21 May 2016

Annotated Game #158: Openings that aren't as bad as you think

The next tournament game features a provocative opening from my opponent (White), which however unusual, was not in fact bad.  This is a common theme in tournament play, where it can be easy to underestimate your opponent based on an unfamiliar or goofy-looking opening choice.  This can be as early as the opening move (1. b4!?) or, as in the below game, an early divergence.  These lines need to be evaluated critically and carefully and not simply dismissed as inferior, especially if your opponent has experience playing their pet lines.

In this game, the divergence comes quite early (3. g4) and is aggressive in nature, so had to be taken seriously; passive moves that diverge from standard "book" ones are obviously less of a threat.  I responded unevenly to the challenge and would have benefited from playing more according to opening principles, as shown in the annotations.  Among other things, I should have focused more on checking tactics in the openings (a recent theme) and concentrating on development and a central breakthrough once my opponent's king was stranded in the center.  Despite a flash of brilliance (moves 22-23) which should have led to a win, I let the game slip away and also missed a chance to win the resulting king and pawn endgame.  All in all, a very uneven performance, but I also give credit to my opponent, who played significantly stronger than his rating.

Class D - ChessAdmin

Result: 1/2-1/2
D00:1 d4 d5: Unusual lines
[...] 1.d4 d5 2.e3 ¥f5 played early to avoid White getting in Bd3 first. This has the disadvantage of allowing the game continuation, however. 3.g4 although this looks like a strictly beginner move, it's not as bad as it seems at first glance. 3...¥e4 the obvious "retreat" (forward) for the bishop, provoking the next move. 4.f3 ¥g6 5.h4 h6
5...h5 6.g5 e6 7.¥d3 ¥xd3 8.£xd3 ¥d6 9.f4 ¤e7 10.¤e2 ¤f5 11.¤d2 O-O 12.¤f3 c5 13.b3 ¤c6 14.c3 a6 15.¥d2 b5 16.O-O c4 17.£c2 £c7 18.b4 a5 19.a3 ¦a6 20.a4 axb4 21.axb5 b3 22.£b2 ¦xa1 23.¦xa1 ¤a7 24.£b1 ¤xb5 25.¥c1 £b7 26.¢f2 ¦a8 27.¦xa8+ £xa8 28.¥b2 ¥a3 29.¥a1 ¤bd6 30.¤g3 ¤xg3 31.¢xg3 ¤e4+ 32.¢g2 b2 33.¥xb2 £b7 0-1 (33) Budrewicz,H (1603)-Mietek,L (1959) Mazowsze 2009
6.h5 ¥h7 7.¥d3 ¤f6 a slightly unusual idea, but it gets Komodo's approval. The more conventional ...Bxd3 would also be fine, but I didn't want to leave White having the only piece developed and more space. 8.c4 (8.¤e2 c5)
8.¥xh7 ¤xh7 controlling the g5 square is actually a valuable mission for the knight here
8...e6 played as an "obvious" move, in order to develop the dark-square bishop. In the game I mis-evaluated the capture on d3 as benefiting White more, by developing the queen, but this is simply not the case. Taking on c4 and making the bishop effectively waste a tempo by recapturing is also a good option. (8...¥xd3 9.£xd3 ¤c6) (8...dxc4 9.¥xc4 e6) 9.c5?! this is a classic Class player mistake. The pawn chain is over-extended and can be immediately challenged and broken...although unfortunately this is not something I do. (9.¥xh7 ¦xh7 10.cxd5 ¤xd5) 9...¥e7 again played automatically, although it is not bad in itself.
9...¥xd3 10.£xd3 b6 11.cxb6 (11.b4 a5µ) 11...axb6µ Black will now be able to challenge for central control and gain space with ...c5, while the dark-square bishop will find a good home on d6 or e7 and help dominate the dark squares.
10.¤c3 ¤c6 again, not a bad move, but I am simply not understanding the needs of the position (challenge the advanced c-pawn and trade off the Bd3, as in the previous variation). 11.¤ge2 e5 this is a bit premature. (11...¥xd3 12.£xd3 O-O better prepares Black for the central struggle.) 12.¥xh7 ¤xh7 13.£b3 this was very annoying and something that I had not spotted, which resulted from a failure to check tactics in the opening phase. Now I place too much emphasis on the material, rather than development, which is a mistake. The fact that White's king is in the center should signal that development and a quick central breakthrough is the key to the position. 13...¥h4+?! taking advantage of White's dark-square holes, but in a premature way. The major problem with the move is that the Qd8 is now tied to the Bh4's defense.
14.£xb7?!14...£d7 15.£b3 ¦ad8µ with ... Ng5 to follow, giving Black major pressure in the center and the kingside.
14...¥f6 and Black has full compensation for the pawn, for example 15.£xd8 ¦axd8 16.dxe5 ¤xe5 17.O-O ¦fe8 18.¢g2 ¤d3
14.¢d1²14...O-O?! this would now allow a legitimate snatch of the b7 pawn by White, but my opponent does not take advantage of the opportunity.
14...exd4 can be played immediately. 15.exd4 ¦b8 16.£xd5 ¥f2 17.¥f4 ¥xd4 18.£xd8+ ¢xd8²
15.¤xd5?! taking the wrong pawn. (15.£xb7 exd4 16.exd4 £f6 17.¦xh4 £xh4 18.£xc6±) 15...exd4³16.e4 although the previous move correctly supported the Nd5, the d4 pawn is now a thorn in White's side. 16...¤a5
16...¤f6!? bringing the knight back into play is better, as the b7 pawn is tactically protected. For example 17.£xb7??17...¤xd5 18.exd5 £xd5−⁠+ and Black is dominant.
17.£d3 ¥e7? played to get the bishop out of the line of fire, but ignoring White's potential threat. (17...c6!?18.¤df4 b6) 18.b4
18.¥f4!18...¥xc5 19.¥xc7 £d7 20.¥xa5 £a4+ 21.¢c1 £xa5 22.a3 £a6 23.£xa6 bxa6± gives White an easy plus, as Black finds the d4 pawn hard to protect and has doubled a-pawns.
18...¤c6 19.¥b2 threatening the d-pawn, but this is not so critical.
19.¥f4!? is best, but no longer packs the same punch as in the previous variation. 19...a5 20.¥xc7 £d7 and White has too many things to worry about (the b4 pawn, the c7 bishop, etc.) to be able to consolidate the pawn advantage. Not to mention that his king is stuck in the center.
19...¤f6³20.¤xe7+ my opponent understands that simply capturing the d-pawn is not good, but this actually makes things worse for him. Part of his problem is that the Qd3 is hanging, giving Black some tactical ideas. (20.¤xd4 ¤xd5 21.¤xc6 bxc6 22.exd5 ¦b8µ) 20...£xe7µ21.a3? an obvious move, to reinforce the b-pawn, but now Black's forces swing into action. (21.¤g3!?µ) 21...¤e5 22.£b3 d3−⁠+23.¤d4 ¤xf3! this should have been the winning move, cracking open the center. 24.£xd3 (24.¤xf3?24...£xe4) 24...¤xd4 25.¥xd4 ¦ad8 26.¢c2 ¤xg4µ obvious, but not best. Conceptually, it would be better to bring other pieces into the attack first. Also, White has an obvious response that generates a threat. (26...£e6!?27.¦he1−⁠+) (26...¦fe8−⁠+) 27.¦hg1 ¦xd4?! this was unnecessary.
27...£e6!?µ is something that I completely missed, a subtle queen move that solves Black's problems.
28.£xd4³28...¦d8 29.£xd8+ £xd8 30.¦xg4 at this point I started thinking draw, although the engine shows an advantage for Black. Queen endings are tricky in general. In this case, I had an ideal one, with White's king being in the open and lots of space for my queen to maneuver. 30...£d4 31.¦ag1 £f2+ (31...¢f8!?µ) 32.¢b3 £d4 showing a lack of imagination. (32...£f3+ 33.¢a4 ¢f8 34.¦xg7 £xe4µ) 33.¦xg7+ £xg7 heading for a drawn K+P ending. 34.¦xg7+ ¢xg7 35.e5? I knew this was a mistake, although I didn't take full advantage of it. The pawn is unsupported and can be traded off to Black's benefit. (35.¢c4!? might be a viable alternative) 35...f5 (35...f6!36.exf6+ ¢xf6−⁠+) 36.¢c3 correctly not exchanging. 36...¢f7 37.¢d4 ¢e6 38.a4? unfortunately my lack of endgame familiarity leads me to miss the win. (38.b5 c6 39.a4 f4³) 38...f4 (38...a6−⁠+ and Black gets the upper hand.) 39.¢e4 f3 40.¢xf3 ¢xe5 41.¢g4 b6 (41...c6!?42.¢f3 a6 43.¢e3 ¢f5 44.¢d4 ¢f4 45.b5 a5) 42.c6 (42.cxb6 cxb6 43.a5 b5³) 42...a5 (42...a6!?³) 43.b5 and now there's no escaping the draw, for either player. 43...¢e4 44.¢g3 ¢e3 45.¢g4 ¢e4 46.¢g3 ¢e3 Twofold repetition 47.¢g4 ¢e4
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18 May 2016

How do you become a master (according to someone who is)

One of the best chess blogs currently active is the simply-titled "dana blogs chess" (also linked in the sidebar).  Probably the most succinct and useful summation (that I've seen) of what it takes to become a chess master is contained in his recent "How Do You Become A Life Master?" post.  He draws on an experience of being interviewed to further contemplate the question, with excellent results (and comments).

I'll let you read all of the specific chess observations via the original linked post above, but here's an excerpted general observation which I think is also very relevant for any improving player (or person...)
The question was, “If you could talk with your 20-year-old self, what would you say to them?”
I had two pieces of advice for my 20-year-old self. The first was: Don’t be afraid of failure. Before I was 20, all I did was succeed, succeed, succeed. (Except at things like sports, where I failed early and often. However, it is socially acceptable for a nerd to be bad at sports.) But three of my most formative experiences, the things that taught me humility and forced me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, were failures.

15 May 2016

Annotated Game #157: Halfway tournament turning point

This round 5 game - now over the halfway mark - was a performance turning point for me in the tournament.  I had been struggling a lot in previous games and generally speaking played more fluidly from this point forward.  Given that it had been several months since my previous tournament, perhaps this was simply the necessary "warmup" time required.  In any case, my opponent in this game was significantly lower-rated and did not seem to be as focused on fighting as hard as possible, also moving faster than she should have.

In the game, a tactical mistake on move 8 (which I did not catch until move 9) gave me a significant advantage and I was able to consolidate and expand it going forward.  The win was relatively easy, but still interesting given the position, so it helped put me in a better frame of mind for subsequent rounds.  A lesson reinforced for me, however, was to always check tactics in the opening when in an unfamiliar position, even if elements of it are common to my experience.  This also cropped up later on (see move 26), pointing out the importance of examining checks, captures and threats (CCT).

ChessAdmin - Class C

Result: 1-0
A11: English Opening: 1...c6
[...] 1.c4 c6 2.¤f3 d5 3.g3 ¤f6 4.¥g2 White is taking a gambit approach here, rather than worrying about the c-pawn, in the spirit of Queen's Gambit type positions. 4...g6 Black decides to fianchetto the king's bishop as well, leading to a largely symmetrical position. 5.O-O ¥g7 6.d3 I played this primarily to keep the game out of traditional queen's pawn opening territory. Of course it is a helpful move in itself, reinforcing c4 and contesting e4. I wanted to play b3, but at the time I believed that the Bg7 on the long diagonal would make that impossible. However, this is not the case.
6.d4 would be a straight transposition to a Schlecter Slav variation, which is normally very good for White (and scores 61 percent from this position).
6.b3!?6...¤e4 7.d4 O-O 8.¥b2 a5 9.¤bd2 ¥f5 10.¤h4 ¤xd2 11.£xd2 ¥e6 12.f4 dxc4 13.f5 gxf5 14.¤xf5 ¥xf5 15.¦xf5 e6 16.¦h5 cxb3 17.axb3 ¤d7 18.¦g5 f6 19.¦gxa5 ¦xa5 20.£xa5 £xa5 21.¦xa5 ¤b6 22.e4 ¦d8 23.¦a7 ¦d7 24.¢f2 ¢f7 25.¥h3 ¤c8 26.¦a8 ¤d6 27.¢f3 ¤b5 28.¦a4 ¦d8 29.¥g4 f5 30.¥h5+ ¢e7 31.e5 ¥h6 32.¢e2 ¥g5 33.¥f3 ¥h6 34.¥g2 ¥g5 35.¥f1 ¥h6 36.¢f3 ¥f8 37.¢e3 ¢f7 38.¥c4 ¥e7 39.¢e2 ¦d7 40.¢e3 ¦d8 41.¥xb5 cxb5 42.¦a7 ¦d7 43.¦a8 b4 44.¦h8 ¢g7 45.¦c8 ¢f7 46.¢d3 h5 47.¢c4 h4 48.¥c1 hxg3 49.hxg3 ¥f8 50.¥g5 ¥g7 51.¦d8 ¦c7+ 52.¢xb4 ¥f8+ 53.¢a4 ¦c3 54.¥f4 b5+ 55.¢xb5 ¦xb3+ 56.¢c4 ¦a3 57.¦d7+ ¢e8 58.¦b7 ¦a4+ 59.¢c3 ¦a3+ 60.¢c4 ¦a4+ 61.¢c3 ¦a3+ 62.¢c2 ¥e7 63.¦c7 ¦f3 64.¦a7 ¢d8 65.¦a5 ¢d7 66.d5 exd5 67.¦xd5+ ¢e6 68.¦a5 ¦f2+ 69.¢d3 ¦f3+ 70.¢c4 ¦f1 71.¦a6+ ¢f7 72.¦a7 ¢e6 73.¦a6+ ¢f7 74.¢d5 ¦d1+ 75.¢c6 ¢e6 76.¢c7+ ¢f7 77.¦h6 ¥d8+ 78.¢c6 ¥e7 79.¦h7+ ¢e6 80.¦h6+ ¢f7 81.¢c7 ¥d8+ 82.¢c8 ¥e7 83.¦c6 ¦d5 84.e6+ ¢f6 85.¥c1 ¦c5 86.¥b2+ ¢g5 87.¦xc5 ¥xc5 88.¥e5 f4 89.gxf4+ ¢f5 90.¢d7 1-0 (90) Mikhalevski,V (2535)-Rozhko,D (2313) Minsk 2015
6...O-O 7.¥g5 I thought that it would be too awkward to try and develop the bishop via b2, so this is an alternative. The text move also tempts Black to play h6 and create a potential target of the h-pawn, although ...h6 is not bad in itself.
7.£c2 tends to be the choice of high-level players in this position, opting for flexible development.
7...¤bd7 this is rather restrictive for Black, although solid.
7...h6 8.¥d2 ¤bd7 9.¥c3 dxc4 10.dxc4 £c7 11.¤bd2 b6 12.¦c1 ¥b7 13.£c2 ¦fe8 14.e4 e5 15.¦fd1 ¦ad8 16.¤f1 ¤h7 1/2-1/2 (16) Angyal,F (1958)-Kovacs,I (1820) Hungary 2014
8.£c1 a rather obvious approach to the position, but I felt exchanging the Bg7 would be strategically advantageous.
8.cxd5 is an interesting idea. 8...¤xd5 9.£d2 £b6 10.¤c3 ¤xc3 11.bxc3 ¦e8 12.¦ab1 £c7 13.d4 ¤b6 14.¥f4 £d8 15.e4 ¥e6 16.¦fd1 £c8 17.¥h6 ¥g4 18.£f4 ¥xf3 19.¥xf3 e5 20.£c1 ¥xh6 21.£xh6 £e6 22.d5 cxd5 23.exd5 £d6 24.¦b4 f5 25.h4 ¦ac8 26.£e3 e4 27.¥e2 ¦c5 28.h5 ¦ec8 29.hxg6 hxg6 30.£d4 ¦xc3 31.¢g2 ¦c1 32.¦b1 ¦xb1 33.¦xb1 ¦c7 34.¦d1 ¦e7 35.a4 a6 36.a5 ¤d7 37.¦b1 £e5 38.£c4 £d6 39.¦xb7 e3 40.f4 ¢f7 41.£c6 1-0 (41) Saulina,V (2253)-Romanko,M (2404) Magnitogorsk 2011
8...¤c5? not seeing the tactical problem with the "loose" knight. (8...dxc4 9.£xc4 ¤d5 10.£c2) 9.¥h6?! here I was simply playing on automatic in the opening phase and continued with the idea of the minor piece trade, without first checking tactics.
9.cxd5 simply wins a pawn, due to the hanging Nc5. 9...£d6 10.dxc6±
9...¥d7 my opponent however also fails to pay sufficient attention to the position and catch her previous mistake, so I finally spot the tactic, which now requires exchanging bishops first. (9...¥xh6!?10.£xh6 dxc4) 10.¥xg7±10...¢xg7 11.cxd5 ¤a4
11...£b6 would be at least temporarily more challenging for White, creating a more awkward position for me. 12.dxc6 ¥xc6 13.¤a3±
12.dxc6 ¥xc6 I'm now a pawn up with no compensation for my opponent, but it's hardly an overwhelming position. 13.¤c3 ¤b6 The knight maneuver has mostly wasted time for my opponent. Looking at the position, the Bc6 is well placed for Black, so I decide to gain some space on the queenside and chase it off the long diagonal. (13...¦c8 14.£d2±) 14.b4 a6 15.£b2 supporting an eventual push of the b-pawn and placing the queen on the long diagonal. 15...¢g8 getting the king off the long diagonal. Prudent, but Black continues to lose time. 16.a4 ¤bd7 the knight returns to its original developed square, having consumed a number of tempi to get there. The extra time for development has given me a significantly better position in comparison, which the engine evaluates as nearly two pawns up (one for the material, the other for positional factors). My queen and minor pieces are well-placed, while Black's (apart from the Bc6) aren't doing much. (16...a5 17.¦fc1±) 17.b5 ¥d5 I'm happy to make the minor piece trade, giving me an unopposed light-square bishop on the long diagonal. (17...axb5 18.axb5 ¥xf3 19.¥xf3±) 18.¤xd5 ¤xd5 19.¦fc1+⁠− there's an ironic saying in analysis that it's always the "wrong rook" you pick when you have a choice of which one to move to a square, here it seems obvious that White can best employ both rooks on the queenside. 19...£b6 (19...a5 20.¤e5 e6 21.¤c4+⁠−) 20.£d4 I was perfectly fine with getting the queens off the board and heading into an endgame with both a material and positional advantage.
20.e4 is preferred by the engine. 20...¤5f6 21.e5 ¤d5 22.¤d2 e6 23.¤c4+⁠−
20...e6 (20...£xd4 21.¤xd4 ¤7f6 22.a5+⁠−) 21.£xb6 ¤7xb6 22.a5 this seemed the simplest approach to gaining space and further harassing Black's pieces. 22...¤d7 23.b6 this may not be necessary at this point, but I wanted to not have to worry about pawn exchanges and also get a lock on the c7 square. (23.e4 ¤b4 24.¦c7+⁠−) 23...¦fc8 24.¤d2 ¤c3 for once, I had spotted this knight move as a potential threat to e2 in advance and had calculated that moving the king would be good for me as a response. 25.¢f1 ¦ab8 (25...¤d5!?) 26.¦c2 a good enough move, but not the best.
26.¥xb7! is an example of how I should have been using CCT to find winning tactics. 26...¦xb7 27.¦a3+⁠− - this situation combines a deflection tactic (the defending rook to b7) with a pin and double attack on the Nc3. White wins material.
26...¤d5 27.¦ac1 ¦xc2 28.¦xc2 being a pawn up and having a stranglehold on the c-file, along with the strong Bg2, gives me a winning game. However, it still has to be won. 28...¢f8 29.d4 here I want to take away the e5 square from Black's knight and use my central pawn to gain space. 29...¢e8 30.¦c4 looking to prevent ...Nb4-c6.
30.e4!? can also be played immediately. 30...¤b4 31.¦c7 ¤c6 32.¤c4+⁠−
30...¢d8 31.e4 ¤e7 32.¤b3 proactively protecting a5 from a potential ...Nc6 from my opponent, and also allowing a possible jump to c5. Not the most effective move, however.
32.e5!? is also a good way of preventing ...Nc6. 32...¤d5 33.¤e4+⁠−
32...¤c6 so a knight ends up on c6 anyway, but it doesn't last long there. (32...¦c8 33.¦xc8+ ¢xc8 34.¢e2+⁠−) 33.d5 ¤ce5 34.¦c7 by this point it's obvious White will eventually crack Black's position, although not necessarily quickly. Black now gets desperate and the game slips away much faster. 34...¤d3?! (34...¦c8 35.¦xb7 ¦c3 36.¤d4+⁠−) 35.dxe6
35.¥h3 played immediately makes it even easier for White. 35...¦c8 36.¦xb7 ¤3c5 37.¤xc5 ¦xc5 38.dxe6 fxe6 39.¥xe6 ¤f8+⁠−
35...fxe6 36.¥h3 this is a move that all English players - or anyone who likes to fianchetto the king's bishop - should keep in mind as a possibility; sometimes it is too easy to simply leave a bishop on its originally developed square without thinking of making the slight adjustment in position to h3. Here it has a great effect, guaranteeing material loss for Black. 36...¢e7 37.f4 cutting off Black's pieces from the e5 square. 37...h6 38.¢e2 and Black will lose either the d3 or the d7 knight, for example after ...Nb4 39. Nc5
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