate the queenside pawn advance with Bb6 27.b4 Bb6 28.a4 Rd1 29.a5 Qe2 is necessary to prevent the tactical shot on f2, which however... 29...Rxe1
[I also miss. 29...Bxf2!? 30.Kxf2 Rxc1 31.Rxc1 Qd2+ employs a queen fork and highlights the value of the queen on the open file.]
30.Qxe1⩲ Bc7 31.Qe4 This allows the black queen to penetrate, thereby fully offsetting white's space advantage and two bishops. 31...Qd1 32.Be3 Qxh5 33.f4 Nd5 Houdini says a6 would have been slightly better, although I thought getting the knight into play was more important at the time. 34.Bxa7 Nxc3
[Here both Fritz and Houdini originally thought that 34...Qg4 was better, as the queen stays active near white's king with the possibility of advancing the h-pawn to attack. However, Houdini eventually came around to my way of thinking. Both moves are essentially equal.]
[35.Qh7!?± was Fritz's evaluation, although I wasn't afraid of it at the time, believing my piece activity would compensate. Houdini agrees with me.]
35...Nd5 36.b5 Qg4 Fritz agrees taking the pawn too early is bad.
[Not 36...Bxa5 37.bxc6 bxc6 38.Bxd5 exd5 39.Qa6+ Kd7 40.Qxa5 Qe2+ 41.Bf2 Qe4+ 42.Kh2+⁠− ]
37.Bxd5 exd5 38.bxc6 Bxa5??
[Unfortunately I didn't remember this and admittedly was a bit flustered by White's apparent attack. Better is 38...Qe6 39.cxb7+ Kxb7 40.Bd4⩲ Bxa5 ]
[Both Browne and I missed 39.Qxd5 and White wins 39...Qe2+ 40.Bf2+⁠− ]
39...Kxb7± 40.Be3 Qd7 At this point we have reached a dead-even endgame where neither side can hope to make progress with good play. 41.Qd4 Kc8 42.Qc5+ Qc7 43.Qxd5 Bb4
[This allows white too much space. Better was 43...Qb7 44.Qxb7+ Kxb7 ]
44.f5 After this move, either Qc2 or Qb7 allows Black to comfortably hold. Something like Kh2 could have been tried to keep the queens on and white's space advantage. [1/2-1/2]

  • Copy & paste of PGN data method requires opening multiple windows
  • Moves with annotations are highlighted in the game score in italics, with the annotations listed in a box below the board
  • Does not display variations on the board
  • Cannot use arrow keys to advance through game, must use mouse
  • Has different options for board style, but published version does not look like what you see on the webpage (different colors/piece design)
  • Does not require any plugins (Flash, Java) to be installed

4. Chess.com's Game Editor (now with much better functionality, as highlighted by the FIXED issues below. However, it still does not display pasted PGN evaluation signs in the final product.)
  • Aesthetically pleasing design (although without any customization options for color, etc.)
  • FIXED: Displays variations on the board and annotations in the textbox below, but you cannot tell by looking at the game score where the annotations are
  • FIXED: Cannot use arrow keys to advance through game
  • Game itself is hosted at Chess.com, which may be a positive or negative, depending on your preference
  • FIXED: The editor apparently has trouble with annotation text placed before a move (as shown by the non-appearing intro text on the move 12 variation). Of course you can get around that by selecting only "text after move" annotations, but it's still annoying.

Other related resources/comments:
  • The pgn4web board generator is useful but has a 2000 character limit; the test game above has double that.  This means that the application isn't suited for annotated games.
  • ChessBase 11 allows HTML output of a game with a replayable board, but you have to host it yourself and cannot simply paste it into a blog post.
  • The HTML output from Chess King is not contained in a scroll box, so the text and variations of a typical annotated game will eventually drive the board off the viewable area (as in this example).
  • ChessTempo offers a PGN viewer/publisher but it requires editing HTML source, so involves more than just a copy/paste of a game.