20 August 2014

Annotated Game #131: First Blood

Following the tournament that wrapped up with Annotated Game #130, I felt confident that I'd had a significant breakthrough in my chess performance and started fantasizing some about being able to break the Class A barrier in my next tournament. This did not reflect the more neutral and calm mental mindset I possessed in the previous tournament and undoubtedly reduced my overall effectiveness as a player.

Although the following game was a win, it showed some old, negative tendencies on my part such as a significant drop in quality of play when making the transition to the middlegame.  Here in the opening, one can point to the conceptually dubious 9...Bb4 as the start of the downward trend, followed by my failure to attend to my opponent's threats (another common error).  However, I manage to break the trend starting with the counterblow 19...e5 and after a weak response by White (including unjustified pawn-grabbing) I established a dominant passed c-pawn, whose threats eventually win the game.

By the time this series of tournament games is over, I should have additional insights into the course of the tournament and the inconsistency shown in overall results compared to its predecessor.

08 August 2014

Commentary: Biel 2014 - round 6

The following game, from round 6 of the Biel GM tournament, finishes off a trifecta of Slow Slav commentary games, following the more classic 4...Bf5 approach of the first one.  Analyzing the game in the context of similar recent GM-level ones was quite helpful to understanding the thematic ideas, especially in looking at the opening to middlegame transition.  This has been a particular weakness of mine and seeing which ideas are common (and why), along with alternatives at certain points, significantly improved my understanding of the variation and both sides' plans.  Specifically, examining the decision by Black to castle early or late, resolving the central tension with ...dxc4 followed by the ...c5 pawn break, and the prophylactic ...a6 yielded useful insights.  All in all, a worthwhile example of a more holistic approach to opening study.

06 August 2014

What makes a chess nemesis?

A recent article by IM Silman at chess.com, "The Difficult Opponent", provides some useful insight into what makes particular individuals - of similar strength or even below that of a player - become someone else's chess nemesis.  Silman never actually uses the word "nemesis", but many of us have experienced the phenomenon where it seems that every time you play a certain opponent, they "have your number".

The article focuses on the idea of a matchup in chess style between two players that significantly favors one side, rather than emphasizing the psychological factors between the two players, although Silman also gives that some credit.  However, although he provides some entertaining examples, he never really defines what aspects of the chessplayers' styles contributed to this.

By comparison, the factors that go into personal pluses or minuses against particular opponents were also discussed by Viktor Kortchnoi in his "My Life for Chess" DVD interviews.  There he talked about his record against various top players during different phases of his career, which sometimes had more to do with playing strength and preparation, while other times it seemed more due to psychological dynamics.

To gain additional personal insight into this, I examined one series of games played during the later portion of my scholastic career against an opponent with whom I always had significantly more trouble than others.  In two out of three games I nevertheless managed an undeserved result (win or draw).  He had a somewhat unusual style, content to exchange off and head for endgames, which he understood better.  This matched up in an asymmetrical way with my understanding of endgames (nearly nonexistent) and the transition from middlegame to endgame.  My opening selection was also conducive to his style, as I had White in all three games and played an unambitious line in the English against his Queen's Indian setup.  What I think threw him off in the end was my refusal to give up (tenacity) and my ability (with some luck) to find unexpected tactical resources.  One could even say that we were "difficult opponents" for each other, for different reasons.

Another more recent example for me has been a two-game tournament losing streak against a lower-rated opponent.  Both games I should have won and I was looking forward to the second one as a revenge opportunity (which never materialized).  I hope the third time in fact, will be the charm.

Which brings us back around to the psychological factors.  I analyzed both of the games (the first being Annotated Game #116) and the common feature in both was that I made things more complicated for myself - and simpler for the opponent - than they needed to be.  Part of the challenge in my next game with this opponent, if and when it occurs, will be making the necessary correction in my approach to the game, along with not getting psyched out by our previous history.  I think the latter consideration starts to loom large in a player's thoughts after a losing streak gets going, so can become a perpetuation of defeatism.  One way to break out of the mental trap - I believe probably the best one - is to focus on playing the board, not the opponent.  This requires mental toughness but is quite doable, unless your opponent is truly significantly stronger than you are.

26 July 2014

Commentary: Dortmund 2014 - round 5

The following game from round 5 of the prestigious Dortmund tournament caught my eye.  Like the previous commentary game, it falls into the Slow Slav opening category, but with a significant difference in development due to the modern 4...Bg4 variation.  Elements that were particularly useful to see were the kingside development for both sides in the early stages; the jockeying for central position and pawn structure around move 14; Black's tactical maneuver that nets him a pawn and seizes the initiative on move 25; and the endgame play which negates the material advantage.  This game is also another excellent example of the importance of evaluating the effects of piece exchanges.

19 July 2014

Commentary: Plovdiv (European Women's Individual Championship) - Round 7

There have been a number of high-level international events recently, including the ongoing Dortmund tournament from which I'll select a commentary game for the next post. The following game is from round 7 of the European Women's Individual Championship held in Plovdiv.  GM Valentina Gunina dominated the event with the strength of her play and did not flag in the final rounds, as so often happens with tournament leaders.  In the below game she finds a way to win in the "Slow Slav" variation as Black, which is a crucial test of the opening at the top levels; encounters such as these are therefore well worth studying.