28 December 2015

Commentary: Gibraltar 2015, Round 2 (Nakamura - Harika)

Following the previous commentary from round 1 with GM Hikaru Nakamura playing a highly imbalanced Dutch Defense, we now see him using the flip side of the strategic coin as White in an English Opening.  It is instructive to see how he utilizes waiting moves in this round 2 game that have a similarly provocative motive - see particularly moves 11, 16 and 19.  He appears to be deliberately waiting for Harika to create weaknesses in her position, which he then can exploit in an immediate and concrete way.  Black's attempt at counterplay, with a knight sacrifice and a kingside attack, falls prey to precise calculation by Nakamura, who ends up with a dominant passed pawn and eventually a mate.

This back-to-back examination of two of Nakamura's games also helps illustrate how "playing style" is largely an illusion with strong players, who can use both sharp and quiet modes of play to great effect, whatever they feel is best suited for  confronting their opponent's weaknesses.

Nakamura, Hikaru (2776) - Harika, Dronavalli (2496)

Result: 1-0
Site: Caleta ENG
Date: 2015.01.28
[...] 1.¤f3 While this is often the first move of a Reti Opening, it's also a good way to be noncommital at the start of the game. 1...¤f6 Black obviously thinks the same way. 2.c4 e6 this is now technically an English Opening and is classified as such, even though White eventually plays d4. 3.b3 an offbeat but perfectly fine and successful (57 percent) opening approach. 3...d5 Black decides to adopt a QGD structure, a solid approach. 4.¥b2 ¥e7 5.e3 the double fianchetto with g3-Bg2 is also popular. 5...O-O 6.d4 Nakamura plays this with the idea of subsequently developing the light-square bishop to d3, rather than the more conventional e2. 6...b6 now Black is going for a QGD-Tartakower formation by fianchettoing his light-square bishop. 7.¥d3 ¥b7 8.O-O c5 9.¤bd2
9.£e2 is an interesting alternative, freeing up d1 for the rook and forming a battery on the f1-a6 diagonal.
9.¤c3 used to be played more often, but at top levels not so much recently.
9...¤c6 10.¦c1 ¦c8 interestingly, up until this point Nakamura is following (intentionally or not) a successful game of his opponent's (as White) from 2013. Now, as Black, Harika varies from what her opponent did previously, but she still ends up losing.
10...cxd4 is considered equal by the engine. 11.exd4 ¤h5 12.g3 g6 13.£e2 ¤f6 14.¦fd1 a5 15.a3 ¦e8 16.¤f1 ¥f8 17.¤e3 ¥h6 18.¤e5 dxc4 19.¥xc4 £d6?20.¥b5 ¦ac8 21.¥xc6 ¥xc6 22.¦xc6 ¦xc6 23.£f3 ¥xe3 24.fxe3 ¦c2 25.£xf6 ¦e7 26.d5 ¦xb2 27.¤c4 £c5 28.d6 £h5 29.¤xb2 1-0 (29) Harika,D (2475)-Khotenashvili,B (2514) Tashkent 2013
11.a3 taking the b4 square away from the Nc6. Nakamura has an equal position and appears not to want to hurry with any major plans, but rather see in what direction his opponent wishes to go. 11...¦e8 following a similar plan as in the game cited above. 12.¦e1 ¥f8 this is a logical follow-up and presumably aimed at defending the kingside, but the bishop is obviously less active than it could be elsewhere, for example on d6. Unlike the above game cited with Harika as White, here she never plays the freeing ...g6, which is necessary to activate the bishop. 13.dxc5 bxc5 14.cxd5 exd5 15.£c2 h6
15...g6 is possible here, and probably preferable. It blunts the b1-h7 Q+B battery that White has established, while giving the Bf8 an outlet. Perhaps Black did not like the looks of opening the long diagonal to White's Bb2.
16.£b1 this prudently removes the queen from the c-file while preserving the battery on the diagonal. It also serves as another waiting move for Nakamura, which works to his advantage. (16.¥f5 is a more conventional approach.) 16...¤d7 this does not appear strategically consistent with the idea of maintaining a strong kingside defensive presence. 17.¥h7 ¢h8 18.¥f5 the advantage of this sequence, beyond simply moving to f5 directly, is that Black's king is slightly more vulnerable and her g-pawn is pinned, creating some tactical ideas for White. 18...¦b8 moving away so the Nd7 is freed from the pin on the diagonal. 19.£a1 very hypermodern of Nakamura and an idea associated with the Reti Opening. The queen in the corner exerts pressure on the center and against Black's king. 19...£e7?! one gets the impression that Black did not know how to proceed in this type of position. White now immediately takes advantage of this slip. 20.b4 threatening to continue with b5, which would be very awkward for the Nc6. Again the idea is to dominate the center through indirect means, in this case chasing away a piece defending e5. 20...cxb4 21.axb4 a6 the logical follow-up, preventing b5. However, now White has other useful things he can do. 22.¤b3 the exchanges have given White a potential strong outpost on c5. Black's d-pawn is also now isolated and White has the square in front of it (d4) blockaded, making the pawn weak. 22...¤de5 (22...¤b6!? would more directly address Black's d-pawn weakness.) 23.¤xe5 ¤xe5 24.¤c5 after the piece exchange White's position is improved, with the strong c5 outpost occupied; note also how Black's Bf8 is doing nothing constructive. Here perhaps Nakamura expected the symmetrical ...Nc4 from Black, occupying her own outpost and cutting off the c-file. However, Harika goes wrong with her next move. 24...¤f3? this sacrifice must be either the result of miscalculation or desperation on Black's part. 25.gxf3 £g5 26.¥g4 h5 27.¤xb7 ¦xb7 28.£xa6 the key move from White's perspective. Black must lose a tempo due to the threat and White can simplify into a favorable position after making some counterthreats. 28...hxg4 (28...¦xb4 29.¥c3 ¦c4 30.h4 £xh4 31.¥d7 ¦d8 32.¥b5+⁠−) 29.f4 another key move for White, keeping the tension of multiple threats. (29.£xb7??29...gxf3 30.¢f1 £g2#) 29...£e7+⁠− so White emerges from the sequence with an extra (passed) pawn and a winning game. 30.b5 passed pawns must be pushed! 30...£d7 31.b6 ¥b4 32.¦ed1 ¦e6 33.¥d4 note again how Black's dark-square bishop is not doing anything constructive and how its White counterpart is helping dominate the game. 33...¦h6? this attempt to generate some threats on the h-file in fact leads to quick victory for White, as the rook partially blocks an outlet for the cornered Kh8. (33...¥d6 would allow resistance for a while longer.) 34.£a8 ¢h7 35.¦c8 ¢g6 36.¦g8 ¦h7 37.£c8 almost anything wins at this point. A queen exchange would lead to an easy (for a GM) endgame win, so Nakamura does not mind that possibility. 37...£e7 this leads to a quicker, merciful end.
37...£xc8 38.¦xc8 ¥a5 39.¦a1 ¥xb6 40.¦a6 f6 41.¦xb6 ¦xb6 42.¥xb6+⁠− the extra bishop and Black's doomed d-pawn ensure a White victory.
38.£xg4 and mate follows.
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12 December 2015

Commentary: Gibraltar 2015, Round 1 (Vojinovic - Nakamura)

With the next Gibraltar tournament coming up soon in 2016, it seems fitting that I continue my commentary games from 2015 with the following highly entertaining game from round 1 of the last tournament.  GM Hikaru Nakamura, currently the world number 2, often plays provocative, unbalanced openings when he believes it suits him strategically.  Here, against an opponent not in the same class, he deliberately passes up a balanced and objectively better / more equal game in favor of reaching a highly imbalanced position - sort of a strange Poison Pawn variation in the 2. Bg5 sideline of the Dutch Defense.  It's instructive to see how White is unable to find his way through the complex position, then turns over the initiative to Black, who is able to convert that into a concrete advantage and win relatively quickly afterwards.

Vojinovic, Jovana - Nakamura, Hikaru

Result: 0-1
Site: Caleta ENG
Date: 2015.01.27
[...] 1.d4 f5 Nakamura is one of the few top GMs who uses the Dutch on a regular basis. He's currently the world number 2, so it seems to be working for him. 2.¥g5 like with the Trompowsky Opening after Black plays 1...d5, this early Bishop sortie can be unexpected and highly annoying. 2...c6 this is only the fourth most popular move (...g6 being the primary choice in the database), but scores the best for Black (45 percent). 3.e3 £b6 this is the idea behind the previous move. Since White has developed his bishop early, Black will seek to take advantage of its absence on the queenside. This is also analagous to other "poison pawn" variations (such as in the Najdorf Sicilian) involving taking the b-pawn with the queen. 4.¤d2 this scores much better in the database than the cautious defensive move b3. Here's a sample of how Black could play in that variation:
4.b3 g6 5.¥d3 ¥g7 6.¤d2 h6 7.¥f4 d6 8.c3 ¤f6 9.¤e2 O-O 10.£c2 ¤bd7 11.¥c4 ¢h7 12.¥e6 c5 13.h4 cxd4 14.exd4 ¤h5 15.¤f3 ¤df6 16.¥c4 e5 17.¥d2 d5 18.dxe5 ¤g4 19.¥xd5 £xf2 20.¢d1 £c5 21.c4 ¤f2 22.¢c1 ¤xh1 23.¢b2 ¤f2 24.¥c3 ¤g4 25.¥d4 £e7 26.£c3 ¥e6 27.¦e1 ¦fd8 28.¥xe6 £xe6 29.¤c1 ¤g3 30.¤d3 ¤e4 31.£b4 ¦xd4 32.¤xd4 ¤xe5 33.¤f4 £d7 34.¦d1 ¤c6 35.£b5 a6 36.£a4 ¥xd4 37.¢c2 ¤c5 38.£a3 £e7 39.b4 £e4 0-1 (39) Amura,C (2303)-Claverie,R (2517) Mar del Plata 2014
4...£xb2 following up by taking the offered pawn, otherwise the early queen move doesn't make much sense. 5.¦b1 (5.¥d3!? is the other popular way to play.) 5...£c3 6.g4 a novelty that is obviously very aggressive. Apparently no one else has tried it in international play since this game. (6.¤e2) (6.¥d3) 6...£a5 unconventional play from Nakamura, for which he is well known. I suspect he was being deliberately provocative with his lower-rated opponent.
6...fxg4 is the engine recommendation. Of course the computer has no fear of the consequences to Black's kingside and considers the position level. 7.£xg4?! does appear premature (7.¦b3 £a5 8.£xg4 is an improved version of the idea for White.) 7...£xc2 8.¤gf3 ¤f6 9.£h4 d6³ now White does not seem to have any way of breaking through to Black's king and therefore does not have enough compensation for the pawns.
6...d6!? is another, somewhat more conventional option. 7.gxf5 ¥xf5 8.¦xb7 £xc2 and Black should be OK.
7.gxf5 £xf5 8.h4
8.¤gf3!? has the advantage of developing a piece while protecting the Bg5.
8...£a5 at this point Black's only developed piece is his queen, but he has the extra pawn and is threatening the a-pawn. Meanwhile, White is ahead on development but has a weaker pawn structure overall as well. The position in any case is quite imbalanced, probably what Nakamura was going for. 9.¤h3 this leaves f3 open for the queen, but is a bit awkward development of the knight, even if it can go to f4. 9...g6 another provocative, apparently weakening move.
9...¤f6 seems perfectly fine here. 10.¤f4 ¤e4 11.¥d3 £xd2 12.£xd2 ¤xd2 13.¢xd2 d6 however, while Black is equal, the dynamic chances in the position are certainly with White, so again this is probably not what Nakamura was looking for.
10.¥d3 (10.£f3!? seems more to the point here.) 10...d6 11.£f3 ¤d7 finally, another piece developed! 12.h5 this is premature and lets Black equalize without difficulty. Having additional forces / pressure would have been good for White before making the pawn advance. (12.¦g1) (12.¤f4) 12...¤df6 13.hxg6 hxg6 14.¥xg6 while visually the position looks scary for Black, after the king sidesteps to d8, White has no further attacking prospects. Black however had to calculate carefully to understand this. 14...¢d8 15.¥f4 this appears to be the turning point where Black takes over the initiative. (15.¥xf6 ¤xf6 16.¤f4 ¦xh1 17.£xh1 ¥g7) 15...¢c7 wisely evacuating the king and protecting b7, freeing up the Bc8. 16.¤g5 ¦xh1
16...¥g4 17.¦xh8 ¥xf3 18.¤gxf3 looks all right for Black, but White has compensation for the material and would have the more active position, again something Nakamura would not prefer. For example 18...£xa2 19.c4 ¥g7 20.¦h1 ¤d7 21.¦h7
17.£xh1 ¥h6 this is a strong and (for White) annoying move. The Ng5 is threatened, but cannot simply retreat to f3 without allowing a bishop exchange on f4 that would shatter White's center. 18.£h4 the only move.
18.£g2?18...¥g4 interfering with the queen's defense of the Ng5.
(18.¤h3?18...¥xh3 19.£xh3 ¥xf4) 18...¥d7 (18...¤d5!? immediately is preferred by the engine.) 19.¥d3?! (19.c4 would now take away use of the d5 square by the knight.) 19...¤d5µ now Black has a solid advantage, as White has run out of threats. Black meanwhile is threatening Nxf4, White's king position is significantly worse and Black can also pick up the a-pawn at his convenience. 20.¤e6 White attempts to solve his problems by tactical means, and fails. (20.¤h3 ¤xf4 21.¤xf4 ¥xf4 22.£xf4 ¤f6µ) 20...¥xe6 21.¥xh6 ¤c3 (21...¤gf6 is also good, preparing ... Rg8.) 22.¦a1 £b4 moving the queen out of the pin on the a-file and preparing to take the a2 pawn. 23.¢f1 ¤xa2 Black has realized his advantage on the board and White has no counterplay. The passed a-pawn will now prove decisive for Black. 24.¦d1 ¤c3 25.¦e1 ¤xh6 finally the other knight moves! And an effective one at that, removing the two bishops' advantage from White and further simplifying down material. 26.£xh6 ¥d7−⁠+ it's now clear that White can do little to stop Black's queenside plans, but he nevertheless tries. 27.f3 a5 28.¢f2 a4 29.£g5 ¦h8 the rook is not in fact needed behind the a-pawn and this also helps keep White's rook out of the game by preemptively seizing the h-file. 30.£g3 ¤d5 with a discovered attack against the Nd2. 31.¦d1 c5 (31...a3 might be simpler.) 32.¥c4 ¤c3 33.¦e1 b5 nothing can save White, so he stops the game.
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06 December 2015

Age and Chess

IM Silman's latest article at Chess.com is "Old Age, Great Chess!"

In it, he takes as the centerpiece of his discussion IM Anthony Saidy, who is something of a legend in US chess, with his career stretching from the Fischer era to the present.  While it's intended to be an homage to Saidy, there are also some points made about age and its affect on chessplaying ability.  For those such as myself looking to improve while past the teenage years, there are a number of interesting observations in the comments section that go beyond the article's focus.

Basically, there's no need to give up hope.  Even if technically speaking we may have passed our absolute peak potential in terms of mental energy and focus, with sufficient time to devote to effortful study there's still an upswing possible on the learning and performance curve.