23 September 2018

Training quote of the day #16

“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?
- Dr. Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

21 September 2018

DVD completed: Stomping White with the Stonewall Defense

I recently finished the DVD "Stomping White with the Stonewall Defense" by GM Eugene Perelshteyn.  I found it to be a complete, if not comprehensive, intro to the Stonewall; the run-time is a little over 2 hours.  In my view, it offers enough of a mix of general ideas and specific suggestions to enable you to start playing it immediately in tournaments and experimenting on your own.  I've looked at other Stonewall resources previously and I would say this DVD is also a good addition to a Stonewall player's library, not just at the "intro" level, with some novel approaches and key concepts clearly explained and illustrated.  (Don't let the "Stomping White..." title mislead you, as it's actually a balanced treatment of the opening that doesn't promise a win for Black.)

One of the practical strengths of the lessons is the repeated presentation of different move-order possibilities to enter the base Stonewall formation (Black pawns on f5/e6/d6/c6, with Nf6 and Bd6 piece developments).  This allows you to strategize and choose which ones may be best suited for your existing repertoire - including the French move-order (1...e6), Queen's Gambit Declined (1...d5 followed by ...e6), Slav and others.  Naturally you can also commit on move one to the Dutch Defense (1...f5), but be careful with that; all of the anti-Dutch lines (like 2. Bg5 and so on) are in play after that, so you may never reach the Stonewall.

GM Perelshteyn typically mentions multiple, equally good plans for Black at critical points, although he will indicate a preference and then go deeper into certain lines.  For example, the primary strategic option he presents is fianchettoing Black's light-square bishop (with ...b6 and ...Bb7) in the main lines, but there are also examples where the alternate plan of ...Bd7-e8-h5 is shown to be strong.

The lessons also emphasize the fact that in the Stonewall, understanding the keys to the different setups / development schemes are usually more important than the move-order.  This reduces the amount of memorization required in terms of sequencing moves, and is a helpful insight in general for the improving player.  For study purposes, however, it may actually be a little more difficult to integrate the Stonewall into your existing computer repertoire database.  I ended up splitting my Dutch Stonewall "games" into two: White fianchetto and White non-fianchetto setups and using more text comments than usual on the ideas involved.

Following is a summary of the chapter contents with some personal commentary.

Chapter 1: Introduction and Fianchetto Systems with Nh3
  • Nh3 development by White (instead of Nf3): GM Perelshteyn does a good job of highlighting possible Black plans and offers a suggested method of taking on White's main ideas: Black should preserve the dark-square bishop, exchange off White's bishop once it lands on f4 by ...Nh5, or - in the case of b3 followed by Ba3 - exchange on a3 and misplace White's knight.
  • I appreciated the expert evaluations and explanations of why particular exchanges and moves worked in this particular setup. Normally Black tries to avoid exchanging off the dark-square bishop, for example, but here specific positional considerations outweigh that general principle when White plays Ba3.  In the other scenario, Black drops back the bishop on d6 to e7 when challenged by Bf4, since the exchange on f4 would in contrast help reposition White's Nh3 to a better square.

Chapter 2: Fianchetto Systems with Nf3
  • GM Perelshteyn prefers the ...b6/Bb7 development in the main line for White that features the development setup b3/Bb2/Qc1/Ba3.  He points out simplifying lines leading to endgame and more complex middlegame possibilities.
  • 8. Bf4 plan for White is also covered; here the exchange is OK, and then he shows the potential power of alternate bishop development for Black (...Bd7-e8-h5/g6)
  • Also shows alternate bishop development in Nc3/Qc2 plan for White, with queenside pawn expansion (Rb1 followed by b4).

Chapter 3: e3 and Nf3 Setups (non-Fianchetto)
  • This chapter demonstrates more classic Stonewall kingside attack ideas, centered around an early ...Ne4 by Black, followed by ...Qf6 and ...g5.  
  • Does a good job of emphasizing the elements of attack and the associated key concepts (control of e5, exchanging with a knight on g3, etc.)

Chapter 4: e3, Bd3 and Nge2 Setups
  • In this setup, White reserves the option of f2-f3 to kick a ...Ne4.
  • White also has different castling options - Bd2 followed by O-O-O is a possibility.
  • GM Perelshteyn recommends quick action by Black on the queenside after castling (O-O), with ...Na6 development, exchanging pawns on c4 then following up with ...b5.  These lines may involve pawn sacrifices, but Black has good compensation.

Chapter 5: Sample game: Kramnik-Anand, Melody Amber 2008
  • This game is particularly interesting for reaching the Stonewall via the Queen's Indian Defense move-order.
  • Black undertakes a thematic attack on the kingside after playing in the center; Anand switched to this strategy after Kramnik committed to a queenside advance.
  • Also notable for Anand's brilliant tactical finish with the queen
  • Below is the (unannotated) game, for those interested in taking a look.

[Event "Amber-rapid 17th"] [Site "Nice"] [Date "2008.03.15"] [Round "1"] [White "Kramnik, Vladimir"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E15"] [WhiteElo "2799"] [BlackElo "2799"] [PlyCount "86"] [EventDate "2008.03.15"] [EventType "tourn (rapid)"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "FRA"] [EventCategory "21"] [SourceTitle "CBM 123 Extra"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2008.05.06"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2008.05.06"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. g3 Ba6 5. b3 Bb4+ 6. Bd2 Be7 7. Bg2 c6 8. Bc3 d5 9. Ne5 Nfd7 10. Nxd7 Nxd7 11. Nd2 O-O 12. O-O f5 13. Rc1 Nf6 14. Bb2 Bd6 15. Nf3 Qe7 16. Ne5 Rac8 17. Nd3 Rfd8 18. Re1 Qe8 19. e3 g5 20. Rc2 g4 21. Qc1 Qe7 22. Rd1 Ne4 23. c5 bxc5 24. dxc5 Bb8 25. Ne5 Ng5 26. Qa1 Nf7 27. Nxf7 Kxf7 28. a4 h5 29. b4 h4 30. b5 Bb7 31. Rdc1 Kg6 32. Be5 Bxe5 33. Qxe5 Qf6 34. Qd4 e5 35. Qb4 hxg3 36. hxg3 Rd7 37. Qa5 Rh8 38. Qxa7 f4 39. exf4 exf4 40. gxf4 Rdh7 41. Qb6 Qxf4 42. bxc6 Qf3 43. cxb7+ Kf5 0-1

Chapter 6: Sample game 2: student game
  • This game, by one of GM Perelshteyn's students, features an early c5 by White, followed by immediate queenside play. Black responds with the classic ...Bd7-e8-h5 plan and builds up on the kingside after locking the queenside and center.
  • It illustrates typical Black attacking themes against a setup that might be used by a club-level opponent.  One of the important lessons is that Black takes the necessary time to build up and does not rush the attack.

Chapter 7: Conclusion
  • Summarizes the overarching ideas: Stonewall pawn formation achieved through various openings - Dutch, Slav, QGD, Triangle formation, French 1...e6; there are various move-order tricks; Black's fianchetto development vs. Bd7-e8-h5 standard plans.

17 September 2018

Annotated Game #195: Drifting into the wrong plan

This second-round tournament game features the Slav main line for White, and the Lasker variation (5...Na6) for Black.  This looks unusual, but I like it because it avoids a huge amount of theory and is OK for Black.  Basically the knight should hop into b4 fairly early on and otherwise standard Slav developing moves are good.

In the game, by move 12 (...Nb4) I'm fine, but could have also looked at the 12 ...c5 pawn break idea, which was more challenging in the center.  (I would say that missing this idea is part of a pattern of playing openings "by rote", which I need to overcome by thinking more for myself.)  The main problem is a lack of strategic understanding of the position, which results in either drifting planless (moves 13-19) or finally selecting a wrong-headed plan focusing on the c-file.  Move 22 is an instructive strategic error, as (more seriously) is 24...f6?, which opens lines around my king and weakens my center.  I committed a similar error in another recent game, unnecessarily advancing the f-pawn and only focusing on the increased activity it could (theoretically) give my pieces, without properly taking into account that my opponent would benefit twice as much from it.  A good strategic lesson - although one should not conclude to never move the f-pawn as a result, just be very careful about the balance of forces that are unleashed.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "85"] {[%mdl 8256] D16: Slav Defence: 5 a4: Lines with 5...Bg4 and 5...Na6} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Na6 6. e3 Bg4 7. Bxc4 e6 8. h3 Bh5 9. O-O Be7 10. Be2 {at the time, I thought this was largely a wasted tempo, but the bishop is doing no good on the a2-g8 diagonal.} O-O 11. Ne5 Bxe2 12. Qxe2 Nb4 { this is where the knight normally belongs in this variation of the Slav. The move is perfectly fine, but an alternative also suggests itself:} (12... c5 $5 {effectively challenges White's center and takes advantage of the fact that the knight can still support it from a6.}) 13. Bd2 a5 {not a bad move, but unnecessary, and it accomplishes nothing for me in practical terms, as the Nb4 is adequately protected. Better would be to develop with ...Qc7 to connect the rooks and pressure e5, or perhaps go for the immediate ...c5 idea to challenge the center.} (13... Nd7 $5 {is also a worthwhile idea, challenging White's well-placed knight.}) 14. Rfd1 Qc7 15. Rac1 Rfd8 16. Qc4 {this is aggressive-looking but really doesn't help White much.} (16. Qf3 {is a better square for the queen.}) 16... Nbd5 17. Be1 Nxc3 {this is OK, but I really didn't have much of a plan here.} (17... Bd6 {when no plan leading to an advantage is obvious, it's a good idea simply to improve the position of your pieces. On d6, the bishop is on a much more useful diagonal (b8-h2) and fights for the e5 square.}) 18. bxc3 Nd7 {I continue with the rather basic idea of just exchanging pieces.} 19. f4 Nxe5 20. fxe5 Rac8 $6 {this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the position. Not a blunder, but a strategic inaccuracy.} (20... Qd7 {is one path, removing the queen from the c-file and thereby freeing the c6-pawn to capture on b5. The plan would be to play ... Rdb8 and push b7-b5.} 21. Rb1 $11) (20... Bg5 {is another simple yet effective idea, greatly improving the bishop's scope and targeting the weak e3 pawn.}) 21. Bd2 {somewhat passive.} (21. Rb1 $5) 21... c5 {finally I am able to get in this active idea.} 22. Qe2 c4 $2 {this is a classic Class player type error, not being comfortable in maintaining pawn tension. Now the pawn is isolated on c4 and White's center is stronger for it.} (22... b6 {is another simple but strong move.} 23. Rb1 $11 {White cannot get enough pressure down the b-file to break through and pawn exchanges would not help him either.}) (22... Qd7 $5 23. Rb1 Qxa4 24. Ra1 Qc6 25. Rxa5 Ra8 $11) 23. Qf3 $14 {pressuring b7 and f7 at the same time.} Qc6 {at the time I thought this would solve my problems.} 24. Rf1 f6 $2 {this creates weaknesses for Black. It seems I have a tendency to do this sort of self-inflicted wound with the f-pawn by not calculating fully the consequences of an advance and pawn break.} (24... Qxf3 $5 25. gxf3 b5 26. axb5 Rb8 $11) 25. exf6 $16 Bxf6 {now the f7 square and e6 pawn are weak, with additional lines opened around the Black king.} 26. e4 (26. Rb1 Rc7 $16) 26... Rf8 $6 (26... e5 {was the best defense.} 27. Qf5 (27. dxe5 $6 Bxe5 {and now if} 28. Qf7+ Kh8 29. Rf5 Qd6 $15) 27... Kh8 28. d5 Qxa4 29. Bg5 Bxg5 30. Qxg5 Qe8 $11 {Black's pawn snatching at least provides compensation for the uncomfortable position.}) 27. Qg4 $16 {the most effective idea for White, pinning the g-pawn and creating tactical possibilities on the f-file against the Bf6. Also pressures the e6 pawn.} e5 $2 {it's interesting to me how good ideas played a tempo too late can turn into bad ones. This is an example.} ( 27... Rce8 $16) 28. d5 $18 {my opponent finds the move that leads to a winning advantage. The passed d-pawn becomes a major factor now.} Qc5+ 29. Kh2 Kh8 30. Rb1 {keeping the pressure on all the weak points in my position.} Rc7 31. Rb5 { by this point I realized I was in big trouble, since my passive defense can't cover all of my weaknesses.} Qa7 32. d6 Rcf7 33. Qe6 {it's instructive how White takes such effective advantage of my positional weaknesses, penetrating here to a key square.} b6 34. Qxc4 Qd7 (34... Rd7 35. Qe6 Qb7 36. Be3 $18) 35. Rxb6 Bd8 {desperation, but this just gets me in further trouble, due to back rank problems.} 36. Rxf7 Rxf7 37. Rb8 Rf8 38. Bg5 {I could resign here, but played on a few more moves in case my opponent randomly blundered.} h6 39. Bxd8 Rxd8 40. Rxd8+ Qxd8 41. Qc7 Qf6 $2 {I missed the forced exchange of queens in the next sequence, but I was lost anyway.} 42. Qc8+ Kh7 43. Qf5+ 1-0

15 September 2018

Training quote of the day #15

From "A chess master reflects on strategies and human potential" in the Washington Post Magazine interview with NM David Bennett
Is there a moment it all came together for you?
It was at the historic Marshall Chess Club championship in Greenwich Village. I lost three games in a row at the very beginning and was pretty mad at myself. Then I had this moment of clarity. And I wrote down every single thing I had done wrong. Maybe things I had done well, too. Just this relentless self-critique, probably four pages long. But that worked, because then I won five out of my six next games. And looking at that note before every game is actually one of the things that led me to finally break through and become a master, to find that flow where I began to play more consistently.

11 September 2018

Annotated Game #194: Distractions

It's often the case that a chess game features a kingside versus queenside race, with the game going to the swiftest side to break through.  In this first-round tournament game, my opponent opts for an accelerated queenside castling strategy, in the process successfully exchanging off the light-squared bishops.  By move 14, however, strategic errors on his part have given me already a near-winning advantage, with the road open to his castled king.  I give him great credit for making dangerous-looking demonstrations on the kingside that successfully distracted me from breaking through against his king position, which resulted in a position where I had pressure but no way to make progress.  Evidently the pressure was too much to maintain for my opponent, however, as he unnecessarily exchanged a knight for two pawns and in the process gave me new opportunities to break through, which I did not pass up for a second time.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A25"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "87"] {[%mdl 8192] A25: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 but without early d3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 d6 4. Bg2 Be6 5. d3 Qd7 6. Nf3 {this standard-looking move actually scores poorly (around 40 percent) in the database, due to Black's early formation of a battery on the c8-h3 diagonal.} ( 6. Rb1 $5 {offers an accelerated version of White's typical queenside expanion plan with b2-b4 coming, only this time with both kings still in the center. The point is that White benefits from this standard plan, regardless of when it is started, while keeping the Ng1 at home to keep control of the h3 square.} ) 6... Bh3 7. O-O h5 {aggressive, but in keeping with Black's development; he clearly will be castling queenside.} 8. Nd5 {I saw no reason to refrain from the thematic occupation of the d5 outpost, being slightly ahead in development. } O-O-O 9. b4 {a benefit of the previous move, the b4 square is now protected by the knight.} Nce7 $2 {under other circumstances this might be a prudent retreat, anticipating b4-b5, but it causes a tactical problem for Black on the 7th rank, which I spotted. Note the now-unprotected f7 pawn.} (9... Bxg2 $142 { is a viable option} 10. Kxg2 h4 $11) 10. Bxh3 $16 Qxh3 11. Ng5 {threatening the pawn with tempo} Qf5 12. e4 Qg6 13. h4 {I chose to overprotect the Ng5 here, in order to later free up the dark-square bishop for other action.} (13. Be3 {would immediately hit the undefended queenside.} Kb8 14. h4 $16 {with similar play.}) 13... Nxd5 $2 {a strategic error, exchanging off Black's defensive piece and opening lines to his king. My opponent probably was following the general maxim of exchanging pieces to relieve space problems. Indeed, he is able to follow up by developing an additional piece to e7, but this is too slow to defend.} 14. cxd5 $18 Be7 15. Be3 {right idea, targeting the weak a7 pawn - but not the most efficient execution, as it end up wasting a tempo with the bishop.} (15. Qa4 $18 {immediately adds more threats.}) 15... Bxg5 16. Bxg5 (16. hxg5 $5 {is strongly preferred by the engine, which isn't bothered by what looks like potential for kingside counterplay.} h4 17. g4 Ne7 18. Qa4 $18 {and here Black can't in fact make any rapid progress down the h-file, while White's queen and other pieces threaten quickly to break through against the Black king.}) 16... f6 $16 17. Be3 Qe8 {sensibly swinging the queen back to the defense, offering to sacrifice a pawn. However, I don't take it, preferring to build up piece pressure.} (17... Kb8 {was objectively a better defense.}) 18. Qc2 (18. Bxa7 $5 g5 (18... b6 $6 19. a4 Kb7 20. a5 $18 { and Black's king is in major danger.}) 19. hxg5 fxg5 20. Rc1 $18) 18... Kb8 $16 19. a4 (19. Rfc1 $5 {would get the rook into play on the c-file and also be a logical follow-up.}) 19... Qe7 $6 {d7 is a more logical square, keeping the queen on the valuable e8-a4 diagonal.} 20. a5 {continuing the march of the pawns toward Black's king position.} g5 $2 {further deteriorates the position, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface. Objectively this is the case, but in practical terms it successfully distracts me from breaking through on the queenside, which I could do immediately.} (20... Qd7 $5 $18) 21. hxg5 (21. a6 $1 c5 22. bxc5 dxc5 23. axb7 $18) 21... fxg5 $2 {again, technically a blunder, but it continues the distraction.} 22. Kg2 (22. a6 {still wins almost immediately.}) 22... h4 {while still not spotting the winning a6 idea, I still now am able to neutralize the push easily and maintain the advantage.} 23. Rh1 g4 {Black prepares h3. Now I really start to give away the advantage by redeploying my pieces away from the queenside - unnecessarily.} 24. Qe2 $6 (24. a6 {ends the debate} h3+ 25. Kh2 {and Black can do nothing more.}) 24... h3+ $16 25. Kh2 {now if Black hurries, he can hold reasonably well on the queenside. However, he doesn't find the best path.} Qg7 $6 (25... Nf6 {getting another piece into the game.} 26. b5 Rc8 27. Rhc1 $16) 26. b5 $18 Rc8 27. Qc2 { a less effective and slower way of exerting pressure.} (27. Bxa7+ {I recall looking at the idea, but ultimately not seeing how I could break through.} Kxa7 28. b6+ Kb8 29. Rhb1 Nf6 30. a6 $18) 27... Ne7 28. Rhb1 {White prepares the advance b6} Qf6 29. Qb2 $6 {a useless and time-wasting move. I did not ask myself what the Qf6 can now do for Black.} (29. Qe2 $5 {going back to the previous square, where the queen pressured the g4 pawn, would be better, defending against Black's next.}) 29... Qf3 $14 {my opponent finds the best idea in the position, with a mate threat on g2.} 30. Rg1 {forced} Rhg8 $2 ( 30... Rh7 {would help defend along the 7th rank.}) 31. b6 $2 {this fails against the best defense.} (31. Ra2 {is rather subtly found by the engine, reinforcing the 2nd rank and defending f2 again, allowing for possible moves by the bishop. For example} Rg7 32. Qa3 {a key move, threatening to break through on the a-file and also pressuring d6, meaning the c7-pawn can't move without negative consequences for Black. My opponent has no good moves at this point, with both b6 and Bxa7+ as threats.}) (31. Qa3 {immediately also is good, if not as incisive.}) 31... a6 {the best response.} 32. bxc7+ Rxc7 $11 33. Rab1 {I now have pressure but without the Rg1 in play and the Be3 no longer threatening anything, there is no way for me to make progress...unless my opponent makes a mistake.} Nxd5 $4 {this in fact would have been a smart play in some earlier variations, but now sacrificing the piece for two pawns is completely unnecessary and gives me a winning position.} (33... Nc8 $11 { is one move that holds everything together.}) (33... Rf8 {is another.}) (33... Rg7 {is another.}) 34. exd5 $18 Qxd5 35. Qb6 {the problem for Black is that he no longer has the knight to help defend against the queen penetration.} Kc8 36. d4 {it's nice to see that Komodo agrees this is the best move. I've mentally moved it up a gear, since Black's blunder.} exd4 37. Bxd4 Rf8 38. Rbd1 { getting the rook into play, as it was not being effective on the b-file.} Qf3 39. Qxd6 Rc2 {I give my opponent credit for fighting until the end.} 40. Qe6+ { I thought for a while here and chose a relatively simple and safe winning continuation.} Kb8 41. Qb6 {protecting against the sacrifice on f2 and also lining up the fatal blow.} Rfc8 42. Qa7+ Kc7 43. Be5+ Kc6 44. Qb6# 1-0

06 September 2018

Training quote of the day #14

"Your mindset at competition begins at training. Always remember, you compete how you train. If you let your ego get in the way of training properly, it’s going to destroy you come competition time. There are two main pitfalls I see when it comes to ego in training:
  1. 1) Spending too much time on the things you’re good at
  2. 2) Worrying about winning and looking good"
(From the article "How to Kill Your Ego and Avoid Choking in Competition" on The Competitive Edge - Medium.com) 

28 August 2018

Annotated Game #193: How strategic errors can snowball

This final-round tournament game illustrates a curious phenomenon, namely how small strategic errors you make tend to "snowball" - gathering weight as time goes on, until your game is crushed by them.  I believe this is because strategic errors reflect an incorrect mindset on the part of the player, and/or a fatally flawed understanding of the position.  Relatively small errors early on are clues that you are thinking wrongly about the position.  Later this often leads to incorrect plans and, consistent with that, more significant errors.

Below, we can see that a rather pleasant position for White around move 7 starts losing momentum after move 10.  I have the (flawed) idea of setting up a Hedgehog-type position, but succeed instead in playing too passively and not seizing enough space to properly develop and maneuver my pieces.  My opponent does a good job of playing natural moves that improve his position on the queenside, until I (too early) become desperate for a solution, which rapidly sends my game downhill.  Moral of the story: seek to understand the position's requirements, especially for your pieces' activity, rather than trying to impose an arbitrary strategy onto the board.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class C"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "62"] {[%mdl 8192] A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5 A16: English Opening: 1.. .Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 {with this move, Black is essentially playing an English Four Knights variation with his e-pawn on e6 rather than e5. This is solid but unambitious.} 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 {I saw no benefit to allowing d5-d4, and the exchange gives White a target on the long diagonal.} Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 $146 7. bxc3 $14 (7. dxc3 {going directly into the endgame is level, but unnecessary for White, who has a nice positional plus based on the Bg2.}) 7... Bd6 8. O-O O-O 9. Rb1 {immediately positioning the rook on the half-open file and pressuring b7.} Rb8 10. d3 {although this isn't a bad move, I would say that I strategically start to lose momentum here. I shouldn't be afraid to play d4, with more central control over c5 and e5. Controlling the c4 and e4 squares doesn't do as much for me. I was thinking (a little too vaguely) about setting up a Hedgehog structure for White, but what results isn't that.} (10. d4 e5 {if Black challenges in the center, then exchanging off would be to White's advantage, so I could just improve my pieces further. For example} 11. Qd3 h6 {otherwise Ng5 is a strong follow-up move} 12. Rd1 $14) 10... b6 11. Be3 $11 {now I have problems with cramped space and developing my pieces to useful squares.} (11. Bb2 $5 {would be a little more active.}) 11... Bb7 12. Qc2 h6 {Secures g5} 13. Rb2 {by now it's clear I lack a viable strategy. Going for doubled rooks on the b-file is next to useless.} Qd7 14. Rfb1 Ne7 15. a4 {my plan, such as it is, is to try and crack open the queenside with my a-pawn. However, Black can avoid any problems by simply ignoring the pawn, so it's a rather bad plan.} c5 {this actually gives the a-pawn advance a bit more bite. Now Black cannot play b6-b5 in response, for example.} (15... e5 16. a5 f5 $11) 16. a5 Nd5 17. Bd2 $6 { continuing to make even more passive moves. I was worried about ...Nxe3, but failed to calculate that Black could not ignore the pawn capture on b6 first.} (17. axb6 axb6 {now the doubled rooks have a purpose in life on the b-file} 18. Bd2 Bc7 $11) 17... bxa5 $11 {the correct decision. The a-pawns of course are weak, but Black is temporarily a pawn ahead and having a passed a-pawn is compensation.} 18. e4 {the engine points out that it's better to go after the a-file immediately, but at least I'm thinking a bit more actively now. However, not calculating consequences and alternatives results in a weaker game.} (18. Ra1 Bc7 19. Qc1 {avoiding a potential future attack from a knight landing on b4.} Rfe8 20. c4 $11) 18... Nb6 19. Rb5 a4 $15 {with Black's extra a-pawn now protected, he has a small edge, although the battle still revolves around his weak queenside pawn structure.} 20. Be3 {this delays the rook move and allows Black to start making threats.} (20. Ra5 $5) 20... Bc6 21. Bxc5 $4 {this was just desperation, also based on flawed calculation.} (21. Ra5 $15 {this is the best bet to save the position, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface.}) 21... Bxb5 $19 22. Bxd6 Qxd6 23. Rxb5 {now I'm just a full exchange down with no compensation, plus Black's a-pawns have fewer defenders in front of them.} Rfc8 24. Rh5 {now I really start getting desperate and hope to get something going on the kingside with my rook.} Qa3 {my opponent correctly ignores it.} 25. c4 Qb3 26. Qd2 a3 27. Bf1 {note how useless this once-promising bishop turned out to be.} Qb2 (27... Nxc4 {is a cute tactic:} 28. dxc4 Qxf3 $19) 28. Qf4 a2 29. Ne5 {one last gasp before resigning.} Rb7 30. Rxh6 gxh6 31. Qxh6 Qxe5 0-1

19 August 2018

Annotated Game #192: The problem of mental perspective

When you retrospectively analyze your games, it's amazing how certain fundamental issues with your play can seem to spring forth and fairly shout their existence, as you see them repeated over a series of games.  At the time, you are often unaware of these holes or problems in your game, or at least the fact that they form a consistent pattern.  Perhaps it is largely a problem of mental perspective; to take an example from the physical realm, in a similar way you can have an obvious blemish on your face, but can't see it yourself until you hold up a mirror and look at it from an outside perspective.

Identifying these consistent flaws in my game has led to some significant improvements over time, ranging from major changes (coming up with a standard thought process) to relatively minor but still measurable advances (Annotated Game #63: Third time's the charm).  In the most recent analysis series, what has jumped out at me is the theme of unnecessarily complicated moves, which this game shares along with Annotated Game #191 and Annotated Game #189.

In the case of this game, which was a nail-biting tactics fest in a weird Caro-Kann sideline, I could have consolidated my advantage on move 16 or again on move 19, but find a more complicated way to win; at least I can't complain about the result.  Looking back on it now, I was definitely under more psychological pressure than was warranted and a calmer approach would have been more effective.  Something to remember for future such games that feature early direct pressure on the king.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "44"] {[%mdl 8256] B11: Caro-Kann: Two Knights Variation} 1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Qf3 { a relatively rare variation, developing the queen early instead of the knight, which would lead to the Two Knights variation of the Caro-Kann.} d4 {here I gave some thought to capturing on e4, but decided that my opponent would likely be familiar with that, and I didn't like the fact that he would have two pieces developed to my none. Instead, I seize some more space and inconvenience the Nc3. The drawback is that it is another pawn move and doesn't do anything directly to aid my development.} 4. Bc4 {something I hadn't considered, but is the standard move in the database. White is playing in classic attacking mode, hitting the weak f7 square early.} e6 5. Nce2 b5 { another pawn move, but it is with tempo, as it hits the bishop.} 6. Bb3 a5 { continuing the straightforward theme of trying to push White's pieces around with my pawns.} (6... Bb7 7. d3 c5 8. Qg3 Ne7 9. Nf3 Ng6 10. h4 Nd7 11. h5 Ne7 12. a3 Nb6 13. Ba2 Nc6 14. Bf4 Rc8 15. Rd1 Qd7 16. Ng5 Be7 17. Nxe6 fxe6 18. Qxg7 Rf8 19. Qxh7 Bf6 20. Qg6+ Ke7 21. h6 {Berescu,A (2386)-Streikus,S (2267) Patras 1999 1-0 (40)}) 7. a3 $146 {giving the bishop an out on a2.} Bb7 { I felt it was time to start developing my pieces. This also helps address potential tactical threats by White on the long diagonal.} 8. d3 c5 {although it's another pawn move, it's valuable to reinforce d4 and also open up the Bb7's scope.} 9. Nh3 {the only current square for the knight.} Be7 {with the idea of fighting for the g5 square.} (9... a4 {would have been good to throw in at this point, more to stop White from himself playing a3-a4 and threatening to open up the a4-e8 diagonal for his bishop.}) 10. Nef4 {my opponent is now fully focused on the kingside, hoping to break through with a direct attack.} (10. a4 bxa4 11. Bxa4+ Bc6 $14) 10... Ra6 {a creatively awkward way to protect the e6 pawn (White's target) along the 6th rank.} (10... Qb6 {is a much more natural version of the same idea, with the queen being well-placed on b6.}) 11. Qg4 {this looks threatening, but the g-pawn is poisoned if the queen takes it.} (11. Nh5 $5 {is the way to attack it.} Kf8 12. N3f4 Nf6 $14) 11... Nf6 $15 {my opening problems are now solved, as White has nothing better than to retreat the queen. However, my opponent goes 'all in'.} 12. Qxg7 $2 {Black cannot castle king side} Rg8 $19 13. Qh6 Bf8 {trapping the queen, so White has to give up material to free her.} 14. Nxe6 Rxe6 15. Qd2 Nxe4 $1 {Komodo/Fritz awarded this an exclamation point. I give back some material to open the center and provide full scope to my rooks.} 16. dxe4 Rxe4+ (16... Bh6 {as an "in-between move" would have been more powerful here, shutting down the h6-c1 diagonal. I end up playing the move later, but to less effect.}) 17. Kd1 c4 {with the idea of cutting the bishop off from the f7 target.} 18. Ba2 Rxg2 19. Re1 {despite winning by a wide margin, I was still (overly) fearful about White counterplay and felt I was hanging on by a thread. Calm play would have made things easier from here, although I still find moves that are good enough.} Bh6 {an interesting sacrificial idea that wins, but is unnecessarily complicated.} (19... Qe7 {is simple and very good.}) 20. Rxe4+ ( 20. Qxh6 {accepting the sacrifice is the main line:} Rxe1+ 21. Kxe1 Qe7+ 22. Kf1 Rxh2 $19) 20... Bxe4 21. Qxh6 {now this leads to more immediate consequences for White.} Bf3+ 22. Kd2 Qe7 {simple, quiet, powerful and best.} ( 22... Qe7 23. Bxc4 bxc4 24. Qe6 Qxe6 25. b3 Qe2#) 0-1

17 August 2018

Training quote of the day #13

At any rate, he [Carlsen] was focused and wanted to play his best chess without thinking about winning or losing. If you start to think about results you start to get nervous. When Magnus plays freely and does not care too much you see his best side.
-- GM Peter Heine Nielsen, "Inside Team Carlsen" interview 

10 August 2018

Annotated Game #191: Having to be brilliant to win a won game

This tournament game is notable for my failure to win a won game in a more normal and less dramatic fashion.  After spotting a tactical sequence that puts me a piece up, I make all the right moves, but my opponent refuses to give in.  Sometimes this is annoying (when you're the one winning), but is also not a bad strategy at the club level, if there's no immediate knockout, as in this game.

Later on, I break the rule of not allowing my opponent counterplay (or even just the appearance of it), in part by making an unnecessarily complicated move (as in Annotated Game #189), and as a consequence he almost forces a drawing tactic.  However, I earn a "!!" from Fritz when I find (in some desperation) the only winning move, a rook sacrifice.  It's also worth highlighting the final decision to exchange queen for rook and force a won K+P endgame.  This should be a rather basic choice for a player, but it's also a sign that you have confidence in your calculating ability and knowledge of endgames.

Furthermore, as a general rule, I think it's good for a player to trust themselves when they are sure they have found a forced win, and not triple-check things.  This is a characteristic you often see in master games and can be misunderstood when engines give significantly higher valuations to other (also winning) continuations.  Even if it takes longer, the chosen route may well be easier, which is probably why the player was able to calculate it first over other, more complicated alternatives.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A12"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "110"] [EventType "simul"] {[%mdl 8256] A12: English Opening: 1...c6 with b3 by White} 1. c4 c6 2. b3 Nf6 3. Bb2 {it's unusual to develop the bishop and the queenside so quickly, but my opponent appeared to be experienced in using this "system" type line, given his quick play in the opening.} d5 4. Nf3 Bf5 {the most common reply, getting Black into a Slav-type structure, which is what I had been aiming for.} 5. g3 { my opponent chooses a double fianchetto system, which was not a surprise, given his early fianchetto of the dark-square bishop.} e6 6. Bg2 Nbd7 7. O-O Be7 {here the database is evenly split between this and ...Bd6, although the .. .h6 idea (see next move) is also popular (and scores comparatively well).} 8. d3 O-O (8... h6 {this prophylactic move, controlling g5 and providing a retreat square for the Bf5, scores much better in the database. For example} 9. Nbd2 O-O 10. Qc2 Bh7 11. Ne5 Nxe5 12. Bxe5 Bd6 13. Qb2 a5 14. Nf3 Bxe5 15. Nxe5 Qd6 16. a3 d4 17. f4 Nd7 18. Nxd7 Qxd7 19. b4 Rfe8 20. b5 c5 21. b6 Re7 22. Rab1 e5 23. Qb5 Qc8 24. fxe5 Rxe5 25. Bd5 Bf5 26. Qb2 Re7 27. Qd2 Be6 28. e4 dxe3 29. Qxe3 Qd7 30. Rfe1 Rc8 31. Bg2 Ree8 32. Qf3 Rc6 33. Qf2 Rd6 34. Qxc5 Rxd3 35. Qc7 Qxc7 36. bxc7 Rc8 37. Rxb7 Rd7 38. c5 Rdxc7 39. Rxc7 Rxc7 40. c6 Kf8 41. Re5 a4 42. Ra5 {1/2-1/2 (42) Svidler,P (2744)-Caruana,F (2767) Sochi 2012}) 9. Nbd2 (9. Nh4 $5 {would now harass the Bf5, but this is not a serious consideration for Black. For example} Bg4 10. h3 Bh5 $11) 9... Re8 10. a3 a5 { played to restrain the b3-b4 advance.} 11. Bc3 {this move to me indicated that my opponent wanted to try to force the b-pawn advance. However, this takes time and also moves the bishop to an undefended square, which soon becomes important.} c5 $146 {a logical response, reinforcing my own control of b4 and now also influencing d4, which my opponent immediately challenges.} 12. d4 { it's important to remember that every pawn advance leaves weaknesses behind it, in this case the e4 square.} (12. Nh4 Bg4 13. h3 Bh5 14. g4 Bg6 15. Nxg6 hxg6 $11) 12... Ne4 {this immediately exploits the lack of pawn control of e4, but more patience perhaps was in order.} (12... Qb6 $5 {would put additional pressure on both flank and center and connect the rooks.}) 13. Nxe4 Bxe4 14. cxd5 Bxd5 {the position is equal here, but I feel Black has a much easier task and has energy built up, waiting to be released after an exchange of the c-pawn.} 15. dxc5 $6 {this just plays to Black's strengths and immediately helps activate my pieces.} (15. Rc1) 15... Nxc5 $15 16. b4 {White seemed to be fixated on getting this advance in, and seemed to be happy to have achieved it, despite the significant problems he now has in the center.} Ne4 {now the other knight occupies e4 and threatens the hanging Bc3, but White can no longer get rid of it.} 17. Qd3 $2 {defending the Bc3, but missing the follow-on skewer tactic on the long diagonal.} (17. Bd4 $15 {is just about the only chance, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface.}) 17... Nxc3 $19 18. Qxc3 Bf6 {my opponent thought for some time here, eventually coming up with the move with perhaps the most practical chances of avoiding pain, but I am able to find the correct tactical sequence.} 19. Ne5 {temporarily blocking the tactic, but now Black has} Bxg2 20. Kxg2 Qd5+ {with a double attack on e5.} 21. Qf3 Bxe5 { I was happy to get the queens off here, given the material balance.} 22. Qxd5 exd5 23. Rad1 {my opponent chooses to play on, even down a full piece with no compensation. This is common at the club level, and almost pays off for him later on.} axb4 {tidying up on the queenside first.} 24. axb4 Bc3 (24... d4 { is objectively superior. There is no particular reason to give up the strong advanced central d-pawn, even if it is isolated, as it is easily defended. However, I felt it would be easier to make progress by in effect exchanging it for the e-pawn.}) 25. Rxd5 Rxe2 26. Kf3 Rb2 27. b5 g6 {giving my king "luft" (room to escape a potential threat of back rank mate).} 28. Rfd1 Raa2 {so far my game is effectively playing itself, with obvious moves targeting White's weaknesses.} 29. Rf1 Ba5 {covering the d8 square and preparing to move to the a7-g1 diagonal to further pressure f2.} 30. h4 Bb6 31. h5 f5 $6 {here I get too fancy and make an unnecessarily complicated move in response, significantly loosening my king position.} (31... Bxf2 {is simplest, as White has no real threats.} 32. Rfd1 Ra3+ 33. R5d3 Rxd3+ 34. Rxd3 Bc5 $19) 32. g4 ( 32. Kf4 $5) 32... Rxf2+ 33. Rxf2 Rxf2+ 34. Kg3 f4+ 35. Kh4 {up to this point I've played accurately and increased my advantage. With further accurate play there would be no danger, but I've left my king somewhat exposed and my opponent can now generate counterplay after my inaccuracies.} Rc2 (35... Rh2+ 36. Kg5 f3 37. Rd3 f2 38. Rf3 gxh5 39. gxh5 Rh1 40. Kf5 f1=Q 41. Rxf1 Rxf1+ 42. Ke4 Rh1 43. Kf3 Re1 44. h6 Kf7 45. Kg2 Kg6 46. Kg3 Kg5 47. Kf3 Re3+ 48. Kg2 Kg4 49. Kh2 Re1 50. Kg2 Ra1 51. Kh2 Kf3 52. Kh3 Rh1#) 36. hxg6 hxg6 (36... h6 37. g5 hxg5+ 38. Kxg5 f3 39. Kg4 f2 40. Rd1 Re2 41. Rf1 Re1 42. Rxf2 Bxf2 43. Kf3 Bb6 44. Kf4 Kg7 45. Kg5 Rf1 46. Kh5 Rg1 47. Kh4 Kxg6 48. Kh3 Kf6 49. Kh4 Kf5 50. Kh3 Kf4 51. Kh2 Kf3 52. Kh3 Rh1#) 37. Rd6 {I had missed this as part of the sequence, which still leaves White losing, but now looking more dangerous.} Bf2+ {I thought for a long time here and could not come up with anything better.} (37... Bc5 $1 {ignoring the g-pawn is best.} 38. Rd3 (38. Rxg6+ $2 Kf7 39. Kg5 Be7+ {and White is finished.}) 38... Kf7 $19) 38. Kg5 Be3 39. Kxg6 { again, I'm still winning, but the pressure is starting to get to me. It's never fun when your opponent has a mate-in-one threat (Rd8).} Rd2 40. Re6 Rd8 41. Rf6 Rf8 {at this point I just wanted to try and exchange rooks to simplify down to a won piece-up endgame.} 42. Re6 f3 {here a bishop move is much simpler, but I had calculated that White couldn't take it without losing. I'm correct in the end, but had to find a desperation tactic to make it work.} 43. Rxe3 f2 44. Re7 {at first I despaired after seeing this move. The threat is a perpetual check on g7-h7. However, I soon saw the saving grace:} Rf6+ $3 { a powerful sacrifice which decides the game, comments Komodo via the Fritz interface.} 45. Kxf6 f1=Q+ {and the pawn queens with tempo, preserving my won game.} 46. Kg6 Qxb5 {the simplest way to proceed, taking more material off the board and covering the e8 square.} 47. Rg7+ {I had to calculate the following sequence before playing the queen move, but it wasn't that hard. White soon runs out of checks.} Kf8 48. Rf7+ Ke8 49. Rf5 Qd3 {a good illustration of why the queen dominates a rook in the endgame, she can work all of the angles and do things like impose pins.} 50. Kg5 b5 51. Re5+ Kf7 52. Rf5+ Kg7 53. Kf4 b4 { again, the simple but effective approach. My opponent cannot stop the b-pawn.} 54. Rg5+ Kf6 55. Rf5+ (55. Rh5 {does not save the day} b3 56. Rh6+ Kg7 57. Re6 b2 58. Re7+ Kg6 59. Rb7 Qd4+ 60. Kg3 Qe3+ 61. Kh2 Qf2+ 62. Kh1 Qf3+ 63. Kg1 Qxb7 64. Kf2 b1=Q 65. g5 Kxg5 66. Kg3 Qe1+ 67. Kh2 Qbh1#) 55... Qxf5+ $1 { and with both of us having calculated out the resulting won pawn endgame, my opponent resigned.} (55... Qxf5+ 56. gxf5 b3 57. Ke4 b2 58. Kd3 b1=Q+ 59. Kc4 Qb6 60. Kc3 Kxf5 61. Kd3 Qc5 62. Ke2 Ke4 63. Kd2 Qc7 64. Ke2 Qc2+ 65. Kf1 Kf3 66. Ke1 Qe2#) 0-1

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)

28 May 2018

Annotated Game #188: Simul vs. WIM Sabrina Chevannes

This next game is from a simul played against WIM Sabrina Chevannes at a chess festival.  I was pleased to see the London System on the board from my opponent, as I've had good results against it.  I handle the initial opening phase well (through move 7), first avoiding, but then running into a similar problem with White penetration of the queenside as occurred in Annotated Game #183.   Here the opening variation isn't really the problem, as the queen exchange for Black is fine (unlike in the linked game), but rather recognizing White's opportunity to target the c6-pawn from the side with the rook on the a-file.  Luckily my opponent missed this (rather unusual) opportunity as well and the game continued.  Other lessons learned from the analysis were the power of the ...e5 break for Black and the need to evaluate better the impacts of key piece exchanges.  In the end, I correctly trade off my passed central pawn for one of White's queenside pawns in the endgame and reach a drawn position, which I was happy to take.

[Event "Simul"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Chevannes, Sabrina"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "66"] [EventDate "2015.03.17"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "2"] {D10: Slav Defence: cxd5 (without early Nf3) and 3 Nc3} 1. d4 d5 2. Bf4 { an early entry into the London System, although now Bf4 is considered better than the originally less committal Nf3 in the opening structure. ChessBase considers the opening a Slav Defense (ECO D10).} Nf6 3. e3 Bf5 {I like playing this because of the symmetry and increased control of e4, and find it easier to play as opposed to developing the bishop on the queenside.} (3... e6 { is the most popular move in the database, no doubt because of all the Queen's Gambit Declined players.}) 4. c4 c6 {we now have a traditional Slav structure for Black, versus a non-traditional White setup.} 5. Qb3 {White immediately hits the queenside, as removing the protector of b7 is the main drawback of the previous move.} Qb6 {played in the vast majority of games. Black is not afraid to swap queens.} 6. c5 {this space-gaining push is a natural reaction and the most played. The trade-off for White is that it eliminates tension in the center.} Qxb3 7. axb3 {in exchange for the doubled pawns, which are not much of a weakness since I can't target them easily, White has the semi-open a-file. However, this is not as much of an issue as in some other Slav variations, since White also has trouble directly exploiting it.} Nbd7 8. Nc3 e6 {this is too conservative. I should have recognized the ...e5 pawn break possibility, although in this case it requires some assistance from the Nf6 and creative play; the break is a normal reaction to White's earlier c4-c5 push, which leaves the black pawn on d5 secure.} (8... e5 $5 {this works because of the Nf6's mobility and the fact that the c5 pawn depends on the d4 pawn for protection. The fact that we are already in an endgame-like position also means that Black has less to worry about regarding king protection.} 9. dxe5 Nh5 10. b4 Nxf4 11. exf4 g5 {offering a wing pawn for a central one, a good deal for Black.} 12. g3 gxf4 13. gxf4 f6 14. exf6 Nxf6 $11 {and Black has full compensation for the pawn, given better piece activity and the obviously weak White kingside pawns.}) (8... a6 {is also commonly played in this position, with good results for Black (56 percent). One example:} 9. b4 Rc8 10. Be2 h6 11. h3 g5 12. Bh2 Bg7 13. Nf3 O-O 14. O-O Ne4 15. Nxe4 Bxe4 16. Nd2 Bg6 17. Nb3 e5 18. dxe5 Bxe5 19. Bxe5 Nxe5 20. f4 Bd3 21. fxe5 Bxe2 22. Rf6 Rce8 23. Nd4 Bd3 24. Rd1 Be4 25. e6 fxe6 26. Rxh6 e5 27. Ne6 Rf5 28. Rf1 d4 29. exd4 Rxf1+ 30. Kxf1 Bd5 31. Nxg5 exd4 32. Rh4 d3 33. Rd4 Re2 34. Rxd3 Rxb2 35. Rg3 Rxb4 36. Ne4+ Kf8 37. Nd6 a5 38. Ra3 a4 39. g4 Ke7 40. Ke2 b5 41. g5 Rb2+ 42. Ke3 Rb1 43. Nf5+ Ke6 44. Nd4+ Ke5 {0-1 (44) Teglas,B (2172)-Deak,F (2259) Hungary 2009}) 9. b4 {proactively reinforcing c5 and preventing a7-a5.} b5 $2 { this is exactly what Black should not do in this position, giving White an inroad on the queenside; luckily, my opponent did not recognize the opportunity.} (9... Nh5 10. Bc7 Rc8 11. Be5 a6 $14) 10. cxb6 $6 (10. Ra6 $1 $18 {targeting the now-vulnerable c-pawn is winning for White.}) 10... Nxb6 $14 { obviously this is what I had intended on move 9. The c-pawn is now backward, but White has issues with her b-pawns being weak as well.} 11. b5 c5 { naturally not exchanging on b5, which would give White a great post for a minor piece and open up the c-file.} 12. Nf3 Nfd7 13. Ne5 Nxe5 $6 {despite my previous move, which was aimed at reinforcing both c5 and e5, this piece exchange is not a good follow-up. Afterwards White's minor pieces are improved in relative terms versus mine.} (13... cxd4 14. exd4 Bd6 {the key idea in this line. Now another piece is developed and White's hold on the center is challenged.} 15. Nxd7 Kxd7 16. Bxd6 Kxd6 17. Be2 $11) 14. Bxe5 $16 {Komodo likes White's position better, with the central Be5 a significant constraint on my play, including pressuring g7 and preventing my bishop from being developed to its best diagonal on d6.} Kd7 {mobilizing the king with the reduced material on the board is now more important than seeking to castle. There is also no good way to protect the g-pawn without giving White further advantage in space and development on the queenside.} 15. Be2 {not the most challenging move.} (15. dxc5 Bxc5 16. Bxg7 Rhg8 $16) 15... f6 $14 {taking care of the threat to g7.} 16. Bg3 cxd4 17. exd4 Bd6 18. Bxd6 Kxd6 $14 {my opponent apparently felt that safe exchanges and a slight plus were a better route to victory. White maintains some slight advantages on the queenside, but no longer has urgent threats, so I felt much better about my position.} 19. g4 { a rather direct approach which does not gain White anything.} Bg6 20. f4 e5 { this time, I recognize the value of the pawn break. The next sequence is essentially forced.} 21. dxe5+ fxe5 22. fxe5+ (22. f5 Bf7 {is fine for Black, with two connected passed pawns in the center offsetting White's kingside majority.}) 22... Kxe5 $11 {and now Black has a new passed pawn on d5. White will have to pay attention to neutralizing it, rather than advancing her own plans.} 23. Bf3 Be4 $6 {an unnecessary exchange that potentially weakens the central pawn's position.} (23... d4 $5 {is the more aggressive choice:} 24. Bxa8 dxc3 25. bxc3 Rxa8 26. O-O $11) (23... Raf8 $11) 24. Nxe4 $6 {following the general rule of exchanging knights for bishops, but here it helps me.} (24. Bxe4 $5 {is the better choice.} dxe4 25. O-O $16) 24... dxe4 $15 25. Bg2 Nc4 { making an obvious threat, but not a significant one.} (25... Rhf8 $5 {is actually the key move, mobilizing the rook and preparing ...Rf4.} 26. Rf1 Rxf1+ 27. Bxf1 Kf4 $15) 26. Ra4 {now White is more active again and I am on the defensive.} Nd6 27. O-O Rhb8 $6 (27... g6 {is necessary to reduce 7th rank threats from White's rook on the f-file.}) 28. Re1 {White evidently does not see the following sequence, a good example of CCT in action:} (28. Bxe4 $5 { the pawn is protected twice and attacked twice, but} Nxe4 29. Rf5+ Kd6 30. Rd4+ Ke6 31. Rxe4+ Kd6 32. Rd4+ Ke6 33. b4 $14 {with pressure, although the doubled extra b-pawn may not be decisive.}) 28... Rxb5 $11 {the correct choice, to reach a completely level position where White has no more real threats.} 29. Bxe4 Nxe4 30. Rexe4+ Kf6 31. b4 Rab8 32. h4 g5 33. Ra6+ R5b6 1/2-1/2

22 May 2018

Why Aronian Plays the English

In recent times I have taken a liking to this move. After all, in the main openings too much is already known, and contortions such as 1.d4 and, after any move, 2. Bf4 do not yet attract me. It only remains to rely on the openings of my early youth - the English and the Reti.
-- GM Levon Aronian, New In Chess 2016 #4

(From the introduction to Aronian's annotations to Aronian-Carlsen, Stavanger 2016 round 8)

[Event "Norway Chess 4th"] [Site "Stavanger"] [Date "2016.04.28"] [Round "8"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A11"] [WhiteElo "2784"] [BlackElo "2851"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2016.04.19"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "NOR"] [EventCategory "21"] [SourceTitle "CBM 172"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2016.05.12"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2016.05.12"] [SourceQuality "1"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 d5 4. Nf3 g6 5. b3 Bg7 6. Bb2 O-O 7. O-O dxc4 8. bxc4 c5 9. d3 Nc6 10. Ne5 Na5 11. Qc1 Qc7 12. Nd2 Ne8 13. f4 Nd6 14. Bc3 Rb8 15. Qa3 b6 16. Bxa5 bxa5 17. Nb3 Nb7 18. Bxb7 Qxb7 19. Nxc5 Qc7 20. d4 Rd8 21. Rfd1 f6 22. Nf3 e5 23. fxe5 fxe5 24. Nxe5 Bxe5 25. dxe5 Rxd1+ 26. Rxd1 Qxe5 27. Rd8+ Kf7 28. Qf3+ Bf5 29. Rxb8 Qxb8 30. g4 Qb4 31. Nd3 1-0

20 May 2018

Annotated Game #187: Taking on the "Sniper" with a reloader tactic

(Note: this replaces a previous, duplicated Annotated Game #187)

In the following tournament game, my opponent uses the "Sniper" formation, which was popularized first in a 2011 book then a 2017 ChessBase DVD by FM Charlie Storey.  You can read in more depth about it in the previous links, but basically the idea is to have a system as Black with ...g6, ...Bg7 and ...c5 to meet all of White's options.  Since this formation is a component of some more mainline opening systems, it's not an entirely untrodden path in the opening, although it is an original approach.

Against the English Opening, I don't think the "Sniper" has as much bite, primarily because the key ...c5 pawn move for Black isn't as challenging when White does not yet have a pawn center built up.  Here we get into a Symmetrical English, which is not really what Sniper players are looking to do, and as White by move 9 I feel I have a comfortable, active game.

The turning point of the game is a "reloader" tactic that I spotted the potential for, involving a sacrificial knight fork on g5 that gains me a pawn and a lasting advantage, although I give it back temporarily before my opponent gets too greedy with pawn-grabbing and neglects his king position, allowing me to break through with tactics involving forks, pins and sacrifices.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A34"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "6"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nf3 Bg7 3. Nc3 c5 {known as the "Sniper" formation. Without a pawn on d4, however, it does not have independent importance.} 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 { now we're in more familiar Symmetrical English territory.} O-O 6. O-O d5 { a more aggressive continuation than maintaining symmetry with ...Nc6. I am fine with exchanging the central pawn and opening the h1-a8 diagonal, however.} 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Qb3 {the second most popular continuation in the database. I liked the idea of hitting b7 and getting my queen on a good diagonal early.} ( 8. Nxd5 {is more popular, for example in this game by Kramnik:} Qxd5 9. d3 Nc6 10. Be3 Bxb2 11. Rb1 Bg7 12. Qa4 Qd7 13. Bxc5 b6 14. Be3 Nd4 15. Qd1 Bb7 16. Nxd4 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Bxd4 18. Bxd4 Qxd4 19. Qb3 Rac8 20. Rfc1 Rc5 21. e3 Qd6 22. d4 Ra5 23. Rc2 e5 24. Rd1 Rd8 25. Rcd2 Qd5+ 26. Qxd5 {1/2-1/2 (26) Kramnik,V (2801)-Grischuk,A (2761) Moscow 2012}) 8... Nb6 9. d3 {needed to release the bishop. The d4 square is dominated by Black, but I nonetheless have comfortable development.} Be6 {taking the diagonal for his own, but in the process blocking any idea of advancing the e-pawn.} 10. Qc2 h6 {taking the g5 square away from the Nf3 (and the Bc1). However, Black is starting to get behind in development.} 11. Be3 {developing and targeting the c-pawn, which is isolated from its natural support (the b-pawn) by the Nb6.} Qc8 12. Rfd1 { here I thought for a while, as I saw no obvious plan for White. The rooks seemed to be to be well placed on the d- and c-files, so I decided to continue development that way.} Rd8 {in order to oppose the idea of my advancing the d-pawn.} 13. Rac1 $14 {by this point Komodo gives White a small plus. I have all of my pieces developed, while Black's queenside remains partially undeveloped. The c-pawn also remains a target, which my opponent recognizes with his next move.} Na6 14. a3 {making sure the Na6 does not come into b4, and also removing the a-pawn from the Be6's pressure.} Bh3 15. Bh1 {the engine ranks higher pretty much any alternative to this move, which preserves the bishop. At the time, I felt that its influence over the long diagonal was worth maintaining.} (15. Ne4 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 Nd5 17. Bxc5 {doesn't get White very much after} f5 18. Ned2 Qxc5 19. Qxc5 Nxc5 20. Rxc5 Bxb2 21. Nc4 Bf6) (15. Bxh3 Qxh3 16. Qb3 $14 {and now White has more play on the light squares with the Black bishop's absence, although it hardly seems decisive.}) 15... Qd7 16. Qd2 {threatening h6.} Kh7 {this obvious-looking move turns out to be a problem for Black.} (16... g5 $5) 17. Ne4 {this attacks both c5 and g5, with potential tacticsr on both squares. My opponent did not see the threat on g5, however.} Qb5 $2 {neglecting protection of the now-hanging Bh3.} (17... Be6 {appears to be the best option, as it's not so simple for White to take on c5.} 18. Nxc5 Nxc5 19. Rxc5 Na4 20. Ra5 Nxb2 21. Rc1 {although now despite the material equality there is still a plus for White because of the a-pawn weakness, Black's more awkward piece placement, and the Bh1's influence. For example} b6 22. Ne5 Qe8 23. Bxa8 bxa5 24. Bc6 Qh8 25. Qxb2 Bxe5 26. Qb5 $14) 18. Nfg5+ { a genuine "reloader" tactic! The knight fork on g5 is repeated.} hxg5 19. Nxg5+ Kg8 20. Nxh3 $16 {now I am a clear pawn up with no compensation for Black. I also am eyeing Black's weakened king position.} Nd5 {making my next move choice with the Be3 that much easier.} 21. Bh6 Qxb2 22. Qg5 $6 {here I was disappointed that my opponent had found a way to regain the pawn, and I overlooked how to continue with an advantage.} (22. Qxb2 Bxb2 23. Rb1 Bxa3 24. Rxb7 $16 {preserves the advantage, although it's not immediately obvious to a Class player (i.e. me) during the visualization/calculation process. The immediate threat is Ra1, winning a piece as both the Na6 and Ba3 are hanging. Black can avoid this, but the a7 pawn is also underprotected. Play could continue} Nab4 {(also protecting against Bxd5 followed by Rxe7)} 25. Bxd5 Nxd5 26. Ra1 Bb4 27. Raxa7 $16 {and I'm back to being a clear pawn up.}) 22... Bf6 $11 23. Qg4 Qxa3 $2 {this is simply greedy and gives me back the initiative and an advantage.} (23... Nc3 $11) 24. Be4 $1 {threatening to sacrifice on g6.} Kh7 $2 (24... Bg7 25. Bxg7 Kxg7 26. Nf4 $16 {and the attack continues.}) (24... Qa4 {pinning the Be4 seems to be the best practical chance for Black.} 25. Nf4 Nxf4 26. Bxf4 $16) 25. Qh5 {after a good deal of thought, this seemed to me to be the best follow-up, taking advantage of the pinned g6 pawn. Komodo agrees.} Rh8 26. Qxd5 Kxh6 27. Qxf7 $18 {material is equal but Black's king is under heavy pressure.} Rag8 28. Nf4 (28. Qe6 {is the idea behind a quicker route to victory by repositioning the queen.}) 28... Rg7 29. Qd5 b6 $6 {protects against the pawn snatching threat, but neglects the king.} 30. Bxg6 $1 e5 { a nice try on defense, blocking the route to h5, but the queen can reposition to again threaten the square.} 31. Qf3 Rxg6 32. Qh5+ Kg7 33. Qxg6+ 1-0

19 May 2018

FT: Boxer Wladimir Klitschko - 'Chess is war with an army'

As I've highlighted on this blog several times in the past, the Financial Times (FT) periodically publishes thoughtful chess-themed articles and interviews, the most recent one being with heavyweight champion boxer Wladimir Klitschko.  The chess itself isn't the really interesting part, although Klitschko knows both Kramnik and Kasparov; rather, it's how Klitschko has incorporated it into his life and his outlook on competition and winning.  Here are a couple of the more interesting points from the article for me; the full interview (linked above) is well worth reading.
According to my opponent, there are some unlikely parallels between top-level boxers and chess players. His friend Kramnik told him that grandmasters “lose an incredible amount of weight during a tournament”. “Some tournaments,” Klitschko says, “are long. It shows how much energy and calories your brain can burn. They lose like, if I’m not wrong, during the two weeks or week and a half, up to 20kg. If they go to sleep, they cannot really turn off their mind. It’s just constantly doing combinations and combinations and combinations.”
In his book, he says that before any fight, he visualised the fighting style of his opponents while also imagining victory. He believes the same approach can work in any negotiation. “Internalise your winning pose,” writes Klitschko. “Save similar motivational pictures on your smartphone and have a look at them if you have doubts.”
The champ appears genuinely elated and takes a photograph of the final board to send to Kramnik. “It’s an exciting game because it’s a war with an army,” he says of chess. “It’s a lot of co-ordination, a lot of focus, a lot of endurance. You have to be really agile in everything you do. It actually fits well into sporting life, into business life, into private life, into anything. It just matches with my genes.” 

17 March 2018

Resuming training and posting in May

Although I'll check in from time to time, I expect that I'll be mostly offline here until late May, due to other pressing demands on my time.  I'll look forward to getting back to chess, for sure.

In the meantime, something to consider...

How to come back from the chess vacation?

11 March 2018

Eight rules to do everything better (in chess)

While this blog is devoted to chess training, I think it's important to look at major principles that apply to any mastery effort.  The below categories are taken from "8 Rules to Do Everything Better" by Brad Stulberg - worth reading on Medium for the author's original take on the ideas - and listed along with some personal comments on their applicability to improvement in chess performance.

1. Stress + Rest = Growth.  For me, this is a good principle to help calibrate the amount of serious competitive play (stress) that results in advancement in playing strength.  One weekend tournament / month equivalent seems to be best for me; others may have different optimal paces depending on their energy level and needed recuperation time.

2. Focus on the Process, Not Results.  The fear and loathing that results from focusing primarily on your rating I think holds a lot of people back.  This is a recurring theme, I've even recently seen some (non-joking) commentary that to "win" your personal ratings competition (against whomever you've chosen as your rival, I guess) it's best just to quit playing when you're ahead.

3. Stay Humble.  See above.  Also, one of the main points routinely made by chess improvement coaches like IM Silman and NM Heisman is that you will lose a lot if you play a lot, so it's inevitable.  Realizing this will help you extract the best lessons possible from losses and not view them as devastating blows to your ego.

4. Build Your Tribe.  While it's not always possible to have a "buddy system" for training, one of the big accelerating factors for improvement is doing your chosen activity with: a) other motivated people, and b) having at least one master-level person to help show you the way.  Nowadays this can more easily be done online, if you don't have a local club.

5. Take Small, Consistent Steps to Achieve Big Gains.  Like with many complex activities, it's unlikely you'll have linear progression.  Rather, you work hard at tasks that push your boundaries and may plateau for a while, but then your brain "gets it" and you achieve mastery of an additional idea or particular skill.  Chess has a lot of these types of positional, tactical and strategic skills to be mastered over time.

6. Be a Minimalist to be a Maximalist.  Basically if you want to focus on improving your chess performance and put in the necessary time, you will have to forego other activities that compete with it on your personal schedule.  Where you draw the line is up to you, but you can't have five serious hobbies and expect to make significant progress at them all, for example.

7. Make the Hard Thing Easier.  This is about building positive habits, and/or doing small but important things to eliminate distractions.  Keep the tactics book out where you can always see it and thereby have it remind you of the 15 minutes a day you've committed to working problems, or have the tactics exercises site you use be your browser homepage.  Put the TV remote control away every time after you watch something, rather than leaving it conveniently at hand, or make yourself login to Netflix (or whatever) every time rather than it loading automatically.

8. Remember to Experience Joy.  If you don't do this in the long run, why are you even pursuing the path to chess mastery?  If you hit a stretch where it's not fun at all anymore, remember #1 above and reduce the stress.

06 February 2018

Book completed: The Stress of Chess ... and its Infinite Finesse

I recently finished GM Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess ... and its Infinite Finesse ("My Life, Career and 101 Best Games"), which is his annotated games collection.  You can see previous posts here related to GM Browne, including Annotated Game #1 (simul played in Las Vegas), Training quote of the day #12Insights from GM Walter Browne and GM Walter Browne: 1949-2015.

For chess improvement purposes, it's a great collection and perfect for using to go through a game during your lunchtime at work, which is how I worked through the book (and why it took so long to complete).  I think it's useful for both your chess skill and overall brain health to have some quality chess study time, even if no more than 15-20 minutes, to break up the work day and get your mind thinking about something completely different. (Unless of course you're a chess professional, in which case for your brain health I'd recommend focusing on an activity that had nothing to do with it at all).  I did the same thing with GM David Bronstein's Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 and will look for similar types of game collections in the future.

I found Browne's annotations to be relatively short and succinct in words, yet always valuable and relevant.  For chess improvers, another major benefit of going through a collection of a player's own annotated games is that you gain unique insight into their thought and decision-making process.  Browne includes a lot of these types of observations and it's highly educational to see a top-level GM (which he was at his peak) provide casually sophisticated evaluations of positions and share the considerations he took into account when making choices on how to proceed at key points.  As usually occurs when reading others' annotated games, sometimes you have to put some work into figuring out why a particular move is played (or not played) when it isn't explicitly explained or a variation given, but that's part of the value of engaging in effortful study - to grow in understanding by figuring things out for yourself.  Also, as with almost any games collection, there are at least occasionally a few typos and such in the notation that force you to puzzle out the real continuation, but the editorial quality is high enough that these are no more than a very infrequent and temporary distraction.

Browne's career was interesting in its ups and occasional downs, and spanned a long period of time in American chess.  His personal observations about tournaments, opponents, particular controversies and so on are probably of more interest to those with some previous acquaintance with them, or just curious about tournament experiences in general.  I don't think anything would be lost from a chess training perspective by skipping his sometimes encyclopedic accounts of his chess career, although there are some particularly entertaining stories from the decade where he competed the most internationally (roughly from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s).  For those into the poker scene, he also towards the end of his book (and career) recounts some of his professional poker tournament experiences and has some interesting insights in that regard as well.

27 January 2018

Annotated Game #186: All rook endgames *should* be drawn

This last-round tournament game is another illustration of why persistence and active play can pay off (even if it does not actually, in this case).  Some relative weak opening play in an unfamiliar position leads to a failure to falsify a key move, which lands me significant material down.  Deciding that there was at least some hope for a kingside attack and pressure in compensation, I continue playing and the initiative shifts to me, despite being objectively lost.  Eventually my opponent can't take any more pressure and simplifies to what should be a drawn rook endgame...which isn't, however, in the end.  A good lesson on weak pawns, rook activity and other elements of rook endgames...which apparently all really should be drawn.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A25"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 11.2"] [PlyCount "184"] {[%mdl 8192] A25: English Opening vs King's Indian with ...Nc6 but without early d3} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Bb4 {the second most common move in the position, according to the database. The bishop needs to be developed, but this doesn't have as much bite as when the d-pawn has already advanced, since there's no pin on the Nc3.} 5. Nd5 {the standard reaction.} Nxd5 6. cxd5 Ne7 7. a3 (7. Nf3 {is played most here and scores quite well, over 72 percent.}) 7... Bc5 8. b4 Bb6 9. e3 {I'm playing a lot of pawn moves here and neglecting development. The idea is to bring the knight out via e2 rather than f3, to avoid it being harrassed by the e-pawn. It's rather slow, however.} (9. Bb2) 9... d6 10. Ne2 O-O 11. Bb2 Bg4 12. Qb3 $146 {inviting the minor piece trade on e2, which I think would be better for me. The king would be safe and my light-square bishop would then be unopposed.} (12. d4 {is the move that is begging to be played here.} f6 13. h3 Bf5 14. e4 Bg6 15. O-O Rc8 16. Kh2 Re8 17. f4 c6 18. dxe5 fxe5 19. fxe5 cxd5 20. exd6 Qxd6 21. Nf4 Bf7 22. e5 Qd7 23. Qb3 g5 24. e6 Bxe6 25. Nxe6 Qxe6 26. Rae1 Qd6 {Butala,M (2246) -Banic,S Ljubljana 2001 1-0}) (12. h3 $5 {also looks fine.}) 12... Qd7 { obviously aimed at exchanging off the Bg2 and taking advantage of the resulting light-square weakness on the kingside.} 13. h3 Bh5 (13... Bxe2 14. Kxe2 f5 15. f4 $11) 14. f4 $6 {this is not terrible, but not ideal either. It weakens the king position and now the exchange on e2 is better for Black.} (14. g4 Bg6 15. f4 $11 {is an improved version of the idea. My knight would be happy to go to f4 after an exchange.}) 14... Bxe2 15. Kxe2 f6 {blunting future potential threats on the long diagonal.} 16. Raf1 $6 {here I completely miss Black's imminent threats. The g3 square is now unprotected, thanks to the f-pawn advance.} Nf5 {with a simple fork threat that I handle terribly.} 17. Rf3 $4 (17. Kf2 {I'm uncomfortable here and will have to focus on defense, but the engine considers the position equal.} Rae8 18. Re1 $11) 17... e4 $19 { what explains not seeing this response to my last move? Probably over-focusing on the tension between the e5 and f4 pawns and looking at the exchange possibilities there. Also not seriously focusing on my opponent's possibilities in order to falsify my move.} 18. Rf2 Nxg3+ 19. Ke1 Nxh1 20. Bxh1 {although an exchange and a pawn down, I decide to fight on. Black's kingside is looking a little open now and I thought my only chance would be to try to attack.} Rae8 21. Rh2 (21. f5 $19 {is the engine's improvement, preventing Black from occupying the f5 square and seizing more space. The square f4 is also now available for a rook transfer.}) 21... Qb5 22. Qd1 $2 {another bit of territory lost, notes Komodo via the Fritz interface.} (22. a4 {would be an opportunity to regain some material.} Qd3 23. Qxd3 exd3 24. a5 Bxe3 25. dxe3 Rxe3+ 26. Kd2 $17) 22... Qxd5 23. Qg4 Qe6 {by this point I really am lost.} 24. f5 {another desperate move, to prevent a queen exchange.} Qf7 {here my opponent starts losing the thread, playing very conservatively instead of putting the final nail in my coffin.} (24... Qa2 $5 25. Rg2 Qb1+ 26. Kf2 Re7 $19) 25. Bxe4 {A bit of material back and a psychological victory, even if it doesn't change the objective evaluation.} d5 (25... Qb3 {my opponent still does not see the strength of this penetration idea with the queen.} 26. Rg2 Re7 $19) 26. Bd3 c6 27. Rg2 Bc7 28. Bd4 b6 29. h4 {although I'm still losing badly, at least it's nice to have some initiative. Watching the h-pawn grind towards him made my opponent react sub-optimally.} h5 {this stops the forward motion of my h-pawn, but also leaves the h5 pawn without much support.} 30. Qf3 Be5 { the best move, exchanging off one of my good pieces and getting closer to an easily won endgame.} 31. Bxe5 Rxe5 32. Rg6 {blocking the h5 pawn's protection.} Qe7 {a direct approach, doubling on the e-file, but not the best.} (32... c5 $5 $19 {would get Black's pawns rolling and support d5-d4.}) 33. Qxh5 Rf7 { my opponent continues to react conservatively to my threats, giving me a bit of hope.} 34. Qg4 Re4 $2 {my opponent decides to simplify rather than endure further kingside pressure. Komodo now evaluates the position as equal.} (34... c5 {is still a good option.} 35. h5 c4 $19 {and now ...c3 is threatened, undermining support for e3.}) 35. Bxe4 $11 Qxe4 36. Qxe4 dxe4 {we now have a rook endgame that is perfectly fine for me.} 37. Rg4 {conservative play.} (37. h5 $5 {the engine identifies the correct plan, which is to exchange off the weak h-pawn. It doesn't have to be done immediately, but there's no reason to wait. Unfortunately, I did not identify this as a strategic need.} Kh7 38. Kf2 Rd7 39. h6 Rxd2+ 40. Kg3 gxh6 41. Rxf6 h5 42. Re6 $14) 37... Re7 38. Ke2 Re5 39. Rf4 Kh7 40. d4 (40. Rg4 {was probably the best route to a draw, just shuffling the rook.} Kh6 (40... Rxf5 41. Rxe4 $11) 41. Rg6+ Kh7 (41... Kh5 $6 42. Rxg7 $14) 42. Rg4) 40... exd3+ 41. Kxd3 {while the engine still rates it as equal, my job is now more difficult, with more open lines in the center and a backward e-pawn.} Rd5+ 42. Ke2 {I pick the wrong side, concerned about my weak pawns. Now Black can more easily activate his queenside majority.} (42. Kc3) 42... c5 43. e4 (43. b5 Kh6 $11) 43... Rd4 44. Ke3 Rd1 {things are still equal, if uncomfortable for me. Black has the iniative.} 45. bxc5 {not an objectively bad move, but it gives me considerably fewer options to combat Black's queenside threats.} (45. Ke2 $5 {is much more flexible, harrassing Black's rook and allowing my rook space on the third rank.}) 45... bxc5 46. Ke2 $6 (46. Rf3 {is the only move that holds equality and is not obvious to find.}) 46... Rd4 $15 47. h5 {now I start crumbling, not having any better ideas.} (47. Ke3 {this is supposedly better according to the engine, but it still looks difficult.} Ra4 48. Rf2 Rxa3+ 49. Kf4 $15) 47... Rc4 (47... a5 $17) 48. Rf3 $2 (48. Kd3 {and White could well hope to play on, comments Komod.} Rd4+ (48... Ra4 49. Rg4 Rxa3+ 50. Kc4 $11 {Black will not be able to make progress on the queenside with separated pawns and the rook in front, versus my king close at hand.}) 49. Kc2 $11) 48... Rxe4+ $19 {now all of my pawns are weak, vulnerable and isolated. Black has a winning game now.} 49. Kf2 Rh4 50. Kg3 Rxh5 51. Kg4 Rg5+ 52. Kf4 g6 53. fxg6+ Kxg6 54. Rc3 Re5 55. Rc4 Rd5 56. Ke3 f5 57. Ra4 { the best chance, with a temporary defense along the fourth rank, but my opponent correctly takes the time to reset his rook position.} Rd7 58. Ra6+ Kg5 59. Rc6 {I figured I needed activity and threats to have any sort of chance to resist.} (59. Ra4 {is safer but still very much losing.}) 59... f4+ 60. Ke2 Re7+ 61. Kf2 Re5 62. Rc8 {with the idea of pursuing an "annoying rook checks" strategy to harrass my opponent.} a5 63. Rg8+ Kf5 64. Ra8 c4 65. Rc8 Re4 66. Rc5+ Re5 {this was an unnecessary concession by my opponent.} (66... Kg4 67. Rc6 (67. Rxa5 f3 $19) 67... Re3 68. Rxc4 Rxa3 $19) 67. Rxc4 {I began to have a bit of hope again now.} Rb5 $6 {this allows the next move with tempo.} (67... Kg4 $5 68. Rc8 a4 $19) (67... Rd5 $5) 68. a4 $17 Rb2+ $2 {now according to the engine, I can draw.} 69. Kf3 {Exerts pressure on the isolated pawn} (69. Ke1 $5 ) 69... Rb3+ 70. Ke2 Re3+ 71. Kf2 Re4 {Black threatens to win material: Re4xc4} 72. Rc5+ {here I thought I had to avoid the rook trade, not having fully calculated out the resulting K+P endgame.} (72. Rxe4 Kxe4 73. Ke2 {will also draw. For example} Kd4 74. Kf3 Kc3 75. Kxf4 Kb4 76. Ke3 Kxa4 77. Kd2 Kb3 78. Kc1 Kc3 79. Kb1 $11) 72... Re5 {Black threatens to win material: Re5xc5} 73. Rc3 $2 {this unnecessarily limits my rook movement and loses to Black's next.} (73. Rxe5+ {works, similar to the above variation.} Kxe5 74. Kf3 $11) (73. Rc1 $11 {and now my rook can check on g1 if Black's king goes to g4.}) 73... Kg4 74. Rc8 Re4 75. Rg8+ Kf5 76. Rf8+ Kg6 77. Kf3 Rxa4 $19 78. Rc8 Kf5 79. Rf8+ $2 Ke5 80. Re8+ Kd5 81. Rd8+ Kc6 82. Rh8 Rd4 83. Rh5 Kb6 84. Rh6+ Kb5 85. Rh5+ Kb4 86. Rh8 a4 87. Rb8+ Ka3 88. Rb7 Rb4 89. Rd7 Kb2 90. Ke2 a3 91. Rd2+ Kb3 92. Rd3+ Ka4 (92... Ka4 93. Rd1 a2 94. Rd8 Ka3 95. Rd3+ Rb3 96. Rd1 f3+ 97. Kf2 Rb1 98. Rd3+ Kb4 99. Rd4+ Kc3 100. Ra4 a1=Q 101. Rxa1 Rxa1 102. Kxf3 Ra4 103. Ke3 Kc2 104. Kf2 Kd2 105. Kf3 Rd4 106. Kg2 Ke3 107. Kg3 Ke2 108. Kg2 Rd3 109. Kh1 Kf2 110. Kh2 Rb3 111. Kh1 Rh3#) 0-1