23 February 2014

DVD completed: Viktor Kortchnoi - My Life for Chess, Vol. 2

As with most sequels, the second volume of Viktor Korchnoi's DVD game collection - following the introductory DVD - is not as strong as the first, although it is still worth investing time in.  Partly this is because the time period covered, with the video segments containing eight games from 1986 to 2004, is from after Kortchnoi's peak as a professional chessplayer.  He has fewer personal stories and chess history to relate as a result, although some are still amusing and provide context for the games, which include opponents such as Kasparov, Short and Onischuk.  A few errors are also made during the filming, such as an incorrect line of analysis that Kortchnoi catches at the end, which make me wonder why ChessBase simply didn't do another take of the filming.  It is remarkable that the two DVDs are so coherent, valuable and entertaining - a testament to Kortchnoi's mind - when the producers simply rolled the camera and did nothing else.  (This seems to be ChessBase's policy, as a more recent example is Lilov's DVD on the Stonewall.)

Production values aside, once again it was useful to experience a mini-master class given by Kortchnoi on each of the eight games with video annotations, with his commentary largely focusing on the opening variation choices and the middlegame tactics and plans.  His explanations of the ideas involved in each case are like nuggets of gold, insights that can be integrated into your chess understanding and practice.  The Kasparov game included is outstanding in that respect, for example.  Even though few of the games directly related to my opening repertoire, I feel I learned a great deal about different positional and tactical ideas that can easily carry over into my own games.

It was also refreshing to see Kortchnoi's objective and sometimes brutal evaluations of his own play, along with that of his opponents.  It is clear that he has no problem with expressing the truths of the chessboard and has nothing to prove to himself or anyone else.  This kind of attitude is the most helpful for an improving player, as the student can trust the material and not worry about the instructor's ego getting in the way.

17 February 2014

Commentary: Tradewise Gilbraltar 2014 - Round 1

The Tradewise Gilbraltar Chess Congress is always entertaining, both for the fans and for the players.  The following game, from round 1, was similarly entertaining and instructive for me.  What appears to be a solid King's Indian Attack formation is taken apart rather rapidly by Black, who employs some unusual-looking but very effective rook maneuvering to blast through on the queenside, while White dithers on the kingside.  The game notably features the formation of "Alekhine's Gun" by Black, with R+R+Q all aiming down the c-file. Although it was initially the opening that caught my eye, it's the example of how master-level players powerfully centralize their rooks that is my biggest take-away from the game.

12 February 2014

Annotated Game #115: The Opaque Hedgehog

Of course there is no actual "opaque" variation of the Hedgehog - the reference is to the fact that the whole opening complex is rather murky and complicated for us Class players.  In the following game, although I have a general idea of the slow, maneuvering play required from the Hedgehog, as early as move 13 (or perhaps a little earlier) I have no real idea on how to usefully proceed.  While I don't make any obviously bad moves, I don't play very effectively as White and allow my opponent to get a very solid position with some potential threats on the queenside.  This is in fact a standard characteristic of the Hedgehog, in which Black intentionally adopts a solid, non-aggressive formation limited to the first three ranks, then slowly pushes White back while developing counterplay.

After a fair amount of maneuvering on both sides and reaching a drawish position following a queen exchange, my opponent decides to keep pressing, which was not in my view objectively warranted.  Key strategic mistakes on moves 26 and 27 left the center open for my knights, which handed me the initiative and eventually the game after I spotted the deflection tactic on move 41.  Although Black put up strong resistance afterwards, I found the correct endgame ideas and the outcome was never in doubt.

This was a blunder-free game on my part, although some of my ideas were certainly sub-optimal, and there are some positive signs for the evolution of my playing skills in terms of tactics and endgame technique.  Knowing that I would not have been able to play this way several years ago, or at least not find the correct ideas nearly as easily, is a good indicator of how my chess studies are bearing fruit.