30 March 2013

Annotated Game #88: King Safety in the Caro-Kann

This next tournament started off with an Attack of the Clones, bringing me to a round 2 game with Black.  My opponent chooses an offbeat but effective sideline of the Caro-Kann with 2. c4.  However, he fails to take proper advantage of his lead in development and by move 10 Black has effectively equalized.

The positional maneuvering that follows is illustrative of Class B level play, as neither side seemingly knows what is going on in the position.  Black should be more pleased with the results, as his goal was to maintain equality and get his pieces into more effective positions, rather than attempting to seize the initiative.  Black's failure to understand the position's requirements, however, is brought to a head when White undertakes a rather obvious attack on Black's open kingside.  Despite the availability of a standard defensive resource (25...Ng8 with equality) Black fails to consider the move.  Instead he plays blithely on, focusing on the obvious White threat and failing to do elementary checks, captures and threats (CCT) analysis, leading to a quick and shocking conclusion.

The impression one gets from this game is that neither Black's mind nor heart was in it, which is essentially correct.  The opening variation is not very exciting for Black, who needs to struggle a bit for equality with no obvious counterattacking opportunities.  Games should not be played on autopilot, however, and in addition to engaging in poor positional play, I was simply lazy in failing to make the necessary calculations when my king position finally came under direct attack.

Any Caro-Kann player should have a defensive radar that detects these types of potential threats to king safety, ideally heading them off before they materialize or, failing that, marshaling enough defensive resources to meet the threat.  In this game, the weakening of the king's pawn shield allowed White to muster a cheap attack and Black's failure to find the correct defense allowed it to succeed, neither of which would have occurred if Black had been paying attention to his position.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B10"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2007.01.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "7"] 1. e4 c6 2. c4 d5 3. cxd5 (3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nc3 {is how White can transpose into the Panov-Botvinnink Attack.}) 3... cxd5 4. exd5 Qxd5 (4... Nf6 {is a sexier line, but I prefer the straightforward recapture as being simpler. }) 5. Nc3 Qd6 {the queen may eventually retreat to d8 anyway, so this is mostly a matter of personal taste.} 6. d4 Nf6 7. Nf3 e6 {Black is behind in development, comments Fritz.} 8. Nb5 {Bd3 or Bc4 are the usual moves here, keeping White's development advantage. The text move is premature, as White has no specific threat as a follow-up, so it simply loses time.} Qd8 {the standard retreat.} (8... Qb6 {also looks fine and is a little more active placement.}) 9. a3 {another non-developing move.} (9. Bf4 Nd5 {and c7 is defended.}) 9... a6 10. Nc3 $11 {White's loss of tempi has effectively allowed Black to equalize.} Be7 11. Bd3 O-O 12. O-O Nc6 {pressuring the isolated pawn on d4 is not a bad idea, but Black may want to prioritize development of the Bc8.} (12... b5 {followed by ...Bb7 looks preferable, activating the bishop and strengthening control over d5.}) 13. Bg5 h6 14. Bh4 Nd5 $6 {this is the start of Black's problems. The plan is simply to trade down, but there is little regard for the consequences. Continuing to concentrate on further development would have been better.} (14... Qb6 {would put the queen on an active square and free d8 for a rook.}) (14... b5 {would still be an effective way of developing the Bc8.}) 15. Bxe7 Ndxe7 {we are accustomed to seeing "wrong rook" move comments, here it is the wrong knight.} (15... Ncxe7 { would have maintained Black's dominance of d5.}) 16. Ne2 $6 {more time-wasting by White.} (16. Bc2 {is what the engines prefer, with the standard plan of following it up with Qd3, forcing Black to make awkward defensive moves.}) 16... Bd7 17. Rc1 Rc8 18. Bb1 {Black has a cramped position, notes Fritz, but White has done nothing to take advantage of this.} Nd5 19. Qd3 g6 $6 {Black begins to neglect king safety here, loosening the pawn structure. Note the absence of defensive pieces on the kingside as well.} (19... Nf6) 20. g3 { again, White proceeds slowly and also blocks the g3 square from use by the Ne2. } (20. Ng3 $5) 20... Nce7 {Black finally figures out that the knight is essentially useless on c6.} 21. Nc3 Nxc3 22. bxc3 {White has new hanging pawns: c3+d4, comments Fritz.} (22. Rxc3 $2 Bb5) 22... b5 {aimed at preventing the c4 advance. Black is a bit cramped but equal.} 23. Ne5 Bc6 {Black would be perfectly happy to exchange bishop for knight, given the pawn structure.} 24. Qe3 {White threatens to win material: Qe3xh6} Kg7 25. Ng4 {White has a mate threat, comments Fritz.} Rh8 $2 $16 (25... Ng8 $5 $11 {and Black is fine. The theme of retreating a knight to the back rank for king defense (although more often to f8) is a common one and should always be considered as an option.}) 26. Qe5+ {this is the move I missed, focusing only on the threat to h6. The surprise blow triggers an immediate collapse.} Kh7 $4 {strolling merrily down the path to disaster, says Fritz.} (26... Kg8 {is the only move and although White comes out with a plus, the best continuation is not obvious, with a rather long line from the engines before it becomes evident.} 27. c4 bxc4 28. Nf6+ Kf8 29. Rxc4 Bb5 30. Nd7+ Kg8 31. Rxc8 Qxc8 32. Nf6+ Kf8 33. Rd1 Nc6 34. Nd7+ Kg8 35. Qd6 {and now White pushes the d-pawn.}) 27. Nf6+ Kg7 28. Nh5+ (28. Nh5+ Kf8 29. Qg7+ Ke8 30. Nf6#) 1-0

27 March 2013

Stonewall Hero II

After having put aside Win with the Stonewall Dutch (Sverre Johnsen/Ivar Bern/Simen Agdestein, Gambit, 2009) for some time in order to focus on tournament preparation and middlegame studies, I've been working through it again. As with the original Modern Stonewall Hero, I'm now back at the Chapter 6 exercise where the reader is supposed to analyze one of the games of their "Stonewall hero".  Mine is GM Artur Yusupov (or Jussupow, as he appears in the ChessBase database) and I've selected a top-level struggle between him and Beliavsky for this edition.  A first pass was done through the game for commentary without an analysis engine, per the book's instructions.  I found this to be an excellent illustrative game for the Stonewall, as it demonstrates how Black (thanks to some White errors in judgment) can win the clash of basic strategic ideas in the opening.

[Event "URS-ch54"] [Site "Minsk"] [Date "1987.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Beliavsky, Alexander G"] [Black "Jussupow, Artur"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A90"] [WhiteElo "2630"] [BlackElo "2645"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "108"] [EventDate "1987.03.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "17"] [EventCountry "URS"] [EventCategory "12"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. g3 e6 4. Bg2 d5 {...c6 would be a move-order finesse, as the text move gives White the option to exchange on d5, although that is not common.} 5. Nf3 c6 6. O-O Bd6 {the standard position for the Modern Stonewall.} 7. b3 {the main line.} Qe7 {aimed at preventing Ba3, which would allow White to exchange off the Bd6.} 8. Bb2 O-O (8... b6 {is the major alternative, choosing to develop the bishop to b7 or a6 and supporting options on the queenside.}) 9. Nc3 {this is not considered the best placement for the knight in a Stonewall, since it has fewer options while on c3.} Bd7 {whenever Black plays this, the aim is to swing the bishop around to the kingside via e8.} 10. Ne5 {White would be happy with a piece exchange on e5, as he would improve his control over the dark squares with the Bd6 gone and have a strong, cramping pawn on e5 afterwards.} Be8 11. Nd3 {this formation rarely appears in the database and the move is more often seen when the other knight has been developed via d2-f3, thereby obtaining a lock on e5.} Nbd7 12. e3 {this seems like a generally passive waiting move. Black wins all three games in the database after this.} g5 {Black wastes no time in initiating kingside operations.} 13. a4 {White’s forces are clearly more oriented toward the queenside, so he logically starts expanding there.} Bg6 14. f4 {this seems to play into Black’s strategy by providing a target for the g-pawn and distracting White from queenside expansion. White may have been worried about an eventual Black ...f4 advance, however.} Bh5 {the immediate ...Bh5 would have allowed White to block with the f-pawn after f3, although Black was perhaps originally more interested in fighting for the e4 square.} 15. Qc1 Ne4 {a very thematic knight move in the Stonewall. While the knight is very active, Black should not be afraid to exchange it, either, especially since the Nd7 can swing around to f6 to replace it.} 16. fxg5 {this seems a little premature to me.} (16. a5 gxf4 17. Nxf4 Bf7) 16... Nxc3 {Black chooses to eliminate the defender of the e2 square, to further activate his light-square bishop and then exchange it.} 17. Qxc3 Be2 18. Rfe1 Bxd3 {Black exchanges off his "bad" bishop for an excellent White knight.} 19. Qxd3 Qxg5 20. Ba3 {Black cannot reasonably avoid the exchange.} Bxa3 (20... c5 21. cxd5 {wins a pawn.}) 21. Rxa3 Nf6 {after the exchanges end, Black’s knight is evidently superior to White’s bishop and he has the initiative on the kingside.} 22. Qf1 h5 23. Qf4 Qxf4 24. gxf4 (24. exf4 {seems safer for White.}) 24... Kf7 {clearing the way for Rg8 and bringing the king closer to the center for the endgame.} 25. Ra2 Rg8 26. Kh1 Rg7 27. Bf3 Rag8 {Black’s strategy is simple and dictated by the one open file on the board.} 28. Rg2 {White’s decision to trade down only makes Black’s task of penetrating White’s position easier.} Rxg2 29. Bxg2 a5 { prophlyaxis against a further pawn advance with b4.} 30. Kg1 h4 31. Kf1 Ng4 32. h3 Nf6 {now Black will have the g3 square available and the Bg2 is further restricted.} 33. Kf2 Rg3 34. c5 Ne4%2B {the only way to make progress.} 35. Bxe4 {White rids himself of his "bad" bishop and prevents further penetration by the knight.} fxe4 36. Rh1 Ke8 37. Rg1 {White decides to avoid passive defense in the rook endgame, although Black’s rook ends up being more active in a decisive way.} (37. Rh2) 37... Rxh3 38. Rg7 Rh2%2B 39. Kf1 Rh3 40. Kf2 Rh2%2B { repetition of moves presumably to make the time control.} 41. Kf1 Rb2 42. Rxb7 Kd8 43. Kg1 Re2 44. b4 axb4 45. a5 Rxe3 46. a6 Kc8 47. Rxb4 Ra3 48. Rb6 e3 49. Rxc6%2B Kd7 50. Rd6%2B Ke7 51. f5 exf5 52. Rxd5 Rxa6 53. c6 Rxc6 54. Rxf5 Rg6%2B { Black’s separated passed pawns cannot both be stopped.} 0-1

24 March 2013

Mental breakthroughs and obstacles

The final game of the tournament that I've been analyzing can be found in Annotated Game #5: First Sacrifice.  As previously noted, that was a breakthrough game for me, being the first real (intentional!) sacrifice I had played in my tournament career.  Since that tournament, I've had my ups and downs, but I've certainly played much more actively and looked for opportunities for attacking chess that would have been ignored earlier.  As a result, I'm a significantly stronger player now, although I still have a long way to go in terms of my skills.

What were the reasons behind this mental breakthrough?  It was not just one particular thing, I think.  Study of a variety of well-annotated master games was certainly a key to breaking down my own internal prejudices on playing style and resistance to new ideas.  I was also starting to lose my concern about ratings, which I think is a drag on anyone's real playing strength and a sure way to inhibit your growth as a player.

Finally, this was the first tournament I played in after taking up qigong practice, which involves slow breathing and internal visualization combined with physical exercises.  In this last-round game, I sat there calmly the whole time while my opponent grew increasingly frustrated and excitable.  On a more macro level, the increased calmness and objectivity that come from regular practice of this discipline (or related ones such as meditation) is a definite aid to calculation and assessment.  Although it seems contradictory, this increased mental calmness has also allowed me to play a much more aggressive, attacking style of chess when the board situation demands it.  My mind is now more open to what the position is objectively telling me is best to do, rather than me trying to impose my own desires onto the board.

Attitudes are in no way a replacement for skills, but I think for improving players (especially adults) it is just as important to identify what factors are holding us back or diverting us from the path to mastery.  Un-learning things we erroneously believe or "know" is normally much more difficult and painful than new learning.  If we are self-aware and honest with ourselves, however, it can be accomplished.

17 March 2013

Annotated Game #87: Is it a Colle? A Stonewall? No, it's a bust

This fourth-round tournament game has a more satisfying feel to it than the previous "ratings draw" where I (as White) should have made the necessary effort to win the endgame, regardless of the ratings gap.  Here, as Black I am unable to play my usual ...Bf5 in response to a Colle System setup because White plays an early Bd3 - probably with preventing that move in mind.  However, opening theory and practice exists for a reason and a drawback of the unusual early bishop move is quickly demonstrated by Black, who exchanges off the d-pawn and then pressures its replacement.  The opening - which seems to be a strange mix of Colle and Stonewall Attack ideas - doesn't lose for White, but he quickly abandons any chance of an advantage while giving himself some positional flaws, so it has to be considered a bust.

By move 9 Black has the game fully in hand and White is struggling to come up with good ideas, although the position is still balanced.  Black never loses his grip and then steers the game towards a drawn ending, although the alternatives shown around move 19-20 would have allowed him to keep pressuring White in the hopes of realizing his positional advantage.  Given the 250-point ratings gap and Black's lack of a clearly winning advantage, I think a draw was a reasonable result, although it would have been useful to probe harder in the middlegame, as White had no real counter-threats.

This was an encouraging game from the improvement standpoint, as it was blunder-free and I essentially dominated things strategically from early in the opening phase against a much higher-rated opponent, even though the advantage obtained was not sufficient for a win.  In more general terms, games like these should be encouraging for us Class B players, as they help show that Class A players should not be feared.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class A"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D00"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "76"] {D00:1 d4 d5: Unusual lines} 1. d4 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Bd3 {this prevents ...Bf5, which is my normal defense against a White setup with the pawns on e3/d4 (as occurs with the Colle System). It looks like White intends trying an accelerated Colle System or a Stonewall Attack and wants to eliminate my preferred option, but the early bishop move has its own problems.} c5 {this scores very well (60 percent) for Black.} 4. b3 cxd4 {perhaps a little hasty, although it's not a bad idea to exchange White's central pawn and open the c-file for Black.} (4... Nc6 {would maintain the tension in the center.} 5. Bb2 Bg4 6. Nf3 e6 7. h3 Bxf3 8. Qxf3 cxd4 9. Bxd4 e5 10. Bc3 e4 11. Bxf6 gxf6 12. Bxe4 dxe4 13. Qxe4+ Qe7 14. Qxe7+ Bxe7 {0-1 (46) Cordova,E (2567)-Glud,J (2496) Sabadell 2011}) 5. exd4 Nc6 {now we see a drawback of the early Bd3, as all of White's options for defending the d4 pawn create some sort of positional problem for him.} 6. Ne2 {this avoids the pin that would occur after Nf3, but Black plays ...Bg4 anyway in order to provoke the weakening pawn advance.} Bg4 7. f3 {Consolidates e4, notes Fritz, but this is not sufficient compensation for the weaker king position.} Bh5 8. O-O e6 9. Be3 Bd6 {Black has developed naturally and has a comfortable game, while White cannot say the same thing.} 10. Qe1 {this move is aggressive but ignores development. White appears to be playing as if this were a Stonewall Attack, but without the stonewall.} (10. c4 {would mobilize White's pawns and allow for a Bc2 retreat and a more effective eventual Nc3.} dxc4 (10... e5 $5 11. Nbc3 e4 12. fxe4 $6 (12. Bc2 exf3 13. gxf3 Bg6) 12... Bxh2+ 13. Kh1 (13. Kxh2 $2 Ng4+)) 11. bxc4 Bg6 $11) 10... Qc7 { the threat to the h-pawn is not real and this should in fact encourage White to play the best and naturally aggressive follow-up to his previous queen move. } (10... Bg6 $5 {immediately would be good.}) (10... Rc8 {would also be useful, given Black's plan of exchanging the Bd3 and fully opening the c-file.}) 11. Kh1 (11. Qh4 $5 {should be considered, comments Fritz.}) 11... Bg6 $15 { a powerful little move. White cannot initiate an exchange on g6 because it would open the h-file and the threat to h2 would then become real. He must therefore allow the exchange on d3 doubling his pawns (Qd1 or Qd2 would allow . ..Bxh2).} ({Instead of} 11... Bxh2 $2 12. g3 $16) 12. a3 Bxd3 13. cxd3 Rc8 14. Nbc3 a6 {prophylaxis against Nb5 and supporting the future ...b5 advance.} 15. b4 O-O (15... Bxh2 {still doesn't work:} 16. g3 Bxg3 17. Nxg3 Nxb4 18. axb4 Qxc3 19. Qb1 $14) 16. Rc1 b5 {with the idea of eliminating any useful White play on the queenside.} 17. Bd2 {seems like a wasted move, as the Nc3 hardly needed any more protection and the half-open e-file does nothing for White.} Qb8 18. Na2 Rfe8 19. Qf2 {steps out of the way of the Black rook, which was contemplating supporting an ...e5 pawn break, and reinforces d4.} Ne7 {Black here has a very pleasant position with a definite advantage, but no single obvious plan. Rather than try to increase my advantage, however, I focus on simplification via rook exchanges.} (19... h6 {would be a good prophylactic move against Bg5.}) 20. Qg1 (20. Bg5 {is probably the most annoying for Black.} Nd7 21. Bxe7 Bxe7 {and White at least has traded off his bad bishop.}) 20... Rxc1 (20... Nf5 {would be one way to improve Black's pieces and keep pressing for an advantage.}) 21. Rxc1 Rc8 22. g3 {White decides to put a stop to any possibility of playing ...Bxh2.} Rxc1 23. Qxc1 Qc7 {heading straight for a drawn ending via additional simplification.} (23... Nd7 $5 $11 {is how the engines suggest to play on, although the exchanges have now resulted in a dissipation of Black's previous advantage.}) 24. Qxc7 $11 Bxc7 25. Nac1 { now White's doubled d-pawns, his only real weakness, cannot be threatened by any Black pieces, so the draw is assured from here. If anything, Black has to be more careful not to let his opponent penetrate his position.} Nc6 26. Nb3 Nd7 27. Kg2 Kf8 28. Kf2 Ke7 29. h3 Ndb8 30. Bf4 Bxf4 31. Nxf4 Nd7 32. Ke3 Nb6 33. Nc5 a5 {Black's one chance to try for an advantage. However, he still will not be able to threaten White's remaining pawn effectively, so a draw is agreed in the end.} 34. bxa5 Nxa5 35. Ne2 Nc6 36. Kd2 Kd6 37. Nb7+ Kc7 38. Nc5 Kd6 1/2-1/2

13 March 2013

2013 Women's World Team Championship

I followed this year's Women's World Team Championship with great interest and was not disappointed, due to the high level of fighting chess.  The U.S. team placed in the middle, after a slow start but a stronger finish including a victory over the Russian team in round 7.

The following games caught my attention in particular.

Round 7: GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (Russia) - IM Irina Krush (USA)
In this game Krush plays with fire in a Richter-Rauzer Open Sicilian, but it's her opponent who ends up getting burned.  After the middlegame fireworks explode all over the board, by move 34 an unusual material balance (N+2 pawns vs. rook) is present.  Just looking at the position then, one thinks that the Black rook has the upper hand, given the open nature of the position and the pawn structure, but it takes some more creative play from Krush to overcome Kosteniuk.  The key move at the end seems to be 43...Bc1! which White could have prevented by taking the Black b-pawn earlier.

[Event "FIDE Women’s World Teams"] [Site "Astana KAZ"] [Date "2013.03.10"] [Round "7.2"] [White "Kosteniuk, Alexandra"] [Black "Krush, Irina"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B66"] [WhiteElo "2495"] [BlackElo "2448"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2013.03.03"] [WhiteTeam "RUS"] [BlackTeam "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. O-O-O h6 9. Be3 Qc7 10. f3 Rb8 11. g4 Ne5 12. Kb1 b5 13. Bd3 b4 14. Nce2 d5 15. g5 hxg5 16. Bxg5 dxe4 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. Bxe4 Bd7 19. Qf4 Ke7 20. Qg3 Bh6 21. f4 Nc4 22. Rhe1 f5 23. Bd3 Nd6 24. Ng1 Kf8 25. Ngf3 a5 26. Ne5 a4 27. Nxd7%2B Qxd7 28. Bb5 Qc7 29. Bxa4 Ne4 30. Qb3 Bxf4 31. Qxe6 fxe6 32. Nxe6%2B Kf7 33. Nxc7 Nd2%2B 34. Rxd2 Bxd2 35. Bb3%2B Kf6 36. Re6%2B Kg5 37. Re2 Bf4 38. Rg2%2B Kh4 39. Ne6 Be3 40. a4 bxa3 41. Rg7 Rh6 42. Nc7 axb2 43. Re7 Bc1 44. Ne6 Ra8 45. Ba2 Rhh8 46. Nc7 Ra7 47. Rd7 f4 48. Rg7 f3 49. Rf7 f2 0-1

Round 7: WGM Olga Girya (Russia) - WIM Viktorija Ni (USA)
The most striking thing about this game is the final tactical sequence, in which White clearly lacked the requisite sense of danger.  White's position is in fact fine, but what appears to be an obvious defensive interposition is punished by a classic pinning theme.  Ni clearly never gave up trying to create winning chances for herself and was rewarded for her tenacity, as this win plus Krush's gave the U.S. team the victory.

[Event "FIDE Women’s World Teams"] [Site "Astana KAZ"] [Date "2013.03.10"] [Round "7.4"] [White "Girya, Olga"] [Black "Ni, Viktorija"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E46"] [WhiteElo "2440"] [BlackElo "2263"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2013.03.03"] [WhiteTeam "RUS"] [BlackTeam "USA"] [BlackTeamCountry "USA"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nge2 Re8 6. a3 Bf8 7. d5 d6 8. dxe6 Bxe6 9. Nf4 Bg4 10. Qc2 Nc6 11. h3 Bd7 12. Be2 Ne5 13. O-O Qc8 14. b3 Ng6 15. Nxg6 hxg6 16. e4 c6 17. Rd1 b5 18. Bf4 Re6 19. Rd2 a5 20. cxb5 cxb5 21. Bxb5 Bxb5 22. Nxb5 Nxe4 23. Re2 Qb7 24. Nc3 d5 25. Nxe4 dxe4 26. Rae1 Rc8 27. Qb2 Rb6 28. Re3 Qd5 29. Be5 f5 30. Bd4 Rb5 31. a4 Rb4 32. Be5 Re8 33. Bf4 Be7 34. Rg3 Bf6 35. Qd2 Rd4 36. Qc2 Kh7 37. h4 e3 38. Rgxe3 Rxe3 39. Bxe3 Rxh4 40. Rd1 Qb7 41. f4 Rg4 42. Rd2 Qf3 43. Qc5 Qg3 44. Rf2 Rh4 45. Qc1 Rh3 46. Rf3 Qh2%2B 47. Kf1 Qh1%2B 48. Bg1 Rxf3%2B 49. gxf3 Bd4 0-1

Round 8: IM Irina Krush (USA) - GM Anna Ushenina (Ukraine)
Krush here defeats the current Women's World Champion, having disposed of former World Champion Kosteniuk the previous round.  This game has a completely different character, as White chooses a compact Reti-type structure and maneuvers quietly for the first 12 moves.  After that, though, the latent offensive potential on the kingside comes into play featuring a highly aggressive space expansion by White's pawns through move 20, followed again by a period of maneuvering.  The end comes suddenly as White lines up a threat on the f-file that Black's uncoordinated pieces are unable to meet.  For an English Opening player like me, where some similarities exist in both the maneuvering and attacking possibilities, this is an example of high-level chess that is most instructive and entertaining, mixing various kinds of play to make a satisfying result.

[Event "FIDE Women’s World Teams"] [Site "Astana KAZ"] [Date "2013.03.11"] [Round "8.2"] [White "Krush, Irina"] [Black "Ushenina, Anna"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A07"] [WhiteElo "2448"] [BlackElo "2477"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2013.03.03"] [WhiteTeam "USA"] [BlackTeam "UKR"] [WhiteTeamCountry "USA"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 c6 3. Bg2 Bg4 4. d3 Nd7 5. h3 Bh5 6. Nbd2 e6 7. O-O Bd6 8. b3 Ne7 9. Bb2 O-O 10. Qe1 e5 11. e4 Re8 12. Nh4 f6 13. f4 Qc7 14. g4 Bf7 15. f5 h6 16. Nhf3 Bc5%2B 17. Kh1 Qb6 18. h4 Be3 19. g5 Bh5 20. gxf6 gxf6 21. Ng1 Kh7 22. Bc1 Bd4 23. Rb1 dxe4 24. dxe4 Ng8 25. Ne2 Bc5 26. Nc4 Qc7 27. b4 Bf8 28. a3 Bf7 29. Ne3 a5 30. Rg1 axb4 31. axb4 Re7 32. Bf3 Be8 33. Ng3 Rg7 34. Bh5 Qd8 35. Bd2 Qe7 36. Qe2 b5 37. Rg2 Nb6 38. Rbg1 Ra7 39. Bxe8 Qxe8 40. Nh5 Rxg2 41. Qxg2 1-0

Congratulations on a well-fought tournament to the U.S. team and especially to IM Krush, who earned a gold medal for her individual performance, scoring 7/9 with a performance rating of 2607.

09 March 2013

Annotated Game #86: A ratings draw

This third-round tournament game is about as clear an example of a "ratings draw" as there is.  The final endgame position should be a win for White, or if not I certainly had all the winning chances, so why didn't I continue?  Psychological factors, of course.
  • I was relieved to have secured a draw with a much higher-rated (by 300 points) player, which I viewed as a positive outcome in itself, regardless of the board position.
  • I was mentally tired by that point and did not see an easy way to make progress. (One way would be to play h3 on the next move to kick the Black knight, then work the king to the center and have the rook attack laterally from the flank.)
  • The tournament situation - a first-round loss to a much higher-rated player followed by a win over a much lower-rated player - left me wanting some stability in results.
  • Most importantly, I did not have a winning mentality.
Unless there was some other significant factor at play, for example a big time clock deficit, I would not repeat the decision today.  While I now focus much less on the ratings factor than I did previously in my chess career, I've also realized that if I want to make real progress and gain strength, I can't take the easy way out.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A16"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "77"] {A16: English Opening: 1...Nf6 with ...d5} 1. c4 g6 2. Nf3 Bg7 3. Nc3 Nf6 { Black decides to go for a KID setup.} 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 d6 6. O-O Na6 $6 { a rarely-played move, White scores 63 percent against this in the database. Hard to see a real benefit to it, compared with more normal developing moves.} 7. Rb1 c5 {if Black wants to restrain White's plan of pushing the b-pawn, an early ...a5 instead of the knight move might have made more sense.} (7... Nc5 $5) 8. a3 Bf5 9. d3 $14 {White already has a comfortable game with better-cooperating pieces and an obvious plan to gain space with pawn pushes.} Qc8 $146 {this simply takes away the c8 square from the rooks.} (9... Qd7 10. Re1 e5 11. Bg5 Bh3 12. Bh1 Nh5 13. Qd2 f5 14. Nd5 f4 15. Be7 Rf7 16. Ng5 fxg3 17. Nxh3 Qxh3 18. fxg3 Qd7 19. Bg5 Raf8 20. Rf1 Nc7 21. Nxc7 Rxf1+ 22. Rxf1 Rxf1+ 23. Kxf1 Qxc7 24. Qe3 {Tikander,T-Nivala,T/Lahti 1997/EXT 99/1/2-1/2 (53) }) 10. Re1 (10. b4 {immediately seems better, as White can wait to see where the rook is best placed.}) 10... Nc7 11. Bg5 {again White is being a little premature with his piece placement.} Rb8 (11... h6 12. Bd2 $14 {is actually a standard idea behind Bg5 for White, who provokes the advance of the h6 pawn to create a target on the c1-h6 diagonal.}) (11... Bh3 $11 {seems more consistent with Black's earlier ...Qc8.}) 12. Qc1 {White pursues the same idea of threatening to exchange his opponent's fianchettoed bishop, rather than getting on with queenside expansion.} Re8 13. b4 {finally!} Nd7 {the intention is to reinforce c5 and enable a possible hop to e5.} 14. b5 {White gains space, notes Fritz, but it is unclear if he has good enough prospects for a breakthrough.} (14. Bh6 {for White would be the logical follow-up to Bg5 and more threatening, now that Black kindly withdrew the defending Nf6.}) 14... b6 {this locks in White's space advantage on the queenside and gives him a future outpost on the c6 square.} (14... Ne5 $5) 15. a4 {an unnecessary move. Bh6 again looks good here.} e5 $6 {Black is effectively ceding the light squares to White and creating holes in his own position while not getting any compensation. Black is not going to be able to push ...e4 any time soon.} ( 15... Nf6 {would return the knight to the action.}) 16. Nh4 {driving the bishop away and increasing White's central control, while also opening up the powerful Bg2 on the long diagonal.} (16. Nd2 {may be an improved version of the idea, keeping a lock on the e4 square with the idea of using it as an outpost for the knight.}) 16... Be6 17. Bc6 $16 {A classical outpost, notes Fritz. It is interesting to see at this point that none of Black's pieces are doing anything useful.} f6 18. Bh6 Rf8 {with the e-file effectively closed for further action, Black needs to switch to the f-file in order to have any counterplay.} 19. Bxg7 Kxg7 20. Nf3 {bringing the knight back from the rim.} ( 20. Qd2 {might have been more useful, connecting the rooks and getting on the potentially useful e1-a5 diagonal.}) 20... f5 21. Ng5 (21. a5 $5 {is an interesting alternative plan, as White can immediately break through on the queenside.} bxa5 22. Ra1 a6 23. Rxa5 axb5 24. Nxb5 Nxb5 25. cxb5) 21... Bg8 { choosing to preserve the bishop, although it currently looks like a rather "bad" piece.} 22. f4 $6 {this is a superficially aggressive but wrong-headed move that simply offers some relief for Black from the bind that White has established.} Nf6 $6 (22... exf4 23. Qxf4 Ne5 $11) 23. Ra1 Ne6 (23... a5) 24. Nxe6+ Bxe6 25. e3 (25. a5 {immediately would be better, preventing the ...a5 idea from Black.}) 25... Rf7 26. a5 bxa5 $2 {this makes White's task of exploiting the breakthrough much easier.} (26... Qc7) 27. Rxa5 Rb6 (27... Qc7 28. Ra3 $16) 28. Qa3 (28. fxe5 {would exploit the overloaded d-pawn.} dxe5 29. Na4) 28... Rxc6 $2 {Black defensively sacrifices the exchange.} (28... e4 { is an interesting try, but doesn't work.} 29. dxe4 Bxc4 30. Ra4 Qe6 31. exf5 gxf5 32. Rxa7 $18) (28... a6 29. Rxa6 Rxa6 30. Qxa6 Qxa6 31. bxa6 $16 {is Black's best defensive try, according to Houdini.}) 29. bxc6 $18 Qxc6 30. Rxa7 {not optimal for White, who overlooks some additional pressure he can bring to bear on the d-pawn.} (30. fxe5 dxe5 31. Qxc5 Qxc5 32. Rxc5) (30. Ra6 {might be the simplest idea, for example} Qd7 $2 31. Nb5) 30... Qf3 {Black prepares the advance e4} 31. Rxf7+ Bxf7 32. Qa2 $6 {one square off makes a large difference in the position.} (32. Qb2 {and now ...e4 loses.} exf4 (32... e4 33. Nb5 exd3 34. Nxd6 {and Black cannot protect his d-pawn.}) 33. exf4 Qxd3 34. Nd5 Bxd5 35. cxd5 Qd4+ (35... Qxd5 $2 36. Re7+ Kh6 37. Qxf6) 36. Qxd4 cxd4 37. Rd1 $18) 32... e4 33. dxe4 $6 {this gives Black the chance to get his knight into the game.} (33. Qd2 exd3 34. Qxd3) 33... fxe4 $2 (33... Nxe4 34. Nxe4 Qxe4) 34. Nd5 $6 (34. Nb5 $1 {and White is on the road to success, comments Fritz.} Ne8 35. Qd2 {and the d-pawn is lost for Black.}) 34... Bxd5 $16 35. cxd5 Ng4 36. Qg2 Qxg2+ 37. Kxg2 Nf6 38. Rd1 Ng4 39. Re1 1/2-1/2

03 March 2013

Book completed: The Long Goodbye

From Chapter 2 of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye:
It was a quiet night and the house seemed emptier than usual. I set out the chessmen and played a French defense against Steinitz. He beat me in forty-four moves, but I had him sweating a couple of times.
The phone rang at nine-thirty and the voice that spoke was one I had heard before.
"Is this Mr. Philip Marlowe?"
"Yeah. I'm Marlowe."
"This is Sylvia Lennox, Mr. Marlowe. We met very briefly in front of The Dancers one night last month. I heard afterwards that you had been kind enough to see that Terry got home."
"I did that."
"I suppose you know that we are not married any more, but I've been a little worried about him. He gave up the apartment he had in Westwood and nobody seems to know where he is."
"I noticed how worried you were the night we met."
"Look, Mr. Marlowe, I've been married to the man. I'm not very sympathetic to drunks. Perhaps I was a little unfeeling and perhaps I had something rather important to do. You're a private detective and this can be put on a professional basis, if you prefer it."
"It doesn't have to be put on any basis at all, Mrs. Lennox. He's on a bus going to Las Vegas. He has a friend there who will give him a job."
She brightened up very suddenly. "Oh-to Las Vegas? How sentimental of him. That's where we were married."
"I guess he forgot," I said, "or he would have gone somewhere else."
Instead of hanging up on me she laughed. It was a cute little laugh. "Are you always as rude as this to your clients?"
"You're not a client, Mrs. Lennox."
"I might be someday. Who knows? Let's say to your lady friends, then."
"Same answer. The guy was down and out, starving, dirty, without a bean. You could have found him if it had been worth your time. He didn't want anything from you then and he probably doesn't want anything from you now."
"That," she said coolly, "is something you couldn't possibly know anything about. Good night." And she hung up.
She was dead right, of course, and I was dead wrong. But I didn't feel wrong. I just felt sore. If she had called up half an hour earlier I might have been sore enough to beat the hell out of Steinitz-except that he had been dead for fifty years and the chess game was out of a book.
From Chapter 3:
I liked him better drunk, down and out, hungry and beaten and proud. Or did I? Maybe I just liked being top man. His reasons for things were hard to figure. In my business there's a time to ask questions and a time to let your man simmer until he boils over. Every good cop knows that. It's a good deal like chess or boxing: Some people you have to crowd and keep off balance. Some you just box and they will end up beating themselves.
From Chapter 13:
He nodded. He was giving me a careful once over. "Tell me a little about yourself, Mr. Marlowe. That is, if you don't find the request objectionable."
"What sort of thing? I'm a licensed private investigator and have been for quite a while. I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich. I've been in jail more than once and I don't do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers or sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, and to plenty of people in any business or no business at all these days, nobody will feel that the bottom has dropped out of his or her life."
From Chapter 24:
She hung up and I set out the chess board. I filled a pipe, paraded the chessmen and inspected them for French shaves and loose buttons, and played a championship tournament game between Gortchakoff and Meninkin, seventy-two moves to a draw, a prize specimen of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, a battle without armor, a war without blood, and as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency. 
From Chapter 40:
I put the chessboard on the coffee table and set out a problem called The Sphynx. It is printed on the end papers of a book on chess by Blackburn, the English chess wizard, probably the most dynamic chess player who ever lived, although he wouldn't get to first base in the cold war type of chess they play nowadays. The Sphynx is an eleven-mover and it justifies its name. Chess problems seldom run to more than four or five moves. Beyond that the difficulty of solving them rises in almost geometrical progression. An eleven-mover is sheer unadulterated torture.
Once in a long while when I feel mean enough I set it out and look for a new way to solve it. It's a nice quiet way to go crazy. You don't even scream, but you come awfully close. 

02 March 2013

Annotated Game #85: Why the Caro-Kann Classical is good vs. lower-rated players

This second-round tournament game helped me bounce back well from the previous defeat (Annotated Game #84) and shows some of the strengths of using the Caro-Kann Classical as an opening weapon.  Despite its well-deserved reputation for solidity, its ideas are complex enough that it offers Black a chance to create imbalances and even get a strong attack going against inaccurate play from White.

When the defense is used against lower-rated opponents, it often occurs that White possesses little knowledge or has few concrete ideas about how to play against it.  Black is unlikely to gain an advantage out of the opening, but if White simply drifts along without a clear plan, Black's counterplay can develop quickly.  This game is an excellent illustration of this, as White allows Black to equalize early on, then never really seems to develop a plan of his own.  The one concrete idea he plays on moves 23-24 simply leads to better play for Black.  By move 31 Black is ready to attack and seven moves later White is mated.

While there were a number of instructive improvements for both sides along the way, the overall development of the game shows how Black can effectively neutralize White's opening play, improve his position, then quickly go over to the attack when an opportunity is given.  This is especially dangerous against lower-rated players who lack the experience or understanding of White's more complex ideas.  Black's position is both simpler to play and has latent attacking resources that the patient player can reveal later in the middlegame.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class D"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B18"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "76"] {B18: Classical Caro-Kann: 4...Bf5 sidelines} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. Nf3 Nf6 {a move-order trick that has been shown before. Now 7. h4 can be met by ...Nh5!?} 7. Ne5 {this seems premature and only scores 46 percent for White in the database.} Nbd7 {the obvious developing move, also challenging the Ne5.} 8. Nxg6 hxg6 {by this point Black has already achieved comfortable equality.} 9. Bc4 {the main alternative would be Bd3. Here's a nice game between GMs Maurice Ashley and Viktor Kortchnoi, showing how to handle this as Black.} (9. Bd3 Qc7 10. Qf3 e6 11. Be3 c5 12. dxc5 Bxc5 13. Bxc5 Nxc5 14. Bb5+ Ke7 15. O-O-O Rh4 16. Be2 Rc8 17. Kb1 b5 18. Qe3 b4 19. Rd2 Nce4 20. Nxe4 Nxe4 21. Rd4 Qxc2+ 22. Ka1 Nd2 23. b3 Nxb3+ 24. axb3 Rc5 {0-1 (24) Ashley,M (2460)-Kortschnoj,V (2635) San Francisco 1995 CBM 046 [Blatny,P]}) 9... Nb6 {this is an obvious amateur-type move. It's not likely that b6 is the best place for the knight, however. In this type of Caro-Kann structure, the Nd7 often has a role in supporting the ...c5 or ...e5 pawn breaks, for example. The White bishop would also be no worse off if it retreated to b3.} (9... e6 { is more consistent with the needs of the position. Here's an instructive game.} 10. c3 Bd6 11. Qf3 Qc7 12. Bd2 c5 13. dxc5 Qxc5 14. Bb3 Bxg3 15. Qxg3 Ne4 16. Qe3 Nxd2 17. Qxc5 Nf3+ 18. Ke2 Nxc5 19. Kxf3 O-O-O 20. Ke2 Nd3 21. Rab1 Rh5 22. Rhd1 Nc5 23. Rxd8+ Kxd8 24. Rd1+ Kc7 25. h3 Nxb3 26. axb3 Rb5 27. b4 a5 28. Rd4 axb4 29. cxb4 e5 30. Rc4+ Kd6 31. Ke3 f5 32. g3 Rb6 33. h4 Rc6 34. Rxc6+ Kxc6 35. Kd3 b5 36. b3 Kd5 37. Ke3 Ke6 38. Kf3 Kf6 39. Ke3 g5 40. hxg5+ Kxg5 41. f3 Kf6 42. Kd3 Ke6 43. Ke3 Kd5 44. Kd3 e4+ 45. Ke3 exf3 46. Kxf3 g5 47. Ke3 Ke5 48. Kf3 Kd4 49. Ke2 Kc3 50. Ke3 Kxb4 51. Kd4 Kxb3 52. Ke5 f4 53. gxf4 gxf4 54. Kxf4 Kc3 {0-1 (54) Kozera,A-Rudolf,M (2419) Warsaw 2007}) 10. Be2 e6 11. c3 { the d-pawn lacks protection and this addresses the issue immediately, also allowing Qb3. It's a rather slow approach to development, however.} Bd6 12. Qd3 {it's not clear what the queen is doing here, so this seems just to further slow White's piece development.} Qc7 {in addition to building up the B+Q battery, this now allows for Black to castle queenside.} 13. Bg5 {a standard-looking developing move, but without much punch to it.} Nbd5 {all of Black's minor pieces are now well placed.} 14. Nf1 {White meanwhile is backing up his own pieces. This was unnecessary.} (14. c4 $6 {kicking the knight would simply help Black.} Nf4 {forking g2 and d3} 15. Bxf4 Bxf4 {and Black is going to be able to castle queenside, while White's king has no safe zone.}) (14. Ne4 $5 {would work, as Black cannot take the h2 pawn due to the follow-up g3 push, trapping the bishop.}) 14... Nf4 (14... Bxh2 $2 {would be great except for} 15. g3) 15. Bxf4 Bxf4 {Black inhibits 0-0-0} 16. g3 Bh6 17. Ne3 O-O-O {this works out well in the game, although which side to castle on for Black is something of a toss-up.} 18. Nc4 Nd7 {immediately developing the h8 rook would be more accurate.} 19. Qe4 {White continues to pass up the opportunity to castle, which will cause him problems.} Rhe8 20. f4 {this permanently weakens the kingside and banishes any thought of O-O.} g5 {immediately disrupting White's pawn structure.} 21. Rf1 (21. fxg5 Bxg5 {is objectively best, but would have again complicated queenside castling, which my opponent apparently has as an eventual goal.}) 21... gxf4 22. gxf4 f6 $6 $11 {here I focused on the plan of ripping open the e-file with the ...e5 pawn advance, but this is far too slow. White in response should simply castle immediately, which takes the sting out of Black's idea.} (22... Nf6 {instead eventually wins the f4 pawn, as pointed out by both Fritz and Houdini.} 23. Qe5 Nd5 24. Qxc7+ Kxc7 $17 {and the f4 pawn cannot be protected further.}) 23. Qg2 $2 (23. O-O-O $11) 23... Bxf4 $17 24. Qxg7 {while material is still even, simply taking a look at the difference in king safety is enough to show Black's advantage. White's queen has also put itself in a precarious position.} Bxh2 $6 {like White, I'm thinking too materialistically. Preventing castling was much more valuable than the stray pawn.} (24... Bg5 $5 {is Fritz's suggestion, protecting f6 again and starting to box in the Qg7.}) (24... Kb8 {is Houdini's preference. This is one of those quiet moves which facilitates a future attack. In this case it removes the king from the h3-c8 diagonal, avoids future worries about protecting d6 from a knight invasion, and allows a rook to go to c8.}) 25. O-O-O $15 Bf4+ 26. Kb1 Rg8 {a premature threat.} 27. Qe7 (27. Qf7 $11 {is more flexible.}) 27... b5 { while this may not be objectively best, I like the fact that I was playing actively and looking to make threats, rather than play obvious moves.} 28. Nd2 Rde8 29. Qa3 {this places the queen away from the action and limits her movement.} Rg2 {Black finds the way to immediately take advantage of White's vulnerability on the 2nd rank.} 30. Rfe1 Kb8 $11 (30... Bd6 $5 31. Qa6+ Kd8 $15 {is what the engines prefer, but appears more dangerous to human eyes.}) (30... Bxd2 31. Rxd2 Nb6 $15 {is an improved version of the idea from the game, as the White knight is no longer available to go to b3 and then threaten to penetrate Black's king position.}) 31. Nf1 $2 {this simply moves a key piece away from the action.} (31. Nb3) 31... Nb6 {Black readies to go on the attack.} 32. Bd3 (32. Qb3 e5 $17) 32... e5 {this was my primary attacking idea in all variations.} (32... a5 {is spotted by the engines. The pawn move was not obvious to me, although the deflection theme (removing the b2 defender) should be a good place from which to start thinking about tactics.} 33. Qxa5 Rxb2+ { and now} 34. Kxb2 (34. Ka1 Na4 35. Qxc7+ Kxc7) 34... Nc4+ 35. Bxc4 Qxa5 { ; this was a useful exercise in looking for hidden tactical patterns and themes.}) 33. Be4 $2 {gives up the c4 square to the knight without a fight.} ( 33. Ne3 {is the best defense.} Bxe3 34. Rxe3 Rh8 35. dxe5 fxe5 $15) 33... Nc4 $19 34. Qc5 $4 {the final mistake, not that it matters anymore, says Fritz. The White queen had a defensive role and abandoning this allows Black's queen to penetrate and deal the final blow.} (34. Qa6 Rxb2+ $19) 34... Rxb2+ 35. Ka1 Qa5 36. a3 Qxc3 37. Rd2 Rxd2+ 38. Kb1 Qb2# 0-1