20 May 2018

Annotated Game #187: Taking on the "Sniper" with a reloader tactic

(Note: this replaces a previous, duplicated Annotated Game #187)

In the following tournament game, my opponent uses the "Sniper" formation, which was popularized first in a 2011 book then a 2017 ChessBase DVD by FM Charlie Storey.  You can read in more depth about it in the previous links, but basically the idea is to have a system as Black with ...g6, ...Bg7 and ...c5 to meet all of White's options.  Since this formation is a component of some more mainline opening systems, it's not an entirely untrodden path in the opening, although it is an original approach.

Against the English Opening, I don't think the "Sniper" has as much bite, primarily because the key ...c5 pawn move for Black isn't as challenging when White does not yet have a pawn center built up.  Here we get into a Symmetrical English, which is not really what Sniper players are looking to do, and as White by move 9 I feel I have a comfortable, active game.

The turning point of the game is a "reloader" tactic that I spotted the potential for, involving a sacrificial knight fork on g5 that gains me a pawn and a lasting advantage, although I give it back temporarily before my opponent gets too greedy with pawn-grabbing and neglects his king position, allowing me to break through with tactics involving forks, pins and sacrifices.
[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A34"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Komodo 10"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "6"] 1. c4 g6 2. Nf3 Bg7 3. Nc3 c5 {known as the "Sniper" formation. Without a pawn on d4, however, it does not have independent importance.} 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 { now we're in more familiar Symmetrical English territory.} O-O 6. O-O d5 { a more aggressive continuation than maintaining symmetry with ...Nc6. I am fine with exchanging the central pawn and opening the h1-a8 diagonal, however.} 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. Qb3 {the second most popular continuation in the database. I liked the idea of hitting b7 and getting my queen on a good diagonal early.} ( 8. Nxd5 {is more popular, for example in this game by Kramnik:} Qxd5 9. d3 Nc6 10. Be3 Bxb2 11. Rb1 Bg7 12. Qa4 Qd7 13. Bxc5 b6 14. Be3 Nd4 15. Qd1 Bb7 16. Nxd4 Bxg2 17. Kxg2 Bxd4 18. Bxd4 Qxd4 19. Qb3 Rac8 20. Rfc1 Rc5 21. e3 Qd6 22. d4 Ra5 23. Rc2 e5 24. Rd1 Rd8 25. Rcd2 Qd5+ 26. Qxd5 {1/2-1/2 (26) Kramnik,V (2801)-Grischuk,A (2761) Moscow 2012}) 8... Nb6 9. d3 {needed to release the bishop. The d4 square is dominated by Black, but I nonetheless have comfortable development.} Be6 {taking the diagonal for his own, but in the process blocking any idea of advancing the e-pawn.} 10. Qc2 h6 {taking the g5 square away from the Nf3 (and the Bc1). However, Black is starting to get behind in development.} 11. Be3 {developing and targeting the c-pawn, which is isolated from its natural support (the b-pawn) by the Nb6.} Qc8 12. Rfd1 { here I thought for a while, as I saw no obvious plan for White. The rooks seemed to be to be well placed on the d- and c-files, so I decided to continue development that way.} Rd8 {in order to oppose the idea of my advancing the d-pawn.} 13. Rac1 $14 {by this point Komodo gives White a small plus. I have all of my pieces developed, while Black's queenside remains partially undeveloped. The c-pawn also remains a target, which my opponent recognizes with his next move.} Na6 14. a3 {making sure the Na6 does not come into b4, and also removing the a-pawn from the Be6's pressure.} Bh3 15. Bh1 {the engine ranks higher pretty much any alternative to this move, which preserves the bishop. At the time, I felt that its influence over the long diagonal was worth maintaining.} (15. Ne4 Bxg2 16. Kxg2 Nd5 17. Bxc5 {doesn't get White very much after} f5 18. Ned2 Qxc5 19. Qxc5 Nxc5 20. Rxc5 Bxb2 21. Nc4 Bf6) (15. Bxh3 Qxh3 16. Qb3 $14 {and now White has more play on the light squares with the Black bishop's absence, although it hardly seems decisive.}) 15... Qd7 16. Qd2 {threatening h6.} Kh7 {this obvious-looking move turns out to be a problem for Black.} (16... g5 $5) 17. Ne4 {this attacks both c5 and g5, with potential tacticsr on both squares. My opponent did not see the threat on g5, however.} Qb5 $2 {neglecting protection of the now-hanging Bh3.} (17... Be6 {appears to be the best option, as it's not so simple for White to take on c5.} 18. Nxc5 Nxc5 19. Rxc5 Na4 20. Ra5 Nxb2 21. Rc1 {although now despite the material equality there is still a plus for White because of the a-pawn weakness, Black's more awkward piece placement, and the Bh1's influence. For example} b6 22. Ne5 Qe8 23. Bxa8 bxa5 24. Bc6 Qh8 25. Qxb2 Bxe5 26. Qb5 $14) 18. Nfg5+ { a genuine "reloader" tactic! The knight fork on g5 is repeated.} hxg5 19. Nxg5+ Kg8 20. Nxh3 $16 {now I am a clear pawn up with no compensation for Black. I also am eyeing Black's weakened king position.} Nd5 {making my next move choice with the Be3 that much easier.} 21. Bh6 Qxb2 22. Qg5 $6 {here I was disappointed that my opponent had found a way to regain the pawn, and I overlooked how to continue with an advantage.} (22. Qxb2 Bxb2 23. Rb1 Bxa3 24. Rxb7 $16 {preserves the advantage, although it's not immediately obvious to a Class player (i.e. me) during the visualization/calculation process. The immediate threat is Ra1, winning a piece as both the Na6 and Ba3 are hanging. Black can avoid this, but the a7 pawn is also underprotected. Play could continue} Nab4 {(also protecting against Bxd5 followed by Rxe7)} 25. Bxd5 Nxd5 26. Ra1 Bb4 27. Raxa7 $16 {and I'm back to being a clear pawn up.}) 22... Bf6 $11 23. Qg4 Qxa3 $2 {this is simply greedy and gives me back the initiative and an advantage.} (23... Nc3 $11) 24. Be4 $1 {threatening to sacrifice on g6.} Kh7 $2 (24... Bg7 25. Bxg7 Kxg7 26. Nf4 $16 {and the attack continues.}) (24... Qa4 {pinning the Be4 seems to be the best practical chance for Black.} 25. Nf4 Nxf4 26. Bxf4 $16) 25. Qh5 {after a good deal of thought, this seemed to me to be the best follow-up, taking advantage of the pinned g6 pawn. Komodo agrees.} Rh8 26. Qxd5 Kxh6 27. Qxf7 $18 {material is equal but Black's king is under heavy pressure.} Rag8 28. Nf4 (28. Qe6 {is the idea behind a quicker route to victory by repositioning the queen.}) 28... Rg7 29. Qd5 b6 $6 {protects against the pawn snatching threat, but neglects the king.} 30. Bxg6 $1 e5 { a nice try on defense, blocking the route to h5, but the queen can reposition to again threaten the square.} 31. Qf3 Rxg6 32. Qh5+ Kg7 33. Qxg6+ 1-0

19 May 2018

FT: Boxer Wladimir Klitschko - 'Chess is war with an army'

As I've highlighted on this blog several times in the past, the Financial Times (FT) periodically publishes thoughtful chess-themed articles and interviews, the most recent one being with heavyweight champion boxer Wladimir Klitschko.  The chess itself isn't the really interesting part, although Klitschko knows both Kramnik and Kasparov; rather, it's how Klitschko has incorporated it into his life and his outlook on competition and winning.  Here are a couple of the more interesting points from the article for me; the full interview (linked above) is well worth reading.
According to my opponent, there are some unlikely parallels between top-level boxers and chess players. His friend Kramnik told him that grandmasters “lose an incredible amount of weight during a tournament”. “Some tournaments,” Klitschko says, “are long. It shows how much energy and calories your brain can burn. They lose like, if I’m not wrong, during the two weeks or week and a half, up to 20kg. If they go to sleep, they cannot really turn off their mind. It’s just constantly doing combinations and combinations and combinations.”
In his book, he says that before any fight, he visualised the fighting style of his opponents while also imagining victory. He believes the same approach can work in any negotiation. “Internalise your winning pose,” writes Klitschko. “Save similar motivational pictures on your smartphone and have a look at them if you have doubts.”
The champ appears genuinely elated and takes a photograph of the final board to send to Kramnik. “It’s an exciting game because it’s a war with an army,” he says of chess. “It’s a lot of co-ordination, a lot of focus, a lot of endurance. You have to be really agile in everything you do. It actually fits well into sporting life, into business life, into private life, into anything. It just matches with my genes.” 

17 March 2018

Resuming training and posting in May

Although I'll check in from time to time, I expect that I'll be mostly offline here until late May, due to other pressing demands on my time.  I'll look forward to getting back to chess, for sure.

In the meantime, something to consider...

How to come back from the chess vacation?

11 March 2018

Eight rules to do everything better (in chess)

While this blog is devoted to chess training, I think it's important to look at major principles that apply to any mastery effort.  The below categories are taken from "8 Rules to Do Everything Better" by Brad Stulberg - worth reading on Medium for the author's original take on the ideas - and listed along with some personal comments on their applicability to improvement in chess performance.

1. Stress + Rest = Growth.  For me, this is a good principle to help calibrate the amount of serious competitive play (stress) that results in advancement in playing strength.  One weekend tournament / month equivalent seems to be best for me; others may have different optimal paces depending on their energy level and needed recuperation time.

2. Focus on the Process, Not Results.  The fear and loathing that results from focusing primarily on your rating I think holds a lot of people back.  This is a recurring theme, I've even recently seen some (non-joking) commentary that to "win" your personal ratings competition (against whomever you've chosen as your rival, I guess) it's best just to quit playing when you're ahead.

3. Stay Humble.  See above.  Also, one of the main points routinely made by chess improvement coaches like IM Silman and NM Heisman is that you will lose a lot if you play a lot, so it's inevitable.  Realizing this will help you extract the best lessons possible from losses and not view them as devastating blows to your ego.

4. Build Your Tribe.  While it's not always possible to have a "buddy system" for training, one of the big accelerating factors for improvement is doing your chosen activity with: a) other motivated people, and b) having at least one master-level person to help show you the way.  Nowadays this can more easily be done online, if you don't have a local club.

5. Take Small, Consistent Steps to Achieve Big Gains.  Like with many complex activities, it's unlikely you'll have linear progression.  Rather, you work hard at tasks that push your boundaries and may plateau for a while, but then your brain "gets it" and you achieve mastery of an additional idea or particular skill.  Chess has a lot of these types of positional, tactical and strategic skills to be mastered over time.

6. Be a Minimalist to be a Maximalist.  Basically if you want to focus on improving your chess performance and put in the necessary time, you will have to forego other activities that compete with it on your personal schedule.  Where you draw the line is up to you, but you can't have five serious hobbies and expect to make significant progress at them all, for example.

7. Make the Hard Thing Easier.  This is about building positive habits, and/or doing small but important things to eliminate distractions.  Keep the tactics book out where you can always see it and thereby have it remind you of the 15 minutes a day you've committed to working problems, or have the tactics exercises site you use be your browser homepage.  Put the TV remote control away every time after you watch something, rather than leaving it conveniently at hand, or make yourself login to Netflix (or whatever) every time rather than it loading automatically.

8. Remember to Experience Joy.  If you don't do this in the long run, why are you even pursuing the path to chess mastery?  If you hit a stretch where it's not fun at all anymore, remember #1 above and reduce the stress.