28 November 2017

Training quote of the day #12

From GM Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse (end of Chapter 4):
Almost fifty years of success can't be an accident. Many of the same skills needed for chess are equally necessary at poker, like patience, pattern recognition, control, vision, intuition and timely aggression. In poker it is absolutely vital to outguess your adversaries and put yourself in their minds...
But chess is in a different category. There is in the struggle a subtle, sublimated aggression, revealed in the game by the players in a one-to-one confrontation. There is a uniquely complex beauty within the intricate moves that cannot be compared with poker.

26 November 2017

Learning from a Prodigy - the science behind Magnus Carlsen's success

"Learning from a Prodigy: The Science Behind the Feats of the Greatest Chess Player of All Time" may be slightly hyped (is Magnus Carlsen really the greatest of all time?); occasionally breathless in tone; and not fully cognizant of standard chess training procedures (e.g. lots of people of all skill levels use computer analysis).  But the other 95% of the article, which was composed for a UCSD-hosted course on learning, offers a number of good observations.

The primary methods covered are:
  • Chunking: Building Actionable Knowledge
  • Diffuse Mode: Learning Through Reveries
  • Deliberate Practice: Kick-Starting Our Brain
  • Interleaving: Switching It Up
  • Transfer: Solving Parallel Problems
  • Health: Building on Solid Foundations
My comments:

I would say that chunking is probably the most relevant to gaining chess knowledge and skill, since it's the fundamental process in building pattern recognition and the intuitive base for position assessment and decisionmaking.  We learn things like openings, typical middlegame strategies, and endgames in this manner.

On this blog I've emphasized deliberate practice (or effortful study) as the best way of making progress in training, which basically means taking on difficult tasks (or opponents) that push your boundaries and therefore make you learn, rather than repeating the same tasks over and over.

Physical training (health) is also fundamental to maximizing our chess performance, especially in tournaments where your personal energy management and focus is so important to maintain at the highest level possible.

The subjects of Diffuse Mode and Interleaving are useful in highlighting why you should switch up study topics and take periodic breaks to let your brain make the necessary connections (literally) to achieve the next level of understanding.

I'm not completely sold on the "Transfer" idea of directly improving chess as a skill via other activities, although it can't hurt to have some broader interests and practices that also stimulate your brain.

All in all, worth checking out in detail.

24 November 2017

"Analyze This" at chess^summit

Analyzing my own games has long been the centerpiece of my training program and it still is paying dividends, in terms of improving my play both conceptually and practically.  On a related note, I recently ran across the "Analyze This" post at the chess^summit site, which discusses the benefits of analyzing games, starting with a more basic view of the process.  They also highlight two things that are worth knowing about for all levels of improving players:
  • The simple way you can now use online resources for game analysis, with an illustrated example of copying and pasting a PGN game file into the Chess.com analysis board.  I think it's important to have your own database set up to store analysis and training references, which you can obtain for free with the Scid vs. PC software and (champion) Stockfish engine. That said, the ease of use of online tools is a welcome evolution. 
  • An offer by the site to do free game analysis, if you would like to solicit a more expert human take on your game.

19 November 2017

How far can you get in one month of training?

By now, the story of the "Month to Master" guy, Max Deutsch, playing Magnus Carlsen has drawn a lot of commentary, as can be seen at the above-linked ChessBase article (which also has the original Wall Street Journal video article link; it's an entertaining watch).

The mastery challenge is an interesting outgrowth and example of the "Personal Growth" movement, which like the older "Self-Help" category contains a lot of good ideas under its umbrella, but also a lot of puffery.  The idea of trying to challenge yourself exponentially rather than only incrementally is in fact one way to achieve personal breakthroughs; Max in fact did quite well at the other challenges, which were all realistically achievable skills (if not easy at all).  His success with them reflected the mechanism of effortful study, while the emphasis on constant learning is, in any case, a great brain health practice.

Naturally Max didn't even come close to beating Magnus, because chess is far too complex an activity/sport/art.  One parallel would be someone who took French in a classroom environment for a few years being asked to win a debate with a native-speaking Sorbonne philosophy professor; it's just not going to happen.  Similarly, an amateur tennis player is not going to suddenly raise their skill level in a month to beat Andy Murray.  This is one of the attractions of chess for me, as a matter of fact - it is infinitely deep and you will never stop learning on the path to mastery.

15 November 2017

Chess and brain health improvement

From BeBrainFit.Com
It's interesting to see where the benefits of chess training and brain health intersect and why.  I don't find it surprising to note that practices described as benefiting the brain the most health-wise are also what should be most effective in terms of improving your chess.  I've found the following observations particularly useful in that regard (my emphasis added in bold text).

From Sort Your Brain Out (Capstone, 2014):
The Einstein Aging Study...followed 2000 people aged 70 and above who were residents of the Bronx district of New York City for four years. Every year these residents were put through a variety of tests to monitor changes in their physical strength, balance and coordination, along with a wide variety of cognitive abilities. As well as undergoing these tests images of their brains were captured with an MRI scanner.
...They found that four activities were associated with a significantly reduced likelihood of developing the symptoms of cognitive decline: playing a musical instrument, playing chess, dancing and reading all seemed to have a positive impact on slowing the rate of cognitive decline. It was noted that none of these activities made the slightest different to the outcome unless they were practiced regularly.
 ...all of the above activities are mentally taxing - the other defining feature of activities that actually inspire the brain to make changes. If you don't up the ante in terms of tackling more and more challenging versions of the same activity then the brain will stop making the necessary changes for further improvements.
...Chess requires potential moves of both players to be imagined and held in mind so that further moves can be thought through and evaluated. Opportunities and pitfalls of each potential sequence of moves must be analyzed to select the best strategy. The more moves in advance a person tries to plan, the harder the brain areas in their Frontal and Parietal Lobes that support working memory...are pushed, to try to keep in mind where all the pieces would stand after each imagined move.
The harder working memory is put to the test during the day, the more work will be done overnight to reinforce the synapses connecting Frontal and Parietal brain areas to increase its capacity for next time.
 From The Brain Warrior's Way (New American Library, 2016):
The more you use your brain, the more you can continue using it. New learning creates new connections in the brain, but the absence of learning causes the brain to start disconnecting itself. Regardless of your age, mental exercise has a global, positive effect on the brain. Learning has a very real impact on neurons: it keeps them firing and it makes it easier for them to fire...Like muscles that don't get used, idle nerve cells waste away.
...The best mental exercise is acquiring new knowledge and doing things that you have not done before. Even if your routine activities are fairly complicated, such as teaching a college course, reading brain scans, or fixing a crashed computer network, they won't help your brain specifically because they aren't new to you. Whenever the brain does something over and over, it learns how to do it using less and less energy. New learning, such as learning a new medical technique, a new hobby, or a new game, helps establish new connections, thus maintaining and improving the function of other less-often-used brain areas.
The following list describes which mental exercises provide the best benefits to specific areas of the brain:
-- Prefrontal cortex (PFC): language games...strategy games, such as chess...meditation. [The correlation between chess and verbal skills is rather interesting and is also one of the benefits listed at "10 Ways Chess Builds Your Brain"]
New Learning Tips: Spend fifteen minutes a day learning something new. Einstein said that if anyone spends fifteen minutes a day learning something new, in a year he or she will be an expert; in five years, a national expert.
The above points track with observations made in some previous posts here, for example on The Kung Fu of Chess and especially Mindfulness and Effortful Study.  I also think that the observation about your brain using less energy to perform previously learned tasks could well be correlated with the power of pattern recognition, as reflected in Magnus Carlsen's comparison of the roles of intuition and analysis.

The topic of chess study and brain health, however important and positive in terms of its benefits, also deserves a few caveats:
  • Chess is not necessarily a uniquely beneficial activity.  I do think that its inexhaustible depth of possible new learning, however, is tailor-made for benefiting your brain.  Analyze a new opening variation, endgame type, strategic motif, tactical theme, etc. and you can get your 15 minutes a day (and more) of brain exercise, while adding to your skills and storehouse of knowledge.
  • Brain health is a different topic than IQ and other measures of raw intelligence.  There is a lot of disagreement about whether learning chess boosts intelligence.  I think it's something of a moot point from a practical standpoint, if it can enhance your brain functions, regardless of the (also controversial) existence of an innate "ceiling" to intelligence.
  • It's clear that binge studying followed by long layoffs won't help either your chess or your brain make progress over time.  Consistency is more important, even with relatively short time periods devoted to training; chess is not unique in that respect.  It's also noteworthy that this framework of structuring your activities parallels the practice of implanting positive habits.

26 October 2017

Trends in chess openings - personal observations

The above chart (based on August 2017 TWIC data) was recently highlighted in a ChessBase news article.  As usual, the best way to view any statistics is with a critical eye.  With that in mind, here are some observations related to my personal repertoire, which I know best, and some other opening trends that are highlighted.

At first I was surprised at the high popularity of the Caro-Kann (#4), my primary defense to 1. e4, but after you start adding up the various Sicilian variations, it makes more sense and does not in fact represent a big surge for the Caro-Kann.  The main point is that the Caro-Kann is reliably popular and a solid choice at the professional level (more on that point below), to the point of beating out the most popular variation (Najdorf) of the Sicilian.

Likewise with the Slav (#7), my primary defense to 1. d4, but that actually seems to be more logical as a separate category in the queen pawn opening complex, with the main 1...Nf6 choices ahead of it.  It's interesting to note that it does beat out the more historically popular Queen's Gambit Declined, but only (I expect) if you include the Semi-Slav complex of openings, which I don't have in my repertoire.

On the White side, it was nice to see the English well represented, with various main trunks taking up 4 of the top 20 spaces.  This makes sense, as it's a great must-win opening (said only partly jokingly).  It's worth noting that the reply 1...e6 is on the list, as in opening manuals it's often treated as a sideline (if at all).  While there are a lot of transpositional possibilities, it's something that every English player should look at.

A couple of general observations on the list:
  • The absence of the Ruy Lopez / Spanish Game is not completely shocking, if you've been paying attention to the top-level games over the last couple of years, but is still very interesting as a novel historical development.  Basically the top White players seem to have switched to the Giuoco Piano (#18) as holding better prospects for advantage.  Seeing the Caro-Kann at #4 and the Ruy Lopez nowhere on the list is still a bit weird, at least for those of us who have been playing for more than a decade.  The "Spanish Torture" seems to have lost its edge.
  • The #1 place for the Reti in my opinion is a reflection of the trend at the top, especially with players like Carlsen and Kramnik, to adopt a meta-strategy of "just playing chess" and seeking to win by relying on a deeper understanding of their game, rather than trying to fight it out in a theoretical duel.  This is a common idea at any level, actually, as the strategy seeks to take away the advantage of "free good moves" that a lower-rated player is offered by going into a well-prepared and analyzed line for 15-20 moves.  The caveat, of course, is that you actually do have to have superior knowledge of the resulting position-types, even if things like exact move orders are not always crucial, or there is a lack of forcing moves.
  • I have to admit I was surprised by the continuing popularity of the Modern Defence (#20), as I thought its peak time was past.  On the other hand it's a flexible choice, can be played in response to pretty much any White first move, and has the advantage noted above of being less forcing and more favorable to someone who knows the resulting positions and their requirements well.
  • In general, I tend to look at the "top openings" lists as indications of what master-level players consider to be completely solid openings that will yield the best chance for an advantage and/or counter-play.  Openings which are viewed as now being too drawish (the Ruy Lopez now, along with the Petroff) drop off in use as a result, but this lack of professional popularity should by no means influence amateur opening choice, when the openings in question are actually too solid rather than questionable.

27 September 2017

Annotated Game #180: At least it wasn't a draw (?)

This last-round tournament game is a thankfully rare example of how poor attitude can lead directly to an otherwise undeserved loss.  I get a small advantage out of the English Opening versus a King's Indian Defense setup, getting two open files on the queenside that my pieces should have done more with.  Instead, I miss a great tactic on the long diagonal on moves 19 and 20, then play too passively in response to an unexpected central pawn advance.  This leads almost immediately to unwarranted panic on my part, due to lazy (or nonexistent) calcuation, and a rapid implosion.  The turnaround is sharp and totally psychological.

So why did that happen?  You may have noticed that all of the previous games in this tournament ended in draws for me - some rightly so, others due to my squandering or simply not pursuing an existing advantage.  I was determined not to have a draw in the last round, which while understandable was simply the wrong mental attitude to adopt going into the game.  One cannot just impose one's will on the chessboard.  Your opponent always gets a vote and focusing on your desired outcome (a win) simply wastes mental energy and distracts you from what the goal should be, which is to play well and thoughtfully in every position.  Point taken.

ChessAdmin - Class C

Result: 0-1

[...] 1.c4 ¤f6 2.¤c3 g6 3.g3 ¥g7 4.¥g2 O-O 5.¤f3 d6 6.O-O e5 7.d3 the standard KID setup against the English. 7...¤c6 8.¦b1 a5 9.a3 ¤e7 10.b4 axb4 11.axb4 ¤e8 a funny-looking retreat, but it does allow the f-pawn to advance afterwards. 12.¥g5 this doesn't do a whole lot for me, as the bishop doesn't have much of a future on g5. (12.b5!?12...c6 13.¥d2²) 12...c6 13.b5 f6 it's not a bad move to kick the bishop, but it does neglect development for a tempo and locks his Bg7 in further. (13...h6 seems more logical.) 14.¥d2 ¥e6 15.bxc6 (15.¤a4 is the idea Komodo prefers, eyeing the b6 square.) 15...bxc6 16.£c2 after the initial exchanges and development now complete, the position is looking a bit drawish. I still have a slight pull in my favor, with the open queenside more easily accessible to my pieces, but it's not much of an advantage. 16...£d7 this really invites the Na4 idea, but it's also good to double rooks on the b-file. 17.¦b6 (17.¦b4) 17...¤c8 18.¦b4 this could have been a sly, trappy idea had I spotted the weakness in Black's next move, which I even anticipated. 18...c5?19.¦b3 this should be good enough for an advantage, but there's a tactical refutation of Black's last pawn push, which opens up the long diagonal.
19.¤xe5!19...fxe5 20.¦b7 it's this follow-up move which is particularly difficult to see, if you're human. 20...£d8 21.¦xg7+ ¤xg7 22.¥xa8+⁠− White is a pawn up now, but more importantly will now easily dominate the board with his pieces.
19...¥h3 20.¦fb1
20.¤xe5! is now a great idea that is much simpler to calculate. 20...fxe5 21.¥xa8 ¥xf1 22.¢xf1+⁠−
20...¥xg2 unfortunately, after this there are no longer any tactics on the long diagonal for me. 21.¢xg2 ¦a7 22.£b2± although I've passed up some opportunities, it's still looking good for me on the queenside. The Nc8 is poorly placed and I dominate the b-file. Now I plan to eliminate Black's Ra7 and work towards controlling both open files. 22...¦f7 23.¦a1 ¦xa1 24.£xa1 £a7 25.¦a3
25.£b1 keeping control of the b-file looks better, with the threat of invading the rook on b8.
25...£d7 26.¤b5 this is not a bad move, but here I start "losing the thread" of the game, as they say. Black's next move comes as an unpleasant surprise and I react poorly. 26...d5 this is really a false threat, in the sense that my position is still advantageous, but it help Black take the initiative, since I don't find the only reply that keeps the advantage. 27.£c1?! I had been worried about the threat of losing the Bd2 to a discovered attack on the d-file.
27.¦a8± correctly ignores Black's central pawns and pressures the 8th rank, with Qa6 being the main threat. 27...e4 28.¤e1 and now if 28...dxc4?29.£a6!+⁠−
27.¥e3² would have been a safe choice that preserved some of my queenside pressure.
27...¤b6 and now I just unreasonably panic and fall apart. 28.¥h6? pretty much any reasonable move here keeps the balance. Instead... 28...¥xh6 29.£xh6 dxc4 now Black is a pawn up for nothing and I decide to try unsuccessfully for a swindle. It's pretty ugly. 30.¦a7 £xb5 31.¦xf7 ¢xf7 32.£xh7+ ¤g7 33.¤h4 £c6+ 34.f3 f5 35.g4 fxg4
Powered by Aquarium

21 September 2017

Annotated Game #179: An IQP lesson

This game is almost completely characterized by my strategic struggle against Black's isolated queen pawn (IQP), a normal result of the Tarrasch Defense.  The notes speak for themselves, with the key (wrong) choice made by me on move 24, thanks to a deflection tactic that makes my chosen sequence of moves lead to a very drawish position, rather than maintaining my positional advantage.  I could also have done a bit more with my knights, but that was the key strategic error and another (IQP) lesson learned.

ChessAdmin - Class C

Result: 1/2-1/2

D34: Tarrasch Defence: 6 g3 Nf6 7 Bg2 Be7
[...] 1.c4 c5 2.¤f3 ¤f6 3.¤c3 e6 breaking the symmetry 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 I felt it made the most sense to exchange in the center at this point. It's the overwhelming choice in the database. 5...exd5 (5...¤xd5 would be the Semi-Tarrasch defense.) 6.d4 transposing to the Tarrasch Defense, which again makes the most sense here. If Black is allowed to play d5-d4 then his central pawn presence becomes very strong. The text move will eventually allow me strategic play against an isolated queen pawn. 6...¤c6 7.¥g2 ¥e6 8.O-O ¥e7 9.a3 played as prophylaxis against ...Nb4. The immediate capture on c5 is much more popular. 9...O-O
9...c4!? is the reason why White typically takes on this move, rather than the next one.
10.dxc5 ¥xc5 11.b4 helping develop my bishop with tempo. 11...¥e7 12.¥b2² White now has a very comfortable game. The basic strategy in an IQP position is to work against the pawn, including by dominating the square in front of it, and trade down minor pieces to make the defender's job tougher. Black is not really in a position to take advantage of the more dynamic qualities of the central pawn, so I have a small advantage. 12...£d7 13.¦c1 getting the rook in play 13...¦ac8 14.e3 dominating the d4 square. 14...¦fd8 15.¤e2 not a pretty-looking move, but strategically consistent (and validated by the engine). The battle revolves around the d4 square. 15...a6 16.¤e5 with the simple idea of exchanging pieces. Black otherwise has to retreat the queen to a less favorable square and leave my knight on a nice central square.
16.¤f4 was played in the one database game, with good results for White. 16...¥f5 17.£b3 ¥e4 18.¦fd1 £d6 19.¤d3 ¤g4 20.h3 ¥xf3 21.¥xf3 ¤xe3 22.fxe3 £xg3+ 23.¥g2 £xe3+ 24.¢h1 ¥d6 25.£c2 £g3 26.¢g1 ¦e8 27.£f2 £h2+ 28.¢f1 ¦e6 29.¥xd5 £xh3+ 30.£g2 £f5+ 31.£f3 £xf3+ 32.¥xf3 ¥g3 33.¤c5 ¦e3 34.¢g2 ¥f4 35.¤xb7 ¦xf3 36.¢xf3 ¥xc1 37.¦xc1 f5 38.¢f4 ¤e7 39.¦xc8+ ¤xc8 40.¢xf5 ¤b6 41.¥c3 ¢f7 42.¤c5 g6+ 43.¢e4 h5 44.¤xa6 h4 45.¥d4 ¤c4 46.a4 ¢e6 47.¤c5+ ¢d6 48.¤b3 g5 49.¢f3 h3 50.¢g3 g4 51.b5 ¢c7 52.a5 ¢b8 53.a6 ¢a8 54.b6 ¢b8 55.¤c1 ¢a8 56.¤d3 ¢b8 57.¥e5+ 1-0 (57) Martinovic,S (2400)-Gara,A (2337) Split 2007
16...¤xe5 17.¥xe5 ¦xc1 I'm happy with the additional piece exchange. 18.£xc1 ¦c8 while it's good for Black to occupy the c-file, that also forces my queen to a better square. 19.£b2 creating a nice Q+B battery on the long diagonal. 19...£b5 this repositions the queen a little further away from the fight, although it's not necessarily obvious how White can take advantage of this fact. (19...¥h3 20.¥xh3 £xh3 21.¤f4²) 20.¤c3 not a bad move, but not optimal.
20.¤f4 is a recurring theme, with the knight on a more influential square.
20...£c4 this maneuver to me just seemed to expose the queen to attack and made the next couple moves easy to find. 21.¦c1 £c6 Black has spent a lot of time on queen moves, while I've been able to improve my position.
21...£d3 would at least be consistent with the idea of trying to penetrate my position with the queen. 22.¥d4²
22.¤e2 £d7 23.¤d4 an example of lazy strategic thinking. The d4 square is already thoroughly dominated, so I don't have to actually occupy it. (23.¦xc8+ £xc8 24.¤f4²) 23...¤g4 (23...¦xc1+ 24.£xc1 ¤e4 25.f3) 24.¤xe6 this is an example of bad sequencing of moves.
24.¦xc8+!?24...£xc8 and now 25.¤xe6 £xe6 (25...fxe6?26.¥xg7+⁠−) 26.¥d4± with the two bishops on White's side and the isolated pawn on Black's, along with the pressure along the a1-h8 diagonal, White is significantly better here.
24...¦xc1+ now Black avoids the problems of the above variation by deflecting the queen. 25.£xc1 fxe6 White has the pair of bishops now, but the d5 pawn is no longer isolated and my Bg2 is relatively constrained. My slight edge is not going to be enough to make progress. (25...¤xe5?!26.¤f4±) 26.¥b2 ¥f6 27.¥xf6 ¤xf6 28.£c5 ¢f7 29.¥f1 ¤e4 30.£c2 ¤f6 31.¥d3²31...g6 32.¢g2 e5 33.e4 this brings things closer to a draw.
33.£c5² is the engine's recommendation, but there's still not much progress to be made.
33...dxe4 34.¥xe4 ¤xe4 35.£xe4 £e7
Powered by Aquarium

02 September 2017

Annotated Game #178: Patience is a virtue...which I lack

Analysis of this next tournament game, along with the previous ones, helps highlight one recurring flaw in my play: lack of patience.  This is a common fault in Class players, often reflected in the idea that each single move has to "do something" big.  Here, as in Annotated Game #176, when there is no obvious immediate breakthrough, I get frustrated and acquiesce to a draw.  Fixing this conceptual flaw in my play should bring better results over time.

The game itself contains some interesting ideas (not just psychological ones), including alternatives for Black on move 9 and move 12.  As part of the analysis process, it's very useful to see how modern engines (Komodo 10 in this case) help evaluate plans, not just individual moves; for example, it consistently highlighted the value of the b8-h2 diagonal and building up pressure on it through the variations on moves 12 and 15.  I also like the idea of the knight retreat on move 19, getting out of the way of the pawns and playing a more maneuvering type of game.  Finally, it was worth looking at the different options towards the end of the game, for both dynamic and maneuvering play, to continue working my positional advantage.

Class C - ChessAdmin

Result: 1/2-1/2

[...] 1.d4 d5 2.e3 usually an indicator that White is heading for a Stonewall formation. 2...¤f6 3.¥d3 c5 4.c3 ¤c6 5.f4 ¥g4 getting the bishop to an active square before playing ...e6 6.¤f3 e6 7.¤bd2 ¥e7 8.O-O O-O 9.£e1 cxd4 Normally it's a good idea to exchange c-pawn for d-pawn, and it isn't bad here. But there may be a more effective path forward for Black.
9...¥f5 is a more sophisticated positional idea, which is both the database and engine favorite. After 10.¥xf5 exf5 Black has a lock on e4 and White's e3 pawn will be weak on the half-open file.
10.exd4 ¦c8 11.¤e5 ¥f5 I'll give myself credit for recognizing this idea, even if a bit later than optimal. 12.£e2 a6 this was perhaps a waste of time. My idea was to play follow up with .. .b5 and prevent White from advancing the c-pawn to exchange off my d5 pawn. However, this is not a real threat as long as the Nc6 is there (due to the d4 pawn then being unprotected). If White exchanges on c6, then a subsequent pawn swap on d5 would just leave d4 isolated and weak.
12...£c7!? would develop the queen and connect the rooks. It also starts to build pressure up on the b8-h2 diagonal.
13.£f3 b5 sticking with the original idea. 14.a3?! done to prevent b5-b4, but this is too weakening. 14...¤a5³ now having a pawn on b5 is actually helpful, thanks to my opponent making holes on the queenside. 15.¦e1 ¦e8 not really necessary. Komodo still favors the plan of building pressure on the b8-h2 diagonal with ...Bd6 and ...Qc7. 16.g4 ¥xd3 17.¤xd3 ¤c4 18.¤xc4 bxc4 now I enjoy a significant space advantage in the center and on the queenside. 19.¤f2 g6
19...¤d7!? would activate the Be7 and give White fewer kingside targets for the pawns.
20.£h3 (20.f5 exf5 21.gxf5 ¦b8³) 20...¥f8 rather too cautious.
20...¦b8 with the idea of pressuring the b-pawn and forcing White to tie down a piece to its protection.
21.¥d2?! White will just have to move this back next move. 21...¦b8ยต22.¥c1 £b6 here either more patience was called for in a largely closed position, or some more dynamic play. (22...h5!? is the dynamic option. 23.gxh5 ¤xh5³)
22...¦e7 is a more slow maneuvering approach, clearing the e8 square for the knight to go to d6 and perhaps to double rooks on the b-file.
23.£g3 ¥d6 24.£f3 at this point I saw no obvious breakthroughs for Black, so took the draw. Basically a lack of energy and patience was the reason, along with not really understanding the needs of the position. These include the importance of the b8-h2 diagonal and activating the bishop, the possible ...h5 advance, better and earlier development of the queen and rooks, etc.
Powered by Aquarium

26 August 2017

Annotated Game #177: How could I not win this?

While it's always disappointing to lose a game, there's another - sometimes just as poignant - feeling of disappointment at not winning a game.  This next tournament game falls into that category.  I build up excellent attacking prospects on the kingside, with open lines and an overwhelming local superiority of pieces (4-0), but at the crucial point I failed to actually execute an attack.  My opponent started to do a good job of defending while making threats and turned the game around as a result; what happens after move 27 is an excellent illustration of the importance of the initiative, both on the board and psychologically.  I almost had the full disappointment of losing the game, as things went rapidly downhill, but after an error by my opponent I managed to calculate the drawing sequence and wrapped the game up.

Analyzing this game was helpful in highlighting certain clusters of turning points and strategic choices, for example around moves 17-19 and again on moves 27-31.  Hopefully I can make better future decisions as a result.

ChessAdmin - Class C

Result: 1/2-1/2

[...] 1.c4 e5 2.¤c3 ¤f6 3.¤f3 ¤c6 4.e3 d5 5.cxd5 ¤xd5 6.¥b5 ¤xc3 7.bxc3 ¥d7 8.d4 ¥d6 9.O-O O-O 10.¥e2 ¦e8 11.£c2 e4 12.¤d2 now e4 becomes an easy target to focus on, although the position is still equal. 12...¦e6?13.f4 here I believed my opponent a little too much, when he failed to defend e4, although the text move is also good for White.
13.¤xe4 I correctly saw there was a threat for Black involving ...Qh4, which made me avoid this line. However the engine shows that this is unnecessary, since Black's attack just looks scary rather than being effective. 13...£h4 (13...¥xh2+ 14.¢xh2 £h4+ 15.¢g1 £xe4 16.£xe4 ¦xe4 17.f3 ¦ee8 18.¢f2±) 14.f4 ¦h6 15.h3 ¦g6 16.¥f3 ¥xh3 17.¤xd6 cxd6± and White is fine.
13...exf3 14.¤xf3± here Komodo considers White to be about the equivalent of a pawn ahead. The central pawns are quite powerful and I have some nice open lines on the kingside. 14...¦e8 15.¥d3 h6 16.e4 mobilizing the central pawn majority 16...¥g4 17.e5 this is premature; I should bring more pieces into play first, or (as shown by the engine) challenge the Bg4, which is Black's only good piece on the kingside at the moment.
17.h3 would help get the pesky bishop out of the way. For example 17...¥h5 18.e5 now this pawn advance has more bite, since g4 is threatened and the bishop has no good square to go to. So 18...¥xf3 19.¦xf3+⁠− and White is rolling on the kingside with four pieces (queen, two bishops and rook) currently versus zero for Black.
17.¦b1!? is a simple move that gets the rook in play and makes life more awkward for Black.
17...¥e7? an obvious retreat but not a good one. (17...¥f8) 18.¦b1 a good move but not great.
18.¥c4!+⁠− pinning the f-pawn causes major problems for Black, as now Qg6 is threatened.
18...¦b8 19.¥e4 right piece to move, but not the best square for it (per above). I thought for a while here on where the best spot for the bishop would be, but ultimately was too focused on queenside play, when in fact the big payoff is on the kingside. 19...£d7 20.h3 ¥xf3 (20...¥e6 is more solid.) 21.¦xf3+⁠− with the f-file now open and two strong bishops pointing towards the king, along with the dominating central pawns, I have a major advantage. 21...¥d8 22.¦g3 going for the somewhat cheap-looking, but still effective, threat of Bxh6. (22.£f2!?) 22...¤xd4 23.£d3 seeking to avoid having to take on d4 with the pawn and then give Black ...Qxd4+. However, that would in fact be fine for White as well.
23.cxd4 £xd4+ 24.¢h1 ¦xe5 here I was too materialistic and thought that the three pawns for a piece wasn't a good deal for me. 25.¥h7+ ¢h8 26.¥b2+⁠−
23...¦xe5 24.cxd4 ¦h5 25.¥b2 lining up against g7.
25.¦xb7!? would pursue a simpler winning strategy, based on my material advantage. 25...¦xb7 26.¥xb7 ¥f6 27.d5+⁠−
25...¥g5 26.¦f1 now all pieces are in on the attack and the engine evaluates this as the equivalent of White having an extra piece and then some. 26...¦e8 27.£f3?! a significant slip, since it would be much better to double the rooks on the f-file rather than leading with the queen. Also, the lack of a battery on the b1-h7 diagonal leaves me with fewer options for the bishop and allows Black's next move. I did not in fact have a concrete plan here.
27.¦gf3 ¥f6 28.¦xf6!28...gxf6 29.d5+⁠− and Black's king is stripped of cover.
27...¦h4 well played. Black now starts taking back some of the initiative by making his own threats, the first in a while. 28.¥f5 £b5 29.£c3 now I am responding more to Black's threats than looking for my own.
29.¥d3 would take advantage of the weakness on f7. 29...£d7 30.£xb7+⁠−
29...¦f4 30.¦xf4 ¥xf4 31.¦f3? missing the way to keep an advantage. The position is now equal. (31.¥d3!+⁠− extracts the bishop with tempo, also saving the Rg3.) 31...£xf5 by this point the game has fully turned around and Black is the one with all the threats. Psychologically this was a blow and I was tired of calculating variations, prompting the next error. 32.g3?? this in fact should now lose.
32.¥c1 is in fact the only move to preserve the draw, as it blocks Black's next.
32...£b1+ 33.¦f1 £xa2? allowing me to draw. (33...¥e3+ should win for Black.) 34.¦xf4 at least I was able to correctly calculate the next sequence. 34...¦e2 35.¦f2 £b1+ 36.¥c1 ¦xf2 37.¢xf2 now the engine evaluates the position as dead drawn. 37...£f5+ 38.¢g2 £e4+ 39.¢f2 £f5+ 40.¢g2 £e4+ 41.¢f2
Powered by Aquarium