20 December 2014

Last Chess.com tournament of 2014: A cautionary tale in the Caro-Kann; a patient victory in the English

I recently finished the Slow Swiss #19 tournament (90 30 time control) run by the Dan Heisman Learning Center over at Chess.com.  The following two games I think are the most instructive from the event, which was quite popular.  Although games played via the computer can't fully replicate the over-the-board experience, I find the slow time control games offered at the Slow Chess League to be the next best thing, especially for training purposes.

The first game below is a rather quick loss for me in a Caro-Kann, the mainline Classical variation; I think it can serve as a cautionary tale for other Caro-Kann players on what to avoid.  My opponent rattled off all of the moves through around move 13 without any thought, showing a strong familiarity with the opening, and rather quickly played the best database scoring moves through move 16.  At that point, I made a serious error and my opponent then played all of the strongest engine moves through move 26 - at which point White had over a +10 engine evaluation - showing precisely how to exploit my weaknesses on the kingside.  For the Black side, this game is primarily a one-move lesson (that Black needs to play ...Qd5 at a certain point), but it also serves an excellent illustration for the White side on how to conduct an attack in this situation.

The second game, presented below, is a patient win for me in a slow-developing English Opening, in which my opponent starts with "The Sniper" formation then goes for a double fianchetto.  The game is quite even for a long time, with a few small imbalances, and earlier in my chess career I would have been impatient to reach a draw, or perhaps try too hard for a win.  Here I was able to think in terms of prophylaxis and in improving my own pieces until my opponent made a relatively minor error, which then allowed a critical breakthrough on the queenside leading to a won endgame.  Patience is, I think, a feature of improved mental toughness.  (One shortcut to this, I think, is also keeping in mind Bobby Fischer's mantra of "no draws!")

19 December 2014

Commentary - Baku 2014 Grand Prix

The October 2014 Baku grand prix event featured two interesting Dutch Defense games.  In the first, American GM Hikaru Nakamura uses the Leningrad Dutch to take apart Dmitry Andreikin, finishing with a classic Dutch-style attack down the g-file requiring accurate calculation.  The second game sees Evgeny Tomashevsky as Black hold against eventual tournament co-winner Boris Gelfand with a Dutch Stonewall, in a game which illustrates a number of key Stonewall concepts.  Black calculates how best to open up the center and then with some clever tactics and in-between moves reaches a drawn rook ending.

Original ChessBase article and analysis for the first game, which took place in round 2.

Original ChessBase article and analysis for the second game, which occurred in round 5.

09 December 2014

Commentary - 2014 Sharjah Women's Grand Prix

The Sharjah 2014 women's grand prix tournament occurred in late August - early September and featured a number of interesting games.  The following three I found particularly relevant to my study interests and playing style.

In the first game, from round 5, women's world champion Hou Yifan uses an English against Tatiana Kosintseva's Queen's Gambit Accepted type defense.  Remarkably, Hou appears to have the initiative throughout the game, despite some missteps in the middlegame that allow Black to mostly consolidate a won pawn.  Some key strategic decisions are made at various points by White that could have taken the game in different directions, for example on moves 16, 19 and 26.  White appears to elevate some practical considerations, such as preserving her queen, over completely objective ones in her calculations.  This risk pays off in the end, however, as Kosintseva, shortly after gaining an advantage around move 36, apparently lets the continuing White pressure get to her and fails to find an adequate defense heading into the endgame.

In the second game, from round 6, Black (Nafisa Muminova) manages to get the better of her better-known and higher-rated opponent, Zhu Chen, in a Slow Slav, although the final result is a draw.  Muminova makes a questionable excursion with her dark-squared bishop, but after White releases the tension on move 20 and then loses her advantage of the two bishops, this allows Black to fully equalize.  White perhaps overestimates her position and Black manages to gain a significant positional advantage with her better-placed pieces.

In the third game, from round 8, Elena Danelian provides a lesson on how to play what looks like an ordinary non-threatening English Opening against Muminova's Semi-Slav type setup.  The positional crush begins after White forces an exchange of knight for bishop, leaving Black's remaining bishop almost useless while White's two bishops will play decisive roles.  (This makes another excellent example for Mastery Concept: The Effects of Piece Exchanges.)  One of the notable features of this game is how it revolves around multiple White tactical threats to the d5 pawn, none of which are actually implemented, but collectively they tie Black in knots and allow White to break through.

29 November 2014

FT: Natural Pawn Killer

The Financial Times' joking front-page title for its post-World Championship article on Magnus Carlsen.  My favorite portion, which fits in with the idea of chess vs. life balance:
Peter Heine, himself one of the world’s top players, is Carlsen’s most-trusted assistant. “Magnus believes in his pure chess strengths,” he told the FT this week. “You shouldn’t be able to do that in today’s world and none of us thought it was possible. Luckily, we were wrong.”
When preparing for a match, the world champion has better things to do than homework. “We play a lot of basketball,” Mr Heine says.

24 November 2014

Chessplayers are people too...and sometimes wolves

GM Irina Krush's report from an Arctic "wolf camp" is a great story about life outside of chess and how you can (and should) take advantage of chess tournaments to do other fascinating and unusual things.  A fine example of balance in chess vs. life.

As the holidays approach, I'll return to the blog with more chess content, starting with the analysis of some standout games from the Sharjah women's grand prix tournament; I found several which had particular relevance for my repertoire and study of preferred position-types.