15 November 2014

The importance of CCT: example #7

Here is a very recent and topical example - from game 6 of the 2014 World Championship - of why including CCT (checks, captures, threats) as a core part of your thinking process is important.  In this game, even Carlsen and Anand overlook the move 26 tactical idea, initiated by a capture, which is only a couple moves deep.

09 November 2014

Annotated Game #139: Hung by hanging pawns

This last-round game is a fitting end to the tournament, as it reflects the low level of play I had consistently shown throughout.  Coming out of a Colle-Zukertort opening setup that White chose, I had an equal position but could not figure out a worthwhile plan.  This planlessness contributed to poor decisions which tied my pieces up and allowed White to take the initiative and never let it go.  Analysis shows that I had more than one opportunity to level the game after inaccurate moves by White, but my thinking under pressure was muddled and I failed to see my own chances, as well as adequately falsify my moves (move 34 being an excellent example of this).

From a strategic point of view, the game is an interesting look at the hanging pawns structure and how it can be exploited.  White in this case supported them well and eventually after exchanges obtained an advanced passed d-pawn, which tied my pieces down while he switched to a kingside attack.  Hanging pawns are always double-edged, though, and I had plenty of chances to neutralize White's play.

I was glad to get this tournament over with, as you might imagine. We'll eventually see how my subsequent tournament went and to what extent I was able to recover my play.  For a little while, though, I'll plan to do some more master-level commentary games which I've been saving up, for a change of pace (and better examples of play).

03 November 2014

Studying the other side of your chosen defense

In the past I've made a number of observations about opening study, but one thing that hasn't been discussed is studying your chosen defense from the other player's perspective.  When you have limited time to put into your chess studies, it makes sense to focus on books and other materials that treat your defense (the Caro-Kann, the Dutch, etc.) from Black's perspective. Ideally they will be both objective and comprehensive. The best indicator of this is how White's plans and prospects are treated.

Too often, especially with resources aimed at the Class player, Black's chances are exaggerated, or White's are downplayed (which amounts to the same thing).  It's interesting to note that so-called repertoire books, while narrowly focusing on Black's preferred moves, tend - if the author is honest - to provide a deep look at all of White's possibilities.  This is made easier by limiting the scope of the material covered and subjecting the chosen variations to (hopefully) rigorous testing.  Black players benefit tremendously from making a serious effort to fully understand all of White's plans and how to respond to them.

Taking the idea further, I've found some of the most valuable opening study material for my defenses to have been written from White's point of view.  The Caro-Kann in Black and White, for example, was authored by Beliavsky and Karpov, each taking one side's perspective; Beliavsky's portion (as White) taught me a lot more.  A more recent example that looks worth examination by Black players is 1. e4 versus the French, Caro-Kann and Philidor, reviewed by GM David Smerdon on Chess.com.  It's always good to see the other side's playbook, especially when it deepens your own understanding.

26 October 2014

Annotated Game #138: When complex situations demand complex solutions

This eighth-round tournament game was notable for its middlegame complexity. Both myself and my opponent found ourselves somewhat adrift, with a number of difficult and unclear decisions to make, although it led to an exciting battle all the way to the end. The complications begin after I prematurely relieve the central pawn tension on move 15, then allow Black to win the exchange. At the time, I was rather disgusted with myself, but decided (correctly) to fight on and search for compensation. In return, I got a pawn back and some active play. Both king positions are vulnerable - mine more so - but after both sides engage in ill-advised pawn-grabbing and miss subtle attacking possibilities, I manage to force a draw.

This was a very demanding game for both of us and it illustrates well how Class players too often go for moves that are more obvious, or that simplify the game to our own detriment. Instead, we should not be afraid of complexity, but rather strive to break down the position to the best of our abilities and make clear evaluations of each element. This would have helped me on the move 15 decision, for example, which showed poor judgment along with a failure to look far enough ahead at my opponent's possibilities.

17 October 2014

Annotated Game #137: A (mostly) clean win in the Caro-Kann

This seventh-round win may not be completely clean, but it sure looks better than the last few games and shows how effective the Caro-Kann can be as a counterattacking opening.  My opponent avoids theory early on, probably not having prepared anything against the Caro-Kann, and enters a harmless variation that lets Black equalize quickly.

White nevertheless plays quite aggressively as the middlegame phase is entered, signaling with 11. fxg3 that he wants to try for a kingside attack.  However, with both bishops already exchanged off and a solid structure for Black in place, this plan is over-optimistic.  Ignoring an interesting sacrificial theme on f6, which would have forced a draw with a perpetual check, White instead overextends his kingside pawns and essentially traps his own rook on the h-file.  I am then able to switch to operations on the c-file and break into White's back ranks, finishing off his king as it tries to run up the board.  Although as you can see in the notes it would have been better for me to execute some of my ideas a move earlier than I actually played them, I'm generally pleased with my performance.  There are a number of other tweaks that I found in analysis that should also help with future play of similar positions, including avoiding wasted moves and looking out for sacs on f6.