30 January 2014

Annotated Game #114: A speculative "sacrifice"

This game was the next game played on Chess.com after Annotated Game #113 and made me wonder if my opponent had looked that up and copied the Exchange Variation, simply because White had won the previous game that way.  In any case, the game diverges early (move 6) and Black achieves a more standard position in the line than in the other game, easily equalizing.

After mishandling a combinational idea (see move 15), which resulted in what I thought was a rather stale-looking position, I decided to undertake a speculative "sacrifice" on move 18.  Black nets three pawns for the knight, so it's not technically a material deficit, but Black still feels the loss of the piece before the pawns can mobilize effectively.  Despite some additional pressure that I also obtained from placing a rook on the second rank, my opponent defended well and I decided to try and head for the endgame, where I felt with my extra pawns I would have an edge and all the real winning chances.

Unfortunately there was still enough material on the board for White to be able to gain the initiative and pose some threats - to which I reacted poorly, making what should have been a losing blunder on move 27. The seesaw battle after that was not well played by either of us, but as Tartakower said, the winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.  I felt a little personally redeemed at the end of the game, since I correctly calculated a sequence involving a pawn sacrifice that ensured White could not prevent one of my central pawns from queening.

I learned a good deal from this game and did some rare things for me as a player (the knight "sacrifice" and finding an endgame combination), so despite the panic and poor play for a series of moves I'll chalk it up as a positive experience in general for my chess.

26 January 2014

In the Star Trek universe, I am....

Hell yeah!  And answered truthfully.

Your results:
You are Jean-Luc Picard
Jean-Luc Picard
Deanna Troi
Geordi LaForge
Mr. Sulu
Will Riker
James T. Kirk (Captain)
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Mr. Scott
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Beverly Crusher
A lover of Shakespeare and other
fine literature. You have a decisive mind
and a firm hand in dealing with others.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test

Annotated Game #113: An aggressive Caro-Kann

This next Slow Chess League game features a very aggressive Caro-Kann - from the Black side!  I rarely face the Exchange Variation, popularized by Fischer back in the day, so decided to try a rather sharp approach to it.  I knew my opponent had played the King's Indian Attack previously, so likely would not have much experience either in the line.

In the game, Black offers an exchange of bishops on f5, which White only briefly hesitated before executing, giving Black a sort of Stonewall-type pawn structure and an open g-file.  While familiar with the general ideas of this variation, I did not execute it particularly well, in general being a little too slow (for example on move 11).  Given White's structural advantages, Black needs to press harder and quicker, looking to activate a rook on the g-file and get his king out of the way - things I accomplish too late.  The critical position, however, did not occur until move 29, when White after a long think offered the h-pawn; after a shorter think, I took it, not seeing the full consequences of the action.  My opponent well deserved the win, but I gained a great deal of understanding about the variation as a result, so it was good for training purposes.

A good day to be Black

I didn't want to give the erroneous impression that the avoidance of draw death in chess would/should unfairly prejudice Black; this in fact was proven wrong by the latest Tata Steel Masters round:

Round ten - Masters

Group A: Round 10 - Saturday Jan. 25
Anish Giri - Sergey Karjakin
Leinier Dominguez - Levon Aronian
Loek van Wely - Boris Gelfand
Pentala Harikrishna - Wesley So
Fabiano Caruana - Arkadij Naiditsch
Richard Rapport - Hikaru Nakamura

21 January 2014

Draw death for chess

Guess it hasn't happened yet.  (Although a bad day to be Black!)

Tata Steel 2014: Round eight - Masters
Group A: Round 8 - Tuesday Jan. 21
Anish Giri - Levon Aronian
Sergey Karjakin - Boris Gelfand
Leinier Dominguez - Wesley So
Loek van Wely - Arkadij Naiditsch
Pentala Harikrishna - Hikaru Nakamura
Fabiano Caruana - Richard Rapport

Round nine - Challengers

Group B: Round 9 - Tuesday Jan. 21
Anna Muzychuk - Zhao Xue
Ivan Saric - Radek Wojtaszek
Yu Yangyi - Merijn van Delft
Sabino Brunello - Baadur Jobava
Benjamin Bok - Etienne Goudriaan
Jan Timman - Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Dimitri Reinderman - Kayden Troff

20 January 2014

Commentary: Tata Steel Group B (Challengers) - Round 1

This next commentary game features an unusual Dutch Stonewall from the round 1 game between Radek Wojtaszek and Dmitri Reinderman from the Tata Steel Group B (Challengers) section.  As is typical of many master games, the opening is fluid and contains a number of transpositional possibilities, until the point Black chooses to construct a Stonewall formation.  He does this in a favorable way, with White in the end not having much to show from the opening.

The middlegame features some interesting choices in terms of piece exchanges and has a heavy strategic and positional flavor.  White has no prospects for an advantage, but nevertheless passes up a chance to go into a repetition sequence on move 26 - perhaps influenced by the players' rating difference?  If so, it was a poor choice, as White on move 32 follows up by deciding to sacrifice one of his weak queenside pawns for insufficient compensation; Black deserves credit for finding the non-obvious 33...Nf7 in order to gain a slight advantage.  By move 36 we have a minor piece endgame, where Black's two knights shortly become dominant over White's B+N combination.  Reinderman plays the remainder of the endgame masterfully, exchanging off a pair of minor pieces and carefully shepherding his advantage home with his remaining knight.  An excellent game for those interested in things like the Dutch Stonewall, positional considerations behind piece exchanges in the middlegame, or how to win tricky knight endgames.

17 January 2014

Annotated Game #112: A positional squeeze by Black

This 45 45 game, played in the first round of a Slow Chess League quads section, features a strong positional squeeze by Black.  My opponent varied from his previous Nimzo-Larsen on move 4 and went into a more standard, but still rather passive, type of setup; the database shows it as a transposition into a Reti opening.  Black as a result of his space advantage easily equalizes and then starts to turn up the pressure on the queenside, while actively seeking to shut down any White counterplay.  Along those lines, the decision on move 15 to shut out White's dark-square bishop with ...e5 is a direct result of analyzing the previous encounter with my opponent (Annotated Game #106: A first Nimzo-Larsen), so that was a useful lesson learned.

By move 24 I am able to clearly seize the initiative and start making tactical threats against White's cramped position, which results in winning the exchange and achieving a dominant position.  The big guns then come into play on the open d-file and the game is effectively won after White is forced to exchange queen for rook.  However, my opponent still puts up stout resistance, hoping to take advantage of the mostly closed nature of the position, so careful endgame play is needed to seal the win.  This game was a model of play for me, as I was able to consciously stick with my thinking process for the entire time, ensuring that no blunders occurred.

12 January 2014

DVD completed: Viktor Kortchnoi - My Life for Chess, Vol. 1

I recently completed Viktor Kortchnoi - My Life for Chess Vol. 1, one of the Friztrainer series DVDs that come with video analysis and an accompanying database, in this case of 1,799 of Kortchnoi's games from 1946-1979.  I purchased the DVD in the mid-2000s shortly after it came out; after a couple of different tries over the years, I finally finished it, having reviewed it again from the beginning.

The multiple tries required was the result of my previous low level of seriousness about chess study, rather than any fault of the DVD.  In fact, it is very well set up for study purposes, with each of the nine video segments running a half-hour or less and except for the introductory interview, focusing on a single key annotated game.  Kortchnoi has a great facility for explaining strategic ideas, ranging from basic to sophisticated, in a natural way as part of his explanation of each game.  While he can chop through move series rather quickly on the board, he does take care to explain the analysis behind what he considers the key moves.  Digesting one of these analysis sessions is easily done and in fact pleasurable, given the high quality of the narration and Kortchnoi's good humor.  The benefit of the database format is that you can also go over each game afterwards, at your leisure, if you want to delve into it further.

As is the case with other top grandmasters such as Carlsen and Kramnik, Kortchnoi demonstrates during his discussions an objective view of his games, painting the correct impression of chess as a game which can be mastered but never fully perfected or necessarily understood, especially when in the middle of a fight over the board.  Speaking of Carlsen, it was interesting to see that during the DVD interview (recorded in 2004), Kortchnoi was asked about the best future chessplayers and the one person he endorsed wholeheartedly was Carlsen.  (The only other name he mentioned was Karjakin.)

Kortchnoi has had both a remarkable life and chess career and this DVD manages to capture some of the magic in both, even if it does not try to be comprehensive with either.  I would say that as a training resource it is also quite useful, as is the case with any set of well-annotated games by a top player who was one of the participants.

11 January 2014

Dan Heisman on paths to chess mastery

The following, an excerpt from NM Dan Heisman's January 10 Q&A session, addresses the central theme raised in "Do study techniques matter in chess?"
One player noted his FM coach has a certain training regimen and wondered what I thought about it. There's many ways to skin a cat - and many paths to chess mastery. Almost all these paths will contain some similar elements (see Every Good Chess Player...). Another viewer asked "Which is more important in becoming a top player: hard work or great talent?" While I said both were necessary, if backed to a wall, I guess I'd choose "hard work".
(The entire Chess.com Q&A article can be found here.)

07 January 2014

Silman on Chess.com: To Master an Opening You Need to Embrace Defeat!

IM Silman's full article can be found on Chess.com and is in fact a deep and instructive treatment of a King's Indian Defense setup.  Some of the learning principles he cites are general in nature, however, and could for example be applied to Annotated Game #111: A first Dutch Defense - especially the following:
I might seem to be harsh, but Black’s mistakes are actually a healthy part of learning. He put in the work and absorbed various key setups – that’s great. And now he’s using them incorrectly, which is also good since he’ll learn a lot from this game (the pain of defeat is an incredible teacher). That’s how one gets better – a mix of study, trying to use the knowledge from that study, screwing it up badly and losing, making adjustments, and eventually getting it right and discovering that the wins start to fall into his lap.
It's useful to understand that losing badly is in fact a natural part of the learning process of a new opening - you just need to make the effort necessary to make sure that part of the process doesn't last for too long.

05 January 2014

Annotated Game #111: A first Dutch Defense

This game, my first in the Dutch Defense, contains pretty much what you would expect from the occasion: an opening blunder on the kingside, lots of tactics, and unexpected resources by Black that (almost) save the day.  I was unfamiliar with the sideline my opponent chose - probably so was he - and learned the hard way the need to look for tactics in the Dutch from very early on, rather than proceeding only on opening principles.

White chose to let up on the pressure in the middlegame, however, and also missed a tactical blow from Black on move 16, which eventually let me equalize.  I should have entered the tactical complications of 17...Qxb2! after which White has no better than a perpetual, but even after spending a great deal of time on the calculations, could not definitively resolve them in my favor.  Even with the lesser move, a bishop retreat, I was able to transition into an equal endgame, but being tired (or lazy, depending on how you look at it) I allowed White to win a decisive central pawn, then called it quits after blundering another one.

The game showed how psychology and fatigue can influence both sides in what was a rather wild, see-saw match.  However, that's exactly what a Dutch Defense game should be, so I'll keep working on it.  Lesson learned in one sideline, at least.  On the positive side, my tenacity in the middlegame was good, as I constantly sought for opportunities to strike back rather than accept my fate.  My tactical vision (when I actively looked for it) was also good in places, for example with the exchange sacrifice sequence started on move 9, the need to play 13...e5 to try and free my game, and seeing the possibilities on moves 16 and 17, even if I failed to fully calculate the large amount of complications after the best move.