31 January 2016

Annotated Game #148: A Tale of Two Players

It's time once again to turn my attention to analyzing my own games, looking at some of the more recent tournaments I've played in.

The following first-round game occurred after a two-year break in OTB (over-the-board) tournament games.  I call it a tale of two players, since in the first half it appears as if I were a different player as White: showing poor judgment, performing weak calculation and ignoring basic strategic principles.  Black, who played stronger than his rating (as many juniors do), had a fine game but then failed to find the best move to take advantage of my weaknesses (11...Ng4!).  He then made the strategic error of trying to respond directly to my advances on the queenside, rather than strike back in the center or kingside, where he had naturally better play.  Once the situation had been clarified on the queenside and the momentum had swung back my way, I played much more strongly, showing much better judgment about things like piece exchanges, and also was able to calculate correctly and find tactics (27. b6!) that leveraged my positional advantages.  The game came to a satisfying conclusion as I was able to quickly shift my pieces' attention to the kingside and take advantage of Black's absent defenders.

This is a good example of a typical "shake-off-the-rust" type of game for tournament players, in which it takes a while to warm up mentally and for things to come together across the board in a real game, which is always a different experience than training conditions.  Nevertheless, I found analyzing my early mistakes instructive and hope to avoid such issues in future games.

ChessAdmin - Class E

Result: 1-0
Site: ?
Date: ?
A13: English Opening: 1...e6
[...] 1.c4 e6 although Black can easily transpose to different types of structures, including a Nimzo-Indian, usually this move telegraphs his intent to play a QGD. 2.¤f3 d5 3.b3 ¤f6 4.¥b2 ¥d6 unusual but not unheard of (...Be7 of course would continue the standard QGD approach). 5.e3 ¤bd7 6.¥e2 so far standard development for White in this setup. 6...c6 this is now looking like a Semi-Slav setup for Black, presumably his original intent. 7.O-O (7.d4!?) (7.¤c3 scores the best in the database, 58 percent.) 7...e5 a logical follow-up to the previous moves, and standard procedure in this type of formation for Black. He moves the same pawn in the opening twice, but gains central control in return. 8.d4 not a terrible move, but the time to play this was on the previous move. Now Black is much better prepared to react in the center and pose immediate problems for White. 8...e4 9.¤e5 an aggressive reaction. (9.¤fd2!?) 9...£c7 10.f4?! this move was based on wishful thinking about maintaining an e5 strong point and inaccurate calcuation.
10.cxd5 ¤xd5
10...cxd5 11.¤c3 this may seem to neglect the sequence on the e5 square, but in fact works tactically. 11...¤xe5 12.dxe5 ¥xe5 13.¥b5+ ¥d7 14.¤xd5 ¤xd5 15.¥xd7+ £xd7 16.¥xe5
11.¦xf3 is objectively better, simply leaving White a pawn down but without giving Black an attack. 11...¤xe5 12.dxe5 ¥xe5 13.¥xe5 £xe5 14.£d4 £xd4 15.exd4µ
11...¤e4? with this move Black loses the initiative.
11...¤g4! forks the hanging e3 pawn and adds weight to the attack on h2. 12.cxd5 ¥xh2+ 13.¢h1 ¤df6−⁠+ with a strong attack. (13...¤xe3 is also good, of course.)
12.¤c3 ¤df6 13.c5 ¥e7 14.¤e5 this continues my fixation on the e5 outpost and looks reasonably well-justified, although perhaps not best. The engine considers it more prudent to focus on e4 and exchange off the Ne4, either immediately or on the next move. 14...O-O 15.b4 the queenside is the obvious (and really only) place for White to play, so I start to get my pawns rolling there. 15...b6 this is not a bad move in itself, but it marks the decision by Black to focus on queenside play, responding to White rather than looking for better play in the center and on the kingside. (15...¤xc3!?16.¥xc3 ¤e4 looks simpler and more flexible.) 16.a4 White prepares the advance b5 16...a5?! this move continues to play into White's plan of opening lines, gaining space and creating Black weaknesses to target on the queenside. (16...¥e6 17.¤xe4 ¤xe4 18.¦c1) 17.cxb6 £xb6 18.b5 ¤xc3 a good exchange choice. The Nc3, as a result of the breakup of Black's pawn formation, was now much more effective and influential over b5 and d5. 19.¥xc3 c5? really the losing move for Black. Now I gain an excellent outpost for the knight on c6 and a protected passed pawn on b5.
19...cxb5 is the best option Black has, notes the engine via the Fritz interface. 20.axb5 ¤e4
20.¤c6+⁠−20...¥d8 21.dxc5 £xc5 22.¥d4 £d6 now that the exchanges are complete, it's clear that White has a strategically won game, thanks to the b-pawn and the ability of the minor and major pieces to support it on the queenside. 23.¦c1 ¤d7 defending against the threat of a Bc5 skewer. (23...¥d7 24.¤xd8 ¦axd8 25.¥xf6 gxf6 26.£d4+⁠−) 24.¤xd8 although the knight looks ideally placed on c6 (and it is), there is nothing more that it can do to further White's plans. By exchanging itself for the dark-square bishop, this act by knight majorly empowers the now-unopposed Bd4. 24...¦xd8 25.¦c6 the other benefit of the knight exchange was freeing the c6 square for occupation by the rook. 25...£e7 26.¦c7 pinning the Nd7 and preventing Black from playing ...Bb7. At this point, Black's pieces are almost entirely tied down on the back two ranks. 26...£d6 27.b6! now I take tactical advantage of the fact that the Nd7 is still in fact pinned by the Rc7 against the f7 square (which is targeted by the Rf1 as well). 27...¦b8
27...¤xb6??28.¦fxf7 and White mates or wins Black's queen.
28.¥d3 I was pleased to find this move, which is quiet but effective. The bishop is centralized and now threatens action on the kingside against Black's weakly defended king. Black's pieces are too tied up on the queenside to be able to defend against White's sudden threats. 28...¤e5
28...¦xb6 is not the saving move 29.£c2 ¥a6 30.¥xh7+ ¢f8 31.¥c5+⁠−
29.£h5 the engine correctly notes is the best continuation, leading to White picking up a piece quickly, although the text move wins as well. 29...g6 30.£xe5 £xe5 31.¥xe5+⁠−
29...¢xh7 is the only way to continue, but is still hopeless. 30.£h5+ £h6 31.£xe5 ¥e6 32.¦fxf7 ¥xf7 33.¦xf7 ¦g8 34.¦f3 and Black is going to lose the queen.
30.£h5 ¥g4 31.£h4 ¦d7 32.¥g6+ ¢g8 33.£h7+ ¢f8 34.¦xf7+ ¤xf7 35.£xg7+ ¢e8 36.¥xf7+ ¢e7 37.¥g6+ ¢d8 38.¥f6+ £xf6 39.£xf6+ ¦e7 40.£xe7#
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27 January 2016

DVD completed: Improve Your Tactics with Tania Sachdev

"Tactics flow from a positionally superior game"
  -- Robert Fischer, My 60 Memorable Games

The above quote, which IM Tania Sachdev paraphrases a couple of times during her commentary on this DVD, sums up well the approach to tactics that it takes.  Most of the content is centered around the idea of incorporating tactics and positional play, in a number of real-world game examples. Along with major combinations and ideas that are demonstrated for you (or that you are asked to find) are a number of useful recurring minor concepts that you will see (even if they are not always explicitly highlighted).

This kind of "extra" learning through observation is a feature of any level of game analysis you may practice.  However, the interactivity of the computer DVD format is explicitly intended to help you think actively when you are going through all of the games.  One of the more useful reminders for me, as seen in several of the games, was the importance of the concept of tactically defending pieces (i.e. if the technically unprotected material is taken, then a tactic will result); this is a common feature in master games, but an idea that is often neglected (or poorly executed) at lower levels.

The DVD's content includes:
  • 7 classic top-level games with tactical concepts presented.  The best for me was Karpov-Kasparov (1985 World Championship, 16th game), although seeing Short-Timman (Tilburg, 1991) never gets old, with the idea of the king march.
  • 17 tactics quiz games.  Key themes include cutting off flight squares in king hunts, sacrificing material to restrict opponent's development/piece activity (as in the above Karpov-Kasparov game), sacrifice for a positional advantage (where you need to be able to evaluate the resulting position as favorable), and using "quiet moves" in order to shut off an opponent's counterplay before executing a tactic (often necessary for its success).  There's even a nice recent example of a smothered mate tactic in a high-level game.
Comments based on my experience:
  • I considered it a bonus that IM Sachdev uses her own games (including one loss) for a majority of the tactics quiz examples.  As is common in analyzing your own games, it's thereby easier to pick out key moments and explain your thinking process.
  • The tactics quizzes are presented in a "what's the best move" format and positional ideas are also included in the commentary. While these are not hardcore tactics drills, this approach helps illustrate more of the "real world" considerations for evaluating a position.  The quizzes often go through multiple moves in sequences from the same game, thereby providing more depth than one-off tactics problems.  I was able to get most of them, although a couple of the longer and more complex combinations escaped me.  While it's always a little frustrating and disappointing not to get a solution, it's always good for training to be exposed to the ideas that you weren't able to see, which helps fill in the holes in your game.  It was especially useful for me to further concentrate on mating nets, for example, which for a long time has been a weakness in my board sight.
  • The emphasis is on exposing you to a variety of tactical ideas, presented in no particular order, rather than having a more structured analysis of tactical themes and patterns.  For that type of approach, it's best to look at resources such as Martin Weteschnik's Understanding Chess Tactics or Ward Farnsworth's Predator at the Chessboard.
  • Sometimes explicit analysis of other options and variations are included besides the game continuation, although this is hit-or-miss.  One benefit of the database DVD format is that you can always look at the games directly and analyze variations outside the recorded DVD presentation.
  • The presentation has some technical issues, including a more stream-of-consciousness game presentation style and a few mistakes made "live" when replaying games.  Although they are always subsequently corrected, occasionally after a bit of a delay, it makes you wonder why ChessBase won't allow (or insist on) more preparation, and/or a second take of the recording session when a significant error is made, especially for segments that are just a couple minutes long.  This has been a general practice for ChessBase DVD recordings, though, so I'm not picking on IM Sachdev here.

24 January 2016

Exercise the thing you are bad at

From AoxomoxoA wondering:
Most people exercise the things they are already good in and dont want to do any exercise where they are bad and would benefit most. They like where they are good and are good in what they like, they dont like where they are bad and are bad in what they cant do good. Thats an other reason why it is so important to change method and subject of the training drastically from time to time.
The above observation I think is particularly relevant to my own practice and should resonate with a lot of improving chessplayers.

My two principal "bad" areas when I started this blog were tactics and endgames.  Despite having a busy scholastic playing record and periodic tournaments as an adult, I had never looked at studying tactics in a serious, organized way.  I think a large part of it was the mental trap of "playing styles" - I considered myself a "positional" player, to the detriment of my overall game.  While I'm not a tactics genius now, I have a far, far better appreciation for tactical possibilities and attacking play, which has translated into being able to beat stronger players and find additional successful tactics over the board (on defense as well as attack).  This was done by:
  • Doing regular training in chunks of 10-15 minutes at the Chess Tactics Server, for hands-on practical experience.  This has been supplemented by using the tactics trainer at Chess.com, which provides more complex examples but is also a bit inconsistent at times.
  • Going through Understanding Chess Tactics by FM Martin Weteschnik, which gave me a much better conceptual foundation for recognizing tactical ideas.
  • Working through much of Predator at the Chessboard, which is a site (and companion book) by Ward Farnsworth.
As a result, tactics training is now something I should continue to do, but tactics ability is no longer a gaping hole in my overall game.  

Endgames, however, continue to be that way, above all since I don't like them and am not as good at them (getting back to the original observation from above).  I've made several false starts at more comprehensive endgame study for exactly that reason, but have decided that this year will be one of endgame success.  I therefore pledge to finish all the endgame DVDs I have in my possession (Essential Endgame Knowledge by IM Danny Kopec and GM Karsten Muller's Chess Endgames 1, 2 and 3), as well as making it through IM Jeremy Silman's Essential Chess Endings Explained Move by Move (vol. 1), which has defeated me more than once to date.

23 January 2016

Commentary: Golden Apricot 2015, Round 1 (Cam - Volkov)

This game finishes off the 2015 master-level commentary cycle for me.  As a Stonewall Dutch, it's also useful to compare with other related commentary games on this site (and in the downloadable PGN database), including more recently featured wins by Carlsen over Anand and Caruana as Black.  (2015 was certainly a good year for the Stonewall at the top levels).

This particular game is a little different, coming from round 1 of the Golden Apricot tournament in Malatya, Turkey.  In an open tournament, the first round features mismatches between master and amateur players, which while rather hard on the amateurs can actually yield useful lessons for the improving chess player.  (The relatively recent book Grandmaster Versus Amateur for example looks at this theme, as does the classic book by Max Euwe Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur.) It's not often that these types of games are publicized or analyzed, however, so I'm grateful that this one was featured in the above ChessBase tournament news link (which contains some commentary as well by IM Alina l'Ami).

I find that studying these kind of "mismatch" games can help fill an important and often neglected niche in chess study, namely looking at how one should proceed against less-than-perfect play.  I believe this is especially important for opening study, since if you know your opening's key concepts and plans better than your opponent, you should end up in a more advantageous position.  That said, most opening references don't even look at the potential inferior moves by your opponent, even if they are the most commonly played by non-professional players.  The improving player can therefore lose out on a lot of opportunities, from a practical standpoint, by not being exposed to them.

In the game below, White (the amateur) plays a reasonable opening, but one that has some subtle strategic flaws, most notably the c5 advance releasing the tension against Black's central d5 pawn.  Once the queenside is locked up, Black turns his full attention and activity to the kingside, breaking in the center with ...e5 (also a theme in the Anand-Carlsen game linked above).  The end then comes remarkably quickly, as Black executes typical Stonewall attacking ideas that White is unable to understand and block effectively.

Cam, Vedat (1872) - Volkov, Sergey (2589)

Result: 0-1
Site: Malatya TUR
Date: 2015.08.25
[...] 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.¤f3 c6 instead of following up with the standard QGD moves, Black heads for a Stonewall by transposition. 4.e3 ¥d6 typically ... f5 would be played immediately when transposing to the Stonewall. The text move may try to tempt White into the c5 advance, which is normally in Black's favor because it leaves his central d5 outpost unchallenged. 5.¤c3 f5 6.¥d3 ¤f6 Black has now reached the standard Modern Stonewall formation. 7.¥d2 O-O 8.O-O ¤e4 the overwhelming favorite move in the database. Black follows the typical Stonewall plan with his knights, seizing the outpost on e4. With White's bishop on d3, the Nc3 cannot exchange off the Ne4 due to the resulting pawn fork. 9.c5 this move scores only 6 percent (!) in the database out of nine games, illustrating its strategic weakness. 9...¥c7 Black's bishop is no less effective on c7, as its primary function is exerting pressure on the b8-h2 diagonal. 10.b4 a6 there are several different ways Black could play here. The game continuation is relatively straightforward, restraining further advance of the b-pawn, then getting the knight and queen developed. 11.a4 ¤d7 12.b5 White's plan of rapid queenside expansion looks like it puts him ahead of Black in development. White's initiative is only temporary, however, as Black's position holds no weaknesses despite White's space advantage. 12...£f6 this does multiple things for Black, including adding support for the idea of the ...e5 break and positioning the queen well for further action on the kingside. 13.b6 this move is probably unavoidable, according to Komodo 8. Black is threatening to undermine the queenside pawns with ...e5, so maintaining the tension with the b-pawn could eventually lead to a collapse of White's extended pawn formation. However, once the queenside pawns are locked up, then the game becomes strategically much easier for Black; the only open play is on the kingside, which is the natural hunting ground for the Stonewall. 13...¥b8 the bishop is still very much in play here, although the Ra8 is now locked to its square. The problem with the rook will be offset by the inability of White to transfer his queenside rook, or other needed forces, to the kingside in an effective manner. 14.¦c1 e5 illustrating the classic principle of reacting to a flank advance by breaking in the center. Note how Black's pieces are activated by this freeing advance. In addition to the strategic aspects, there is now a tactical threat of ...Nxc3 followed by the pawn fork ...e4. 15.¤e2
15.¤xe5 disrupting Black's formation in the center is the only way to stay relatively equal. 15...¥xe5 16.dxe5 ¤xe5 17.¥b1 £e7 18.¥e1 ¤c4 (18...¤xc5?19.¤xd5 cxd5 20.£xd5+)
15...¤xd2 16.¤xd2 e4³ this is no longer a double attack, but is still a highly advantageous move. The pawn lever ...f4 is now an obvious future threat. 17.¥b1 £h6 hitting h2. A standard follow-up plan for Black would now be ...g5, coupled with ...Nf6, ...Kh8 and ...Rg8, to get the kingside attack rolling. 18.g3? under pressure, White chooses poorly. Blunting the attack on the b8-h2 diagonal looks like an obvious choice, but now Black can end things much more quickly. (18.h3³) 18...¤f6−⁠+ usually, moving a knight to f6 is routine rather than devastating. Here, however, the light-square weakness on the kingside means that it can go to g4 and combine with the Qh6 on the attack. White has no good options to defend against this threat. 19.¢g2 (19.h4 ¤g4 20.¦c3 g5−⁠+) (19.f3 £xe3+−⁠+) 19...f4! there's a reason this pawn advance is a key attacking concept in the Dutch. White's position now falls apart; Black has a significant preponderance of material participating in the kingside attack, having with f5-f4 just added the Bc8 to it (removing the blocking pawn on f5 and hitting h3). Meanwhile, White's pieces are barely in the game. 20.exf4
20.¤xf4 temporarily staves off defeat, but Black can then penetrate White's position at his leisure. 20...¥xf4 21.h4 (21.exf4 £h3+ 22.¢g1 ¤g4−⁠+) 21...¥b8 22.£e2 ¥g4 23.£e1 £h5 24.f3 exf3+ 25.¤xf3 ¤e4−⁠+
20...£h3+ and the follow-up ...Ng4 cannot be stopped.
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