26 October 2014

Annotated Game #138: When complex situations demand complex solutions

This eighth-round tournament game was notable for its middlegame complexity. Both myself and my opponent found ourselves somewhat adrift, with a number of difficult and unclear decisions to make, although it led to an exciting battle all the way to the end. The complications begin after I prematurely relieve the central pawn tension on move 15, then allow Black to win the exchange. At the time, I was rather disgusted with myself, but decided (correctly) to fight on and search for compensation. In return, I got a pawn back and some active play. Both king positions are vulnerable - mine more so - but after both sides engage in ill-advised pawn-grabbing and miss subtle attacking possibilities, I manage to force a draw.

This was a very demanding game for both of us and it illustrates well how Class players too often go for moves that are more obvious, or that simplify the game to our own detriment. Instead, we should not be afraid of complexity, but rather strive to break down the position to the best of our abilities and make clear evaluations of each element. This would have helped me on the move 15 decision, for example, which showed poor judgment along with a failure to look far enough ahead at my opponent's possibilities.

17 October 2014

Annotated Game #137: A (mostly) clean win in the Caro-Kann

This seventh-round win may not be completely clean, but it sure looks better than the last few games and shows how effective the Caro-Kann can be as a counterattacking opening.  My opponent avoids theory early on, probably not having prepared anything against the Caro-Kann, and enters a harmless variation that lets Black equalize quickly.

White nevertheless plays quite aggressively as the middlegame phase is entered, signaling with 11. fxg3 that he wants to try for a kingside attack.  However, with both bishops already exchanged off and a solid structure for Black in place, this plan is over-optimistic.  Ignoring an interesting sacrificial theme on f6, which would have forced a draw with a perpetual check, White instead overextends his kingside pawns and essentially traps his own rook on the h-file.  I am then able to switch to operations on the c-file and break into White's back ranks, finishing off his king as it tries to run up the board.  Although as you can see in the notes it would have been better for me to execute some of my ideas a move earlier than I actually played them, I'm generally pleased with my performance.  There are a number of other tweaks that I found in analysis that should also help with future play of similar positions, including avoiding wasted moves and looking out for sacs on f6.

12 October 2014

Annotated Game #136: What exactly happened?

In this sixth-round tournament game, if one looks at it in the early middlegame then White appears to be sitting pretty, having accomplished all he could hope for out of the opening by move 18.  Indeed, as of move 26 I still had all the cards.  At this point, however, I "lose the thread" of the game and start a strategic downhill slide, becoming distracted from my queenside-based pressure while not properly defending the kingside.  The ineffectiveness of my strategic flailing is highlighted around move 29, as pieces begin to simply shuffle back and forth.  Despite this slide and Black's subsequent takeover of the initiative, my position was objectively at least equal until the board sight blunder on move 40, where my opponent seals the win with material gain.

So was it a simple tactical error that lost the game?  In reality, my mental state was poor after failing to grasp what was needed in the position and handing the initiative and its accompanying pressure over to the opponent.  The pressure of defending successfully (even if not optimally) eventually exhausted me and contributed substantially to the actual game-losing error.  On the other hand, if I had stuck religiously to my thought process, using CCT would have prevented the loss.  In the end, the result came from a combination of factors - tactical, strategic and psychological - as is the case with most chess games.

Even though I understand how the game evolved after analysis, it still makes me shake my head and wonder what exactly happened, especially after having a position that any English Opening player would love to see.  At least the analytic process should help me play stronger in future such situations.

05 October 2014

Annotated Game #135: Stopping the bleeding

The best thing that can be said about this fifth-round tournament game is that I escaped with a draw and stopped the bleeding on the scorechart.  As Black, I commit a couple of minor inaccuracies in the opening, especially by misplacing the queen's knight, which then grow into major structural deficiencies.  I was fortunate that my opponent could not find the winning idea in the end, which would be to use a pawn lever to pry open Black's position.  This was another example and an unfortunate continuation of my weak play in the tournament, with worse to come before it gets better.