17 June 2018

Annotated Game #190: Reasonable moves that don't work; blind spots

Analysis of this next tournament game produced a couple of interesting themes.  (It's worth noting that these types of insights are a common feature of analyzing your own games - lessons that will benefit your game in the future often simply highlight themselves during the process, in a very practical way.)

The first recurring theme is that my opponent makes some very reasonable-looking moves that don't in fact work in the position; examples include on move 8, move 10, and move 28.  How often do we make a move relatively quickly in a position, because it looks reasonable or perfectly normal, without actually working it out?  This can especially be a problem in the opening phase, when we reach a similar (but not exact) position to one we're familiar with, and make a move on autopilot that turns out badly.

The second theme is that of blind spots.  Here, for me it is the beautiful-looking Bg2 on the long diagonal, which I nevertheless should have looked to exchange around move 14 for a concrete advantage.  A lesser version of this long diagonal blind spot can be found on move 25, when I didn't even consider f3 as a possibility; however, when my opponent makes himself vulnerable on the long diagonal, I eventually find the idea.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A26"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "103"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "6"] {[%mdl 8192] A26: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 and d3} 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nf3 d6 {my opponent indicates he is going for a KID formation rather than transposing into, for example, a Symmetrical English with ...c5} 6. O-O e5 7. d3 Nc6 8. Rb1 Be6 {a large number of different moves have been tried here by Black. The text move fights directly for d5, but may prematurely commit and expose the bishop.} 9. Ng5 { this takes advantage of the opportunity to pressures the Be6 and at the same time unleash the Bg2.} (9. b4 $5 {is also good, proceeding with the queenside expansion plan.}) 9... Qd7 10. b4 (10. Nxe6 {is preferred by the engine.} fxe6 {I thought at the time this would help Black, by clearing the f-file for his rook and strengthening his claim to the d5 square. However, White's queenside expansion comes first, beating Black's potential central play.} 11. b4 { and now the combination of the vulnerable Nc6 and b7 pawn becomes awkward for Black. For example} Nd8 12. b5 c5 (12... d5 $2 13. cxd5 exd5 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. Qb3 {now the Nd5 cannot escape the pin.} c6 16. bxc6 bxc6 17. e4 $18) 13. Qb3 $16 {with the simple plan of pushing the a-pawn.}) 10... Rab8 {a reasonable-looking move, with the rook protecting b7 and getting off the long diagonal, but White can rapidly realize an advantage.} (10... Bf5 $5 $14) 11. Nxe6 $16 Qxe6 12. Bg5 {done with the idea of getting the dark-square bishop off the first rank and potentially exchanging it for the Nf6, which is a key defender of d5.} (12. b5 {would instead force the issue for Black, for example} Nd4 13. e3 Nf5 {and now White has a pleasant choice of moves.} 14. Nd5 (14. Qa4 $5)) 12... h6 {I am perfectly happy to exchange.} 13. Bxf6 Qxf6 14. Nd5 { a nice square for the knight, but I should have been looking for more forcing opportunities on the queenside, which is vulnerable.} (14. Qa4 {this or immediately capturing on c6 are both good. I had a bit of a blind spot here, ignoring the concrete benefits of exchanging off the Bg2. It is beautifully positioned on the long diagonal, but capture possibilities should not be ignored as a result.} Nd4 15. Qxa7 c6 16. b5 $16) 14... Qd8 15. b5 Nd4 16. e3 { I've learned the hard way not to leave a centralized Black knight on d4, so immediately kick it. Without a dark-square bishop, having a pawn on e3 also does not cramp my pieces.} Ne6 17. a4 f5 {my opponent clearly wants to create some kingside counterplay, but the center of gravity is still on the queenside. } 18. Nb4 Kh7 {ignoring the coming threat.} 19. a5 {now Black's main problem is that the b-pawn cannot advance to b6 without giving up the c6 square to my knight.} Qd7 20. a6 bxa6 (20... b6 21. Nc6 Ra8 22. Bd5 $16 {and White's minor pieces are dominant.}) 21. Nxa6 {now Black's a-pawn is weak and isolated and my minor pieces are much more effective than Black's.} Rbd8 22. Ra1 (22. Bd5 { played first would have enhanced the bishop's domination and avoided Black's next move.} Ng5 23. h4 Ne6 24. Ra1 $18) 22... e4 23. d4 {the natural move, blocking Black's Bg7 and enhancing my central pawn structure.} Ra8 24. Nb4 (24. h4 $5 {is Komodo's idea, more or less forcing Black to fix the pawn structure on the kingside and then White has plenty of time to maneuver on the queenside. } h5 25. Ra2 $18) 24... Rfb8 $6 $18 (24... a5 {is the best try here, although it's not at all obvious, as it seems White can just take en passant on a6. However} 25. bxa6 $6 (25. Nc6 $16 {is best}) 25... c5 {and now Black has significant counterplay.}) 25. Ra2 (25. f3 {played immediately would be beneficial, as e4 is now vulnerable.} a5 26. Na6 $18) (25. Ra6 $5 {is a better version of the text move's idea of doubling rooks on the a-file. Black's a-pawn is blocked and the rook exerts lateral pressure along the 6th rank.}) 25... Rb7 $2 {now with Black lining both his rooks up on the long diagonal as targets, I find the correct move.} 26. f3 $18 Ng5 {the best try.} 27. fxe4 Nxe4 28. Qd3 Qe8 $2 {another reasonable-looking move that does not work.} 29. Rf4 ( 29. g4 {is the quicker path to victory, immediately undermining the Ne4.} c6 30. gxf5 gxf5 31. Rxf5 $18) 29... c5 30. Bxe4 fxe4 31. Rxe4 {at this point the game largely plays itself for White, although Black fights on.} Re7 32. Rxe7 Qxe7 33. dxc5 {following the rule of simplification when ahead.} dxc5 34. Nc6 Qc7 35. Qd5 {centralizing the queen and setting up a discovered attack threat against the Ra8.} Bf8 36. Rf2 {threatening a fork on f7.} Kg7 37. Ne7 {forcing material loss.} Qxe7 38. Qxa8 h5 39. Qxf8+ {and now with a 100 percent won K+P endgame, I simplify down. Black cannot protect his weak a- and c-pawns and also prevent the e-pawn from queening.} Qxf8 40. Rxf8 Kxf8 41. Kf2 Ke7 42. Kf3 Ke6 43. Ke4 (43. Kf4 Kf6 44. h3 Ke6 45. e4 Kd6 46. e5+ Ke6 47. Ke4 g5 48. h4 gxh4 49. gxh4 Ke7 50. Kf5 Kd8 51. e6 Ke7 52. Ke5 Kd8 53. Kf6 Kc7 54. e7 Kd7 55. Kf7 Kc7 56. e8=Q Kb6 57. Qd8+ Kb7 58. Kf6 a6 59. b6 a5 60. Qc7+ Ka6 61. Qa7#) 43... g5 {this is just a distraction, and now the g-pawn will also become a target.} 44. h3 h4 45. g4 {maintaining the opposition for White and forcing Black's king to give way.} Kd6 46. Kf5 a5 47. bxa6 Kc7 48. Ke5 {keeping the win simple.} Kb6 49. Kd5 Kxa6 50. Kxc5 (50. e4 Kb6 51. e5 Kb7 52. Kxc5 Kc7 53. e6 Kc8 54. Kd6 Kd8 55. c5 Ke8 56. c6 Kf8 57. e7+ Kg7 58. c7 Kh7 59. c8=Q Kg7 60. e8=Q Kh7 61. Qh5+ Kg7 62. Qch8#) 50... Kb7 51. e4 Kc7 52. Kd5 {and my opponent resigned.} (52. Kd5 Kd7 53. e5 Ke7 54. e6 Ke8 55. Kd6 Kd8 56. e7+ Ke8 57. c5 Kf7 58. c6 Ke8 59. c7 Kf7 60. c8=Q Kg7 61. Qf5 Kg8 62. e8=Q+ Kg7 63. Qef8#) 1-0

09 June 2018

Chess vs. Tennis - breaking through and momentum

The come-from-behind victory of Simona Halep in the 2018 French Open, which I just watched, reminded me of the Chess vs. Tennis lessons, as well as of course Andy Murray's breakthrough Grand Slam, after a huge amount of psychological pressure (both external and internal) to win.  The most important factor in Halep's victory was her being able to change the momentum of the game, which was all in her opponent's favor until partway into the second set (i.e. about halfway through the match).

Chessplayers experience very similar effects from momentum during an individual game, or over the course of a match.  The psychological impression of being under pressure, especially feeling that you are worse off and having to fight from an inferior position, can negatively effect your thinking and cause you to miss opportunities to equalize or even gain an advantage over your opponent.  On the other hand, it can also make us dig deep for strength and focus and lead to better play, eventually turning the tables on our opponent (as happened in Halep's match).

The best practical treatment of this phenomenon I've seen is in The Road to Chess Improvement by GM Alex Yermolinsky.  From the section on "Trend-Breaking Tools":
...Imagine a familiar scenario: your position is worse; moreover you feel that the trend is unfavourable.  You can't just sit around and wait, making normal, solid moves and watching your decline to continue - you may as well resign. This is what many chessplayers do - they mentally resign when things don't go their way.
Yermolinsky then goes on to offer several observations about how the momentum can shift, starting with a stubborn defence, assuming that the position is not in fact lost.  He says
...You may hate yourself for defending passively for many moves, but look at a bright side: your opponent knows he's better and he feels obliged to win - isn't that a pressure? ...Most of your opponents would be content with keeping their advantage in a secret hope that you'd go mad and self-destruct. If you simply can avoid that by just staying put, you'd be gaining some psychological edge even when your position is not improving.
He offers up a lot more besides this, but I'll let you see for yourself; the book is one of the best I've read on chess improvement.

Remember, if you can weather the storm and then start playing at the top of your own game, it can end with a victory...no matter the pressure.

Halep celebrates winning the French Open

05 June 2018

Annotated Game #189: Unnecessarily complicated

This next tournament game has the recurring theme of unnecessarily complicated moves by White (me).  At several points, I see tactical or other ideas which are slightly worse than the simple approach to the position, and choose to go with them.  This doesn't lose the game for me - an underdeveloped sense of danger about Black's advanced passed b-pawn does that - but it certainly contributes to setting up the conditions for the game-losing blunder.  Some useful lessons in there.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A22"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "84"] [EventType "game"] {[%mdl 8256] A22: English Opening: 1...e5 2 Nc3 Nf6} 1. c4 d6 2. Nf3 {this is actually not played very often and has a relatively weak score (51 percent) in the database. Black's last move strengthened e5, so Nf3 is less effective than the alternatives.} (2. Nc3) (2. g3) 2... e5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. d3 Be7 5. g3 O-O 6. Bg2 c6 {Black now has a rather effective version of an Old Indian Defense setup in place.} 7. O-O h6 {a classic restraining move, preventing ideas of White using g5.} 8. Rb1 a5 {restraining the idea of the b-pawn advance.} 9. a3 {White insists on the idea.} Re8 10. b4 axb4 11. axb4 Bf8 {part of the point of the earlier ...Re8, clearing f8 for the bishop, also a common idea in the Spanish Game / Ruy Lopez.} 12. b5 {the obvious follow-up for White.} d5 { the correct reaction for Black, who is well-supported in the center.} 13. Qc2 $6 {this does not in fact improve White's prospects any, so it would be better to go ahead and resolve the pawn tension.} (13. bxc6 bxc6 14. d4 Bf5 $11) 13... Qe7 {this queen move similarly does not do much for Black, although the idea of lining up on the e-file is clear.} (13... d4 $5 {is an interesting alternative, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface.} 14. Nd1 cxb5 15. Rxb5 Nc6 $15) 14. bxc6 $11 bxc6 15. Nxe5 {an unnecessarily complicated tactical idea.} ( 15. cxd5 Nxd5 16. Bd2 {and White has a comfortable game.}) 15... Qxe5 $11 16. Bf4 {regaining the piece via the skewer/double attack on the Nb8.} Qf5 17. e4 { this is slightly inferior and again unnecessarily complicated.} (17. Bxb8 Bd7 18. Bf4 $11 {and now if} dxc4 {which I was worried about due to the pin on the d-pawn,} 19. Ne4 cxd3 20. exd3 $11 {and everything is fine.}) 17... dxe4 18. dxe4 Qe6 19. Rxb8 Rxb8 20. Bxb8 Qxc4 {now the position is imbalanced, with Black having a passed pawn on the queenside. The engine rates it with only a slight edge to Black, but I think it's a harder position for White to play, at least at the Class level.} 21. Rc1 Be6 22. Qb2 Nd7 23. Bf4 g5 24. Nd5 {again with the unnecessarily complicated theme.} (24. Be3) (24. Bf1 $5) 24... Qa4 { White has an active position} (24... Qd3) 25. Ra1 Qb5 {Black chooses to force the queen exchange, as otherwise I would have two minor pieces hanging.} 26. Qxb5 cxb5 27. Nc7 {forcing additional simplification.} Rc8 28. Nxe6 fxe6 { my position has now improved strategically, with the two bishops and Black's pawns less able to protect each other, which should make it easier for me to play, although technically the game is still balanced.} 29. Be3 b4 30. Ra7 { active rook placement on the 7th rank.} Nc5 31. f4 $4 {the game-losing blunder. I neglect the concrete threat Black's advanced b-pawn is capable of making, which could be easily contained.} (31. Ra5 $11) (31. Bh3 {is also good, restraining b4-b3 due to the bishop's pressuring of e6.}) 31... gxf4 $19 32. gxf4 b3 33. Bd4 Rb8 {and now material loss is inevitable for White.} 34. Ra1 Rb4 35. Bc3 (35. Bxc5 Bxc5+ 36. Kf1 b2 37. Rb1 Bd6 $19) 35... Rc4 36. Be5 Nd3 37. Bf1 (37. Bh3 {is not the saving move} Bc5+ 38. Kg2 Kf7 $19) 37... Nxe5 $1 { well done by Black, giving up the rook for a winning position.} 38. Bxc4 (38. fxe5 b2 39. Rb1 Bc5+ 40. Kh1 (40. Kg2 Rc2+ 41. Kg3 Bd4 $19) 40... Rc1 $19) 38... Nxc4 39. Ra8 {just desperation at this point.} (39. Rb1 {there is nothing else anyway} Bc5+ 40. Kg2 b2 {and after ...Bd4 and ...Nd2 I'm lost.}) 39... Kf7 40. Ra7+ Kg6 41. Kf2 $2 {a blunder, but it just hastens the inevitable.} Bc5+ 42. Ke2 Bxa7 0-1

29 May 2018

How Carlsen makes us feel better about chess IV

What phase of your career do you feel you are in?
'I don't know. I feel that I have been in the game for a long time already and I think if you do the right things, you can be good for a very long time. I feel that I am closer to the start than to the end of my prime. I enjoy playing and I still have so much to work on. It's very obvious to me that I can still be much better, and from tournament to tournament I am trying to learn something new about chess or about myself. But it's not easy. I've got to be better now. I had a few poor tournaments last year. Then I felt like I turned myself around, but now I need to take the next steps. I cannot remain stuck at the level I am at now...not only as regards chess, but as regards the combination of chess and psychology'

 (From New in Chess 2016-4, interview with Magnus Carlsen after winning Altibox Norway Chess for the first time)