24 September 2016

Annotated Game #161: A misleading winning narrative

In my next tournament, I played basically to expectations for my rating, so not a lot of progress.  This first-round game is nonetheless an interesting one, both for what happened on the board and in evaluating my perception of it.  Part of the practice of analyzing my own games is to notate them in my personal games database with my thoughts and some light analysis shortly after the game ends, to capture my perceptions at the time.  Once serious analysis is eventually done on the game, it's instructive to see how a more thorough, objective view matches up with how I was feeling about the game at the time.  This type of lesson offers useful conceptual feedback for how I evaluate future positions while at the board.

In this case, after an up-and-down opening (first up, then down), I blunder the exchange - although if you win in the end, you can call it an "unintentional exchange sacrifice".  After the "sacrifice" I do fight well for compensation, while in contrast my opponent plays passively and focuses on attempting to trade down material, without much else in terms of a plan.  I spot a possible tactic after my opponent weakens his kingside with  27...g6?! and eventually get the chance to execute it, leading to a breakthrough and a win.  (By coincidence - or perhaps not - this matches up nicely with ideas in the recent "importance of sequencing" post).

While reviewing my initial notes in the database, I was struck by how the final result colored my outlook on the entire game.  My opening play was initially fine but then got significantly weaker as I approached the middlegame, which is a recurring pattern that I've identified (so will now fix, as in Third Time's the Charm).  Specifically, one of my main recurring errors has been neglecting development and allowing my opponent to restrict my pieces, which always brings problems with it.  I should have been harsher (or more realistic) during my earlier evaluation and recognized that the narrative of triumph after the "unintentional sacrifice" was due less to my abilities - although I did find some correct ideas - rather than my opponent's passivity and creation of unnecessary weaknesses.

ChessAdmin - Class C

Result: 1-0

[...] 1.c4 ¤f6 2.¤c3 e6 3.¤f3 d5 4.e3 c6 5.b3 ¥b4 this was a little surprising, I felt that ...Bd6 would be more in keeping with Black's Semi-Slav type setup. 6.¥b2 O-O 7.£c2 £d6 this seemed like a premature development of the queen, as well as restricting the Bb4's retreat squares. We are now out of the database. 8.a3 the obvious reaction, inconveniencing the bishop. 8...¥a5 9.b4 continuing with the theme of pushing back Black's pieces and gaining space on the queenside. Perhaps not most effective, however. The bishop on a5 is not doing much and represents a waste of time for Black, while the new square it goes to is more useful.
9.d4!? would get space in the center and make a the follow-on Bd3 development logical.
9...¥c7 10.c5 this does nothing for my development and leaves Black's d-pawn looking stronger. (10.¥e2 dxc4 11.¥xc4²) 10...£e7 11.¥e2 again, d4 is logical but would have the disadvantage of shutting in the Bb2. 11...b6 challenging the pawn chain at its top. 12.cxb6 axb6 13.O-O ¥b7 Black continues with a rather slow development plan. 14.¦fd1 ¤bd7 although I felt that Black had not played the opening particularly well, at this point his development is fine and a bit better coordinated than mine. He is certainly better positioned in the center for space. Komodo gives a slight edge to Black. 15.d3 in the expectation that the following sequence would occur. 15...e5 16.e4 d4 17.¤b1 c5?! this seems like an obvious move at the Class level, to advance and support the d4 pawn, but with Black having gained space and restricted my pieces, this just allows me to get some breathing space on the queenside. (17...b5!? would lock things up to Black's advantage.) 18.bxc5?! (18.¤bd2 would help with my neglected piece development.) 18...bxc5 this is what I had expected.
18...¤xc5! and now Black will dominate the queenside, likely winning the a-pawn and causing major problems once his bishops get further into play from d6 and c6.
19.¤bd2 ¥c6 here I failed to ask the question in my thinking process, what did my opponent's move change about the position? What new CCT does he now have available? 20.¤c4? this leads to an unintentional exchange sacrifice. I spotted Black's skewer tactic immediately after moving. I therefore played the next couple of moves rapidly and with confidence, since there was nothing else to be done. (20.¦dc1) (20.a4) 20...¥a4µ21.£d2 ¥xd1 22.¥xd1 a key part of the sequence for White, capturing with the bishop rather than the queen. The bishop will be repositioned to a much better square, serving as partial compensation for the sacrifice. 22...¤b6 normally it's a good idea to simplify with piece exchanges in order to magnify a material advantage, and this was presumably my opponent's main idea here. However, this benefits me by accelerating the activation of my light-square bishop. (22...¦fb8) 23.¤xb6 ¥xb6 24.£g5 I felt this was necessary to develop counterplay. The queen has to be activated and has a relatively open field in front of the Black king. The pin on the Nf6 will also lose Black some time. 24...¦fe8 unpinning the Nf6. 25.¥b3 While Black is still comfortably winning on objective measures, this bishop now becomes a monster on the a2-g8 diagonal and its pinning of the f7 pawn will eventually be the decisive factor in the game. 25...¥c7 clearing the b-file for one of Black's rooks and reinforcing e5. However, a Black rook never ends up on the b-file. 26.¥c4 anticipating future possible pressure down the b-file. 26...¤d7 offering a queen trade. 27.£h5 naturally I avoid trading queens and maintain some pressure on Black's kingside, adding h7 as a target and attacking f7 again. Ng5 now becomes a potential threat. 27...g6?! unnecessarily weakening the squares in front of the Black king.
27...¤f6 is what I was expecting. 28.£g5 and we try again with the position.
27...¦f8 is the engine's choice, but this sort of defensive move can be psychologically hard to play, especially since the rook had just recently moved away from f8.
28.£h6 £f8 this apparently was the idea behind the previous move, but this ends up placing Black's queen on a much more awkward square. 29.£h3 ¤f6 in contrast with the previous situation, now the Nf6 is not protected. 30.¥c1³ bringing another piece around to exert pressure and materially improving the evaluation for White, as previously the dark-square bishop was locked out of the game. Part of my compensation for being down an exchange is that I am able to use both bishops and the knight effectively to attack the kingside, along with the queen, while Black has only the queen and knight defending the kingside. 30...h5 31.¥g5?! wrong piece. The bishop is doing fine on the c1-h6 diagonal where it is, while the knight could do better on g5. Attacking the Nf6 is not much of a threat in reality, although it does prompt my opponent to play an awkward follow-up move.
31.¤g5 would target f7 and increase the pressure. 31...¦e7 32.£h4³
31...£d6µ is much better, getting the queen to a more effective square.
32.£g3 leaving the diagonal and shifting the queen's target to the now underprotected e5 pawn. 32...¤d7? missing the following tactic, one which I had spotted as a possibility after 27...g6, based on the pin of the f7 pawn. I believe my opponent was still focused on a general plan of trading down material. (32...£d6) 33.¥xd8+⁠−33...¦axd8 34.£xg6+ ¢h8 (34...£g7 35.¥xf7+ ¢f8 36.¥xe8 ¦xe8 37.£xh5+⁠−) 35.£xh5+ ¢g7 36.£g4+ I thought for a while before making this move. I wanted to bring another piece (the Nf3) into the attack by leaving the g5 square open for it. 36...¢h8 37.¤g5 now the combination of mate threats plus the attack on f7 decide the game. 37...¤b6 38.£h5+
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22 September 2016

The importance of sequencing

Part of improvement comes in being able to better identify key tactical themes (pins, hanging pieces, sacrificial attacks, mating patterns, etc.) and the moves necessary to exploit them.  This is a huge subject in itself - which I've addressed before - and I would say constitutes the bulk (let's say for argument's sake 3/4) of success in the tactical realm.  However, I would include in that last 1/4 - which is often crucial in actual play - the idea of sequencing and precise move-order calculation.  This is where tactical ideas intersect with your visualization and calculation skills, which become more important the longer a sequence runs.

The following tactics problem, which I suffered some unnecessary blindness on when solving, reminded me forcefully of the necessity of considering sequencing - which is also another way of saying that you need to be able to visualize all of your opponent's responses concretely, and not just your own ideas:

Chess.com tactic problem 40353

Rasovsky - Mikyska

Result: *
Site: corrs. -
Date: 1908
[...] 13...c6 14.¤f6+ gxf6 15.¥d3
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After the (blunder) by Black of 13...c6, breaking down the tactical elements of the position is not hard.  Black's last move forces you to think about where the Nd5 can (must) move and with Black's bare kingside, the f6 square immediately suggests itself.  The knight then double attacks h7, threatening mate with the queen.  Black must therefore take the knight with the g-pawn or lose, in the process leaving the king more vulnerable.  However, the White queen itself is still not sufficient to force the a win.  What to do?

Then one notices the light-squared bishop, which is in a place where it can move to hit h7.  With the g-pawn gone and nothing else on Black's side able to intervene defensively, the mate is assured.

So then why not simply play 14. Bd3 immediately (I thought), since it is just as forcing?  After ...g6 in response and then 15. Nf6+, the knight appears to move with the same effect, gaining a tempo on the check and dooming the h7 pawn.  But no, in fact the response 15...Qxf6! prevents the combination due to the fact that now both queens are en prise.  So only the sequence with the knight moving first can work.

This is just one conceptual example, but many sequencing choices will in fact occur during play.  As I've gotten stronger tactically and have been seeing different useful move possibilities in positions, the sequencing part - which I would consider the more sophisticated side of tactics - has become increasingly important.  It's certainly good to see those initial tactical ideas, but there remains more work to be done in executing them in my games, including seeing better opportunities in different sequences, for example as shown in Annotated Game #151.

21 September 2016

Training quote of the day #8

From Peter Zhdanov's Yearbook of Chess Wisdom, quoting former World Champion Garry Kasparov:
You can learn just about anything from books, and chess is included.  But to really improve, you must play regularly, like any other sport.  The concentration and mental discipline needed to improve chess performance can't come from study.  Especially true below master level.  Experienced tournament players have developed those "game muscles" well.  Amateurs need to build them.  Study won't help you if you can't focus.