28 October 2012

Annotated Game #69: It should have been easy

The following, a final-round tournament game, follows the path of Annotated Game #53 through move 10 in a quirky sideline of the Caro-Kann Classical.  In contrast to the previous game, this time I correctly hit on the idea of playing 12...Qa5+ and equalize immediately.  However, I choose a somewhat passive follow-up with ...Qc7 and then give White some chances to obtain the initiative.

A further bit of awkward play by Black allows White to create some menacing-looking threats down the h-file.  White manages to use the optical threat - as the engines point out, there is no real one - to bluff Black out of accepting a bishop sacrifice on move 22.  Black was too afraid of the h-file "threats" to see that White in fact cannot break through.  Despite this, Black is still equal and then manages to build up some real threats of his own on the queenside using the half-open c-file.  Alas, Black mishandles the attack and settles for a drawn position in the end, where his rook perpetually chases the White king around.

This really should have been an easy game for Black, whether to secure equality and a likely draw early on (with 13...Qf5) or to win by picking up the piece on move 22.  Instead, Black sees too many ghosts and makes things much more complicated than they should be.  At least the failed attack on the queenside is instructive, among other things showing how Black should have opened rather than closed lines with his pawns and could have better exploited the c-file.

25 October 2012

Vacation; Blogger Quad Tournament

I'll be on vacation until mid-November.  Or "on holiday" if you speak the Queen's English.

I expect to return refreshed and ready for the chess fight.  Hopefully the Blogger Quad, or as Rocky Rook calls it, the Round Turkey Tournament, will be waiting for me when I get back.  If it goes off as planned, I will analyze the games here for everyone's enjoyment (or horror, depending on how the games go).

20 October 2012

Book completed: The Big Sleep


From Chapter 24 of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep:
I went over to a floor lamp and pulled the switch, went back to put off the ceiling light, and went across the room again to the chessboard on a card table under the lamp.  There was a problem laid out on the board, a six-mover.  I couldn't solve it, like a lot of my problems.  I reached down and moved a knight, then pulled my hat and coat off and threw them somewhere.  All this time the soft giggling went on from the bed, that sound that made me think of rats behind a wainscoting in an old house.

And a bit later...
I looked down at the chessboard.  The move with the knight was wrong.  I put it back where I had moved it from.  Knights had no meaning in this game.  It wasn't a game for knights.

Annotated Game #68: How to deal with the QGD setup in the English?

The following seventh-round tournament game features an old problem: how to deal with the Queen's Gambit Declined (QGD) setup in the English.  White tries yet another approach, this time exchanging on d5 immediately.  Analysis of the game shows that this is not a bad way to play, particularly if White had tried a different approach on move 8; the game included in the notes from Jesse Kraai is interesting to see, in that respect.

Prior to embarking on a comprehensive analysis of my tournament games, I had not realized either the frequency with which I had actually faced the QGD, or the difficulties inherent in playing the English against it, rather than simply transposing with d4 to the main lines.  (There of course are plenty of other difficulties involved in that, including the large body of opening theory.)  As a result, I've now worked out a reasonably consistent approach involving an early e3, which I'm satisfiied with (if not completely happy).  This should have better practical results than essentially randomly picking from the variety of other early move choices (4. g3, 4. b3 and 4. cxd5).  As I noted in Annotated Game #64, the lack of such a consistent approach made it feel like I was playing a new, unfamiliar opening each time.

Going back to the actual game, White makes a number of small errors and one significant one on move 13.  The engines' recommendation of 13...a5 I found instructive, showing how Black can use that type of pawn lever against White's queenside formation when it is left underdefended.  Although Black retains a noticeable advantage, thanks to White's somewhat incoherent strategic play, White is smart enough to realize it and then manages to trade down into a drawn position.

14 October 2012

Annotated Game #67: Queen's Pawn Opening or Caro-Kann?

This sixth-round tournament game is of generally higher quality than I played in the previous rounds.  White chooses an unchallenging sideline of the Caro-Kann Classical, reached from a rather unusual third-move transposition.  After a double queen pawn opening appears, White's 2. Nc3!? perhaps could have been met more creatively by Black, but after 2...c6 I wanted to see how well my opponent could play either a Caro-Kann (what we ended up with) or a Slav-type structure where the Nc3 would not seem well-placed.  At the board, I had figured that 2. Nc3 implied my opponent would follow up with e4 and was correct.

Black is in fact the first to get into real trouble, with the premature ...c5 pawn break.  This is a repeated conceptual error of mine (as in Annotated Game #62) and a major learning point from the game.  Black's subsequent lack of development and poor protection for his king in the center gave White a real opportunity to put more pressure on.  However, by move 15, Black manages to fully equalize and passes the danger zone.  Now White decides to play too optimistically for a win, disdaining an initial queen trade and then finally being forced into one under less favorable circumstances.  The next turning point comes when Black pressures the isolated d-pawn and White fails to protect it adequately due to a tactical pawn break.  An interesting point of technique by the move 24 variation, in which White voluntarily gives up the d-pawn in order to shatter Black's pawn structure and achieve a level ending.

Despite Black's winning the d-pawn, he soon fritters away his advantage, being overly concerned about White's rook play on the g-file.  After rooks are exchanged off into a drawish knight and pawn ending, White  for some reason essentially deactivates his own pieces, allowing Black to centralize his king and obtain passed d- and a-pawns, giving him a won game...if only Black had pushed his passed pawns.  Black fails to advance one to gain a crucial tempo, then White forces the draw.

Aside from the lesson of the premature ...c5 break, my main takeaway from this game is the value of piece activity in the endgame and some practical experience in analyzing N+P endgames.  The opening transposition is also worth some consideration.

13 October 2012

What makes an annotated game useful?

Perhaps it's better to ask what makes an annotated game most useful.  There are quite a number of things that we can look for in annotations, for example:
  • Openings guidance - traps to avoid, identification of critical lines, explanations of typical ideas and choices
  • Comparison of possible middlegame strategic plans, including ones not chosen
  • Examples of combinations
  • Key tactical ideas, either in the game itself or in variations
  • Methods of conducting an attack
  • Methods of conducting an effective defense
  • Understanding of key turning points in the game and how they came about
  • Evaluations of positional factors
  • Endgame strategies explained
  • Endgame technique explained
  • Meta-factors - these include things like the tournament standing of the players (does one need a win desperately?), personal rivalries, and past history of their meetings
Any game containing all of the above is sure to be very useful for the improving player's understanding of the game.  But how often do you see that?  Rarely, of course.  But some works do offer us this kind of high level of utility
  • Logical Chess Move by Move by Irving Chernev was the first book I completed after starting this blog.  Not all of the games contain all of the elements described above, but on the whole the collection does cover all the bases, at a level of explanation geared toward the club player.
  • I also own John Nunn's Understanding Chess Move by Move and read it a number of years ago.  I will definitely return to it, hopefully with greater concentration and deeper understanding.
  • I'm still working through Bronstein's Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953 on my lunch hours, when possible.  His game annotations vary in depth but are among the most useful and engaging that I've run across.  Naturally those of his own games are very insightful and his willingness to present a critical view of his own thought processes and actions is quite refreshing, as well as instructive.
  • Anatoly Karpov's How to Play the English Opening is an outstanding example of instructive, high-level GM annotations.  Rather than produce a standard opening manual, Karpov annotated a large number of illustrative games in the English at the professional level.  As I noted in the original post, it's not for the faint of heart, although a focused club player should be able to keep up with most of it.
Perhaps you have your own favorites.

I also find it fun and valuable to look at annotated games from ongoing international events, for example those posted on the Chessbase news site.  A recent report on the Polish Team Championship drew my attention for the helpfulness of the two game annotations it contained, particularly the fact that explanations of ideas at key points were provided.  This sort of thing also shows that it doesn't take a huge effort to produce annotations with valuable insights.

While we're on the subject, I think it's also worth re-emphasizing the utility of annotating one's own games as a method of improvement.  In fact, it's hard to see how someone can make significant progress without analyzing and better understanding their own play.  As a somewhat crude example of this, it's been a bit embarrassing for me to repeatedly publish games with the same basic errors in them, for example in the Caro-Kann Advance variation series.  In the past I neglected this type of analysis and as a result simply wasn't even aware of the need to correct my play.  The implications of this for my performance at the chessboard are obvious, as are the benefits of doing game analysis now.

As a final note, one doesn't have to be a master-level player  to usefully annotate games, especially if they're your own.  Some other bloggers in the chess improvement community have done similar things and I'm always interested in seeing what they come up with.  My previous favorite example was TommyG's blog (now defunct) as it was always entertaining to read and the game annotations, which were geared towards self-improvement, I found both useful and motivational.

06 October 2012

Annotated Game #66: How do I hate thee, let me count the ways...

For this fourth-round tournament game, I won't dwell too much on the opening, as it's been the subject of previous posts, such as Annotated Game #63: Third time's the charm (?) - for this fourth time, I shall simple count the ways I hate it.

The rest of the game is in fact worthy of analysis, as the balance swings back and forth between the two sides' plans.  Black's inferior opening gives White an easily superior position and the initiative, but White fails to find the idea of pushing h6, which Black eventually blocks.  Black then strikes back on the queenside, although the basic idea of pressuring the c5 pawn is flawed.

Just as things seem completely locked up, White brashly sacrifices a knight on the queenside in order to get three connected passed pawns.  However, Black spots a key idea (35...d4!) which allows him to demolish the pawns via a deflection tactic.  By move 43 Black has also won the a-pawn and is on the road to victory. Sadly, he is unable to find the active ideas necessary to realize the advantage of the piece and accepts a draw on move 58.

In terms of bigger themes, this game shows:
  • How class-level players often make unsound sacrifices in hopes of winning.
  • How class-level players can fail to realize winning late middlegame/endgame advantages.