28 July 2013

Annotated Game #99: Why it's bad to be positionally dominated

This final round tournament game saw Black achieve complete positional dominance by the early middlegame.  At the time, I thought I had played reasonably well against my higher-rated opponent until that point, but more objective analysis shows how I simply did not understand what was required in the position after playing some standard opening moves. I also had not learned much at all from my earlier round loss in the English where I mishandled the central pawn structure and failed to play e4 at a critical moment (see the recent Amateur Hour post for more on this).

Overall, it was bad to be White and good to be Black in this tournament (for me at least), since Black was the victor in all five of my games; I had Black twice.  Perhaps a contributing factor to this performance was a certain overconfidence in my experience with the English Opening and an unconscious assumption that the rest of the game should easily take care of itself.  As I was paired up by a significant margin each time I had White, this did not work out so well.

In this game, Black's central threats could have been nullified by White on move 14 with the prophylactic e4 push, but White fails to comprehend his weaknesses (including the hanging Nc3) and ends up with his pieces offside and ineffective by move 18.  Black's subsequent careful, relentless crushing of White is instructive and shows how this kind of positional dominance can nullify any hope of an opponent saving themselves with tactics, as none exist.

This was the last tournament game I played before starting this blog and getting serious about chess improvement.  Although for the next annotated game I plan to look at a specific game from earlier in my chess career, after that we will get to see more contemporary games and what lessons they may hold for my ongoing development as a player.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class A"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A24"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "90"] {A24: English Opening vs King's Indian: Lines without ...Nc6} 1. c4 g6 2. Nf3 Bg7 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 O-O 5. Bg2 d6 6. O-O c6 {a key decision in the KID lines. The c6 pawn blunts White's bishop on the long diagonal, but also can become a target of White's b4-b5 push.} 7. d3 e5 8. Bg5 {the dark-square bishop can be difficult to develop in these lines. White decides to quickly trade it off.} ( 8. Rb1 {is typically played first, for example} a5 9. a3 Re8 10. Bg5) 8... h6 9. Bxf6 Bxf6 {Black has the pair of bishops, notes Fritz.} 10. Rb1 (10. b4 $5 { I rightly saw would lose the exchange, but Houdini thinks White has compensation for it.} e4 11. Nxe4 Bxa1 12. Qxa1 {White is the equivalent of a pawn down materially, but the beautiful a1-h8 diagonal and his development lead are worth it.}) 10... Be6 {joining the fight for d5.} 11. b4 d5 {at the time I felt this was a little premature, but Black does well to assert his strength in the center.} 12. Nd2 Qd7 (12... e4 $5 {would further pressure White and is the logical follow-up to the central push by Black. The move works because of the hanging Nc3. For example} 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. Na4 exd3) 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. a4 $2 {for the second time in the tournament, I fail to consider the best move on the board because it involves advancing the e-pawn.} (14. e4 { would stop Black's central threats and reassert White's control over d5. The blocking of the Bg2 is less important.} d4 15. Nd5 $14) (14. b5 $11 {is what my opponent thought would be best here, preventing the knight from coming out. It's certainly better than the text move.}) 14... Nc6 (14... Rc8 {looks a little unnatural, but would immediately attack White's weak points and give Black positional dominance, as both Fritz and Houdini show.} 15. Rc1 Nc6 16. b5 Nb4 $17) 15. Qc1 $2 {this is just asking for trouble. Again e4 would be best here, although not as good as on the previous move.} Bg7 (15... Rac8 {is the obvious way to exploit the Queen's vulnerability on the c-file.} 16. e4 Nd4 $17 ) 16. Nb3 b6 $17 (16... Nxb4 $2 {pawn snatching would backfire here on Black.} 17. Nc5 Qe7 18. Rxb4 Qxc5 19. Nxd5 Rac8 20. Qxc5 Rxc5 21. Ne7+ Kh7 22. Rxb7 $14 ) 17. Qa3 Rfc8 {Black's dominant positional advantage is apparent, with White's pieces contorting themselves to try and cover his weak points, while Black is admirably centralized and flexible, with multiple threats and the initiative.} 18. Rfc1 $6 (18. b5 $5 Ne7 19. Rbc1 $17) 18... Bf8 $19 {Black now puts the screws to White in a simple but effective manner.} 19. Na2 $2 { this will bury White's knight and effectively take the piece out of the game.} (19. Nd2 $19 {it would be better simply to abandon the pawn, although White has poor prospects in any case.}) 19... a5 20. Qb2 axb4 21. Rc2 Bd6 22. Rbc1 Na5 (22... Rxa4 {would be simpler.}) 23. Nxa5 bxa5 24. d4 {White desperately tries for some sort of counterplay.} e4 (24... Qxa4 {again taking the pawn would be the simple and most effective way to proceed. White would have no hope of stopping the two connected passed pawns.}) 25. Rxc8+ Rxc8 26. Rxc8+ Qxc8 {the material exchanges still don't provide White any relief, largely due to the out-of-play Na2. The engines evaluate black as being over the equivalent of a piece up.} 27. Qd2 Kg7 28. f3 f5 29. fxe4 fxe4 30. e3 Bd7 31. Qd1 Qc4 32. Nc1 Qc6 {Black finally gets around to picking up the a-pawn.} 33. Bf1 Qxa4 {from here the game is completely hopeless for White.} 34. Qe2 Qc6 35. Qd2 a4 36. Na2 Qb7 37. Qb2 b3 38. Nc1 Qb4 39. Kf2 Qa3 40. Qb1 Qb4 41. Be2 Qc3 42. h4 Ba3 43. Na2 Qb2 44. Qxb2 Bxb2 45. Nb4 a3 0-1

27 July 2013

The importance of CCT: example #6 - Dortmund 2013 round 1

As part of the continuing series on the importance of CCT (Checks, Captures and Threats) to your thinking process, here is the round 1 game from Dortmund between Vladimir Kramnik and Wang Hao.  Visually it's easy to understand why Black assumed that his last move 25...Ra2 was safe, as it cannot be safely attacked by White's rook and White's queen is on the same file with a White pawn in between them.  With that assumption, Black evidently did not bother with falsifying his move and calculating his opponent's CCT.  However, following the queen check on b8, which forces 26...Kh7, White has the queen fork on b1 and it's all over.

26 July 2013

Mastery Concept: Clearing a square for a piece

This Mastery Concept post, as others in the series will do, highlights an idea that was new (to me) as part of my chess studies since this blog was created.  Exposure to these types of "mastery" ideas - ones that are more sophisticated than simply "I go here, my opponent goes there" -  I believe are essential to the improvement process.  Humans are not particularly good brute-force calculators, so starting your thinking process with calculation is unlikely to provide you with the tools needed to find the strongest candidate moves.  At the master level, the process is in fact usually reversed: an idea is first recognized on the board, then calculation follows to determine if the associated candidate moves work.  This is the primary benefit of pattern recognition.

One repeated observation of amateur play is that amateurs fall into the trap of assuming that each move must be significant in itself - make a threat, defend a weakness, etc.  Master play is significantly deeper in recognizing that a move may be used in order to prepare a much greater threat, set up a combination, and so on.

One of the more subtler concepts that I've run across, and it is perhaps more valuable to recognize because of its subtlety, is clearing squares for pieces.  The piece that is moving is therefore not the significant actor in the chess drama, it is the piece that will replace it on the square.  This may be an obvious concept to many, but for those of us who too easily overlook ideas or valuable candidate moves, the insight can help our thinking and give us an extra edge.  It can also be a combinative idea or a positional one, so it has broad applications.

Chess being a practical game, here are some illustrations of how this mastery concept can work in practice.  Chesstempo also has an illustration of a piece clearance sacrifice as part of its reference on tactical motifs.

1.  Ernesto Real de Azua - Vinay Bhat (2000)
This game was highlighted on GM Bhat's There and Back Again blog and was included in Daniel Naroditsky's Mastering Positional Chess (New in Chess, 2010).  The next move in the viewer (19...b5) dramatically paves the way for ..Nb6 and gets Black out of a serious jam.  The link above has more of GM Bhat's analysis and commentary.

2.  Alexander Chernin - Anthony Miles (1985)
This is a classic modern game featuring a pawn sacrifice in what Hans Kmoch in Pawn Power in Chess termed a "sweeper-sealer-twist" - the pawn is moved (sacrificed in this case) in order to replace the pawn with a piece on the square.  Here 12. e5! is the move that the rest of the game revolves around, as the e4 square is pivotal for White.

3.  La Bourdonnais - McDonnell (1834)
A classic historical game that shows how effective clearing a square for another piece can be.

20 July 2013

Annotated Game #98: An attacking Slav

This fourth-round tournament game was a ratings mismatch but nevertheless enjoyable and interesting to play - of course when you are the winner, that's easier to say.  What I thought was a poor idea by White in the opening (an early d5 advance) is not necessarily bad, according to Houdini and the database, as White could have gained some development and spatial advantages in return for his gambited pawn.  Instead, faced with the prospect of being down a pawn with no compensation, my opponent sacrificed a piece for what turned out to be only some brief pressure.

This game showed some positive signs of improvement in my thinking at the board.  Overall, it was a blunder-free game on my part, which reflected the care taken to anticipate possible White threats.  The defensive moves are coherent and sound, also reflecting a more sophisticated understanding of using dynamic factors, for example on move 21 when Black's e5 pawn is tactically defended.  The breakthrough tactic on move 23 may be obvious to many players, but for me it was the product of a less strictly materialistic way of thinking, which has been one of my historical handicaps.  (Although it's worth noting that I focused on recovering material rather than delivering an immediate mate as a follow-up.)  Analysis also showed an interesting pawn sacrifice on move 19 which would have lead to an earlier breakthrough.

When annotating games it's necessary to concentrate on your deficiencies in order to avoid them in the future, but at the same time it's also important to recognize examples of good play in order to repeat them in the future.  This was a positive game in that respect, despite the mismatch.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class E"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D20"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "58"] {D20: Queen's Gambit Accepted: e3 and 3 e4} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 {by far the move most seen at the amateur level, instead of Nf3, which is considered standard by theory.} dxc4 4. e4 e5 {...b5 is now the preferred move here and scores significantly better. The text move is a more classical approach, seeking to strike back in the center.} 5. d5 {I had not seen this covered before and was skeptical of it during the game. It seems to overextend White's center.} Nf6 6. Bxc4 Bb4 7. Nge2 {this of course drops a pawn, but Houdini thinks there is compensation for White, who can gain an edge in development and space.} Nxe4 8. Qb3 (8. O-O {is how the one master-level game in the database continued.} Nxc3 9. Nxc3 O-O 10. Re1 cxd5 11. Bxd5 Nc6 12. a3 Bc5 13. Be3 Bd4 14. Qf3 Qf6 15. Qe2 Be6 16. Be4 Rac8 17. Nb5 Bxe3 18. fxe3 Qe7 19. Rac1 f5 20. Bxc6 bxc6 21. Nc3 Rf6 22. Qa6 Rc7 23. Qa5 Bb3 24. Ne2 Rd7 25. Ng3 Bd5 26. Qc3 Qe6 27. Re2 Rg6 28. Rf2 Rf7 29. Rcf1 Rg4 30. Qd2 Qg6 31. e4 Bxe4 32. Nxe4 Rxe4 33. Rxf5 Rd4 34. Rxf7 Qxf7 35. Qc2 Qc4 36. Qf5 Rf4 37. Qc8+ Kf7 38. Rxf4+ Qxf4 39. Qd7+ Kf8 40. Qd8+ Kf7 41. Qd7+ {1/2-1/2 (41) Dankert,P (2265) -Storm,R (2335) Germany 1990}) 8... Bxc3+ 9. Nxc3 Nxc3 10. bxc3 b5 {now White is worse, as after the bishop retreats Black can capture on d5 and White no longer has any significant threats, as can be seen in the next variation.} 11. Bxb5 $2 {White decides to sacrifice for an unsound but active attack, rather than give Black a small, safe advantage.} (11. Be2 Qxd5 12. Qxd5 cxd5 13. Bxb5+ Bd7 $15) 11... cxb5 $19 12. Ba3 {the best follow-up, keeping Black's king in the center.} Nd7 13. Qxb5 Rb8 {the point of Black's previous move, which of course also blocked the a4-e8 diagonal.} 14. Qc6 Rb6 15. Qc4 Ba6 {Black uses his rook to carry out the same idea with his bishop that White had on move 12. White's attack is over and now Black's threats dominate.} 16. Qa4 Qc7 17. Bb4 Qc4 18. O-O-O Bb5 19. Qc2 Ra6 (19... a5 $5 {is a non-obvious sacrifice that the engines find, which gains a tempo on the game continuation and threatens mate in a way I had not seen.} 20. Bxa5 Ra6 {and now White must give up material.} 21. Bb4 $2 Rxa2 {and mate would follow after something like} 22. Qb1 {with} Qf4+) 20. a3 (20. Rd2 {does not save the day, says Fritz.} Nc5 21. Re1 f6 22. Bxc5 Qxc5 $19) 20... Nc5 21. Qf5 O-O {Black calmly castles, which defends everything. The e5 pawn is tactically defended by the knight fork on d3.} 22. Rhe1 Rxa3 $1 {Fritz gave the exclamation point here. This effectively breaks up White's shield in front of his king and leads to mate.} 23. Bxa3 Qxc3+ 24. Qc2 (24. Kb1 {a fruitless try to alter the course of the game, notes Fritz.} Rb8 25. Qc8+ Rxc8 26. Bb2 Bd3+ 27. Rxd3 Qxe1+ 28. Kc2 Qe2+ 29. Rd2 Ne4+ 30. Kb1 Nxd2+ 31. Ka2 Qa6+ 32. Ba3 Rc3 33. Ka1 Qxa3#) 24... Qxa3+ {this of course also wins, but I should have been examining other tactical possibilities, as there is a (somewhat unusual) mate in two here.} (24... Nb3+ 25. Kb1 Qa1#) 25. Kd2 Nb3+ 26. Ke3 Nd4+ 27. Qd3 Bxd3 28. Rxd3 Qc5 29. Ke4 f5+ 0-1

14 July 2013

Amateur Hour: Emotional Chess

In this latest "return to chess" tournament series, following the second-round Annotated Game #97 was the third-round Annotated Game #2.  It was one of the first that I selected for the new (to me) practice of analyzing my own games, as it was a memorable example of what is today's Amateur Hour theme: making move choices primarily based on emotional factors.  By definition this is irrational and while it won't always lead to disaster at the board, it will certainly hurt the quality of your game and can be a major roadblock to improvement.

While we may usually think of emotional moves as those made suddenly due to fear, anger, or impatience, the phenomenon is actually broader than that.  There are moves you make because of emotion, but there are also moves you avoid because of emotional considerations.  One of the main reasons I lost Annotated Game #2, an English Opening, was because as White I refused to consider playing the move e4 at a critical moment.  I felt this would be an "un-English" move and in my own, somewhat warped view of my playing style, I believed that I was a flank opening player rather than a classical opening one.  Somehow e4 "felt wrong" not based on an objective evaluation of the board position, but on my own feelings about ever playing the move.

This is all rather silly, but unfortunately is an example of what can be a typical attitude at the Class level.  It is common for people to have strong preferences, whether for particular opening setups or for typical middlegame plans.  When our preferences become emotional, however, this can often cross the line into a refusal to consider other options, including the best ones on the board.  Simple things like always fianchettoing your bishops, or never fianchettoing your bishops, can be examples of this.  Another common emotional decision is to always go for a middlegame plan of an attack on the opponent's king, because of the excitement factor or because you are naturally aggressive, rather than the attack being based on hard strategic and tactical calculation.  (Silman called this "the curse of the mindless king hunter" in The Amateur's Mind.)

I was an example of the other side of the emotional coin, never going for an attack unless specifically provoked into counterattacking and usually playing passive, "positional" chess.  Lack of tactical and attacking skills certainly played a role, but I think fear of risking an attack and having it blow up in your face was also a large part of it.  At some point, though, I started accumulating greater exposure both to specific attacking ideas and also to the key notion that as a player, you must do what the position "tells you" to do - if it says attack, do it!  In that respect, review of well-annotated master-level games is an excellent way of making your chess more objective, as it allows you to see what works and what doesn't in specific situations.

This is not to say that your feelings on a particular day can't legitimately influence your decision-making process.  Some days we are more energetic than others, or simply feel like playing a certain opening over another.  This is both normal and practical.  We also face tournament situations where we may have the desire to either conserve our energies for later rounds, or conversely to make a strong, aggressive push for a prize.  There's a difference between these kinds of high-level considerations, however, and the silly, unobjective feelings that can derail our thinking process and lose us games.

09 July 2013

Foreign Policy: How Chess Explains the World

An article on the Foreign Policy site (containing the above image of Deep Blue vs. Kasparov) provides a tongue-in-cheek - in other words, half-joking and half-serious - look at the struggle for chess dominance over the centuries and how that relates to global power-shifting.  Some of the site's commenters, it seems, have taken the link between chess dominance and world dominance far too seriously and literally, but I would say the article offers an amusing (and rare) combination of accurate chess history with mainstream news/analysis.

07 July 2013

Annotated Game #97: A dubious Slav

This second-round tournament game featured a Slav Defense that could be considered dubious from multiple angles.  The first one is White's 4. Bg5, which is almost never played for a reason.  It gives Black immediate equality by making the bishop a target, weakening the dark squares on the queenside (particularly the e1-h6 diagonal and b2) and if as occurs in the game the bishop is exchanged off, then Black sits quite well with the bishop pair and the doubled f-pawn which covers e5 and g5.

The second dubious feature is the middlegame struggle, which gets a lot of "?!" and some "?" annotations.  This might be somewhat unfair, given the relative complexity of the positions and how understandable it is that in several cases the obvious moves are made rather than the best ones.  However, it is also a wake-up call for us Class players that just because a move is obvious does not mean it should be played automatically.

The attack and defense dynamics are, despite the flaws, interesting to see, starting with White's 16th move. The game becomes quite tactical and the evaluation of the winning side swings back and forth several times.  Some key ideas for future use are highlighted in the analysis, in particular how Black could have improved with 16...Nf8, using solid defense, and then with 18...c5! in order to answer White's flank attack with a break in the center.  In the end, White is too materialistic, being unwilling to sacrifice material in order to break through on the kingside, so Black is able to turn the tables on his attacker.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class C"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D11"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Fritz/Houdini"] [PlyCount "112"] {D11: Slav Defence: 3 Nf3 sidelines and 3...Nf6 4 e3 Bg4} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Bg5 {a rare move. Black is fine with this, as he need not fear the BxN trade and the early bishop move weakens White's queenside.} dxc4 {Black has now fully equalized, as White will have to take additional time to recover the pawn while Black has a comfortable game. The Bg5 rather than being a threat can be a target.} (4... Ne4 {would also be strong here.}) 5. Bxf6 { giving up the two bishops here leaves White particularly weak on the dark squares.} exf6 {the doubled f-pawn is actually rather strong here, taking away e5 and g5 from the Nf3.} 6. e4 (6. e3 {is what the engines prefer as a more solid option.}) 6... Bb4+ $15 {the advantage of the two bishops can be quickly realized here.} 7. Nc3 Be6 8. a3 Ba5 9. Be2 b5 10. O-O O-O 11. Qc2 {coming out of the opening, White has more harmonious development and a cleaner pawn structure, but this is not enough to compensate for the pawn.} Bxc3 {this gives up the two bishops, but at the time I was more concerned about preventing a potential d5 advance by White.} (11... Na6 {is recommended by the engines, as the variation shows that pushing d5 will temporarily succeed, but then the d-pawn will become a huge target for Black.} 12. Rfd1 Qb6 13. d5 cxd5 14. Nxd5 Bxd5 15. exd5 Rad8 $17) 12. bxc3 $15 Nd7 13. a4 a6 14. a5 $6 {this takes away the b6 square from Black, but the pawn is now permanently weak and in need of protection. White could have more usefully mobilized a rook with Rf1 to e1 or d1.} Qc7 {playing Re8 immediately would be better, as it's not yet clear where the best square for the queen would be.} 15. Nh4 Rfe8 16. f4 { this is a critical position for the game. White is attempting to generate a kingside attack that is not fully justified, but Black nevertheless has to think defense on the next few moves.} f5 $11 (16... Nf8 {is the defensive resource found by the engines that preserves Black's advantage. The knight is not wasted there, as it covers h7 without Black having to weaken the pawn shield in front of the king, while White's own knight is out of place on h4 if it cannot further an attack.} 17. Qd2 $17) 17. e5 $6 {White misses his opportunity to open lines.} (17. d5 fxe4 (17... cxd5 18. exf5 d4 19. fxe6 d3 20. exf7+ Kxf7 21. Bxd3 cxd3 22. Qxd3 $11) 18. dxe6 Rxe6 $11) 17... g6 $15 18. Rf3 $6 {this gives Black an opportunity to strike back in the center, which unfortunately I pass up in favor of more passive defense.} (18. g4 fxg4 19. f5 gxf5 20. Nxf5 $15 {would be the way for White to continue an attack, although the engines still give Black the advantage.}) 18... Qd8 {Black needs to think more about activating his other pieces here.} (18... c5 $1 {a classic example of how striking in the center is the correct response to a flank attack. This will activate pieces and mobilize Black's queenside pawn majority, for example} 19. Rd1 cxd4 20. cxd4 b4) (18... Bd5 {would also be good to play immediately.} 19. Rg3 Be4 20. Qd1 Rad8) 19. Rh3 Nf8 20. Nf3 {this allows Black to make the next strong bishop maneuver.} (20. Bf3 $5 Rc8) 20... Bd5 $17 21. Ng5 (21. Rg3 Ne6 22. Qxf5 b4 $19) 21... Kg7 (21... f6 {would be more effective in freeing Black's game while defending.} 22. exf6 Qxf6 $19) 22. Bd1 $6 (22. Rg3 $17) 22... h6 $19 {the point of Black's previous move.} 23. Nf3 Ne6 {now Black is rolling along nicely, with his pieces springing to life and the kingside attack beaten off.} 24. Qd2 Rb8 (24... c5 $5 {again would be a strong move.}) 25. Bc2 $6 {objectively this is somewhat dubious, but it does generate a tactical threat that throws Black off his game.} (25. Ne1 $19) 25... Re7 $2 { this is unnecessary, wasting time on executing the pawn breaks (...b4 or ...c5) and also effectively removing a kingside defender while blocking the diagonal for the queen. Later on, it also sets up a pawn fork tactic for White on f6.} ( 25... b4 $5 {and Black can already relax, comments Fritz.} 26. cxb4 Bxf3 27. Rxf3 Qxd4+ 28. Qxd4 Nxd4 29. Rf2 Rxb4 $19) 26. Rg3 $2 (26. Nh4 b4 27. Bxf5 { taking advantage of the potential knight fork on f5} bxc3 28. Qe3 $17) 26... Be4 $4 {instead of simply winning the game, says Fritz. The primary problem is that I fail to calculate the following sequence correctly. It's a complex one, so that is perhaps not surprising. However, just using general principles, this is a bad move, as it breaks up the defending pawns in front of the king. I was too worried about the threat of Bxf5, which could have been otherwise avoided.} (26... Bxf3 {secures the point} 27. Rxf3 {now Bxf5 will have to wait until the rook repositions itself on the g-file, giving Black enough time to defend by simply moving his king.} Rd7 $19 {and now Black will break through after playing ...b4.}) 27. Bxe4 $16 fxe4 28. Nh4 $6 {the obvious choice, but not the best.} (28. f5 $1 Reb7 $16 (28... exf3 29. f6+ Kh7 30. fxe7 Qxe7 31. Rxf3 $16)) 28... Kh7 $2 {again an obvious choice that is not best. I focus on getting the king away in order to break the pin and avoid the pawn fork on f6, but moving the rook would have accomplished the same thing and generated potential counterplay on the queenside.} (28... Rd7 29. Nxg6 fxg6 30. f5 Nf8 $11) 29. f5 $16 Ng5 {the situation is complicated and White fails to find the correct attacking continuation, which would involve sacrificing material.} ( 29... g5 {is the other possibility, also very difficult for Black.} 30. f6 (30. fxe6 gxh4 31. Rg4 Rxe6 32. Qf4 $14) 30... gxh4 31. fxe7 Qxe7 32. Rg4) 30. fxg6+ (30. Rxg5 $5 hxg5 31. Qxg5 $18 {with play possibly continuing} Qe8 32. Rf1 e3 33. f6) 30... fxg6 $16 31. Qf4 $2 {this swings the game back to winning territory for Black.} (31. Nxg6 Kxg6 32. Rf1 $16 {with the threat of h4.}) 31... Rf7 $19 32. Qg4 $2 {if Black had recognized the opportunity, this would have allowed a breakthrough on the b-file with some nice tactics.} (32. Qd2 { is better, but can't stop the b-file breakthrough either.} b4 33. cxb4 Rf4 34. Qxf4 Qxd4+) 32... Qc8 {Black is still in control here, although the b-file idea is superior.} (32... b4 33. Rd1 Qxa5 34. cxb4 Qxb4 35. Qe2 $19) 33. Re1 $2 {this effectively ends White's chances in the game. A better alternative would be} (33. Qxc8 Rxc8 34. Nxg6 Kxg6 35. h4 c5 36. hxg5 hxg5) 33... Qxg4 34. Rxg4 Rbf8 {Black now dominates the position, is ahead material and White has no counterplay.} 35. Rg3 $2 {this hastens the end by allowing Black to trap the knight.} Rf4 36. Nxg6 Kxg6 {now the h4 idea from a previous variation doesn't work because of the Rf4.} 37. Rge3 h5 38. h3 h4 39. Kh1 {this allows Black to further simplify and consolidate his material edge.} Rf1+ 40. Rxf1 Rxf1+ 41. Kh2 Rf2 42. Kg1 Ra2 43. Re1 (43. e6 {doesn't work.} Rxa5 44. e7 Kf7 $19) 43... Rxa5 44. Kf2 Ra2+ 45. Re2 Rxe2+ 46. Kxe2 a5 {the position is now completely resignable, as White cannot possibly stop the separated passed pawns.} 47. Kd2 a4 48. Kc2 a3 49. Kb1 e3 50. e6 Nxe6 51. d5 cxd5 52. g4 e2 53. Ka2 e1=Q 54. g5 Qd2+ 55. Ka1 Qxc3+ 56. Ka2 Qb2# 0-1

06 July 2013

Book completed: Win with the Stonewall Dutch

I originally began Win with the Stonewall Dutch (Sverre Johnsen/Ivar Bern/Simen Agdestein, Gambit, 2009) in 2011, getting through Chapter 6 (and the Stonewall Hero exercise) before putting it down for about a year.  I was fortunate enough to have the chance to play in a series of tournaments for the first time in a while, so decided to focus on preparing for that and concentrating more on middlegame studies, rather than on learning the Stonewall and trying to incorporate it into my play.  As I'm now in the middle of another extended break from tournament play, I decided to tackle the book again (from the beginning) and completed it earlier this week.

Although of course it is not perfect, the book is certainly one of the best chess books that I have read - in any category - and naturally is also among the top rank of my opening books.  The above-linked review provides a good overview of its contents, while here I would like to focus on its utility for both opening study and overall training purposes.  The bottom line for me was that it was good for my chess, not just as an opening reference.  This reflects the idea that learning a new opening should be for the goal of overall improvement, not just providing you with a new way to get to move 10 and leaving you with no idea what to do in the middlegame.

The fact that the book was the work of three practitioners at different skill levels - Ivar Bern an OTB IM and Correspondence GM, Simen Agdestein a GM and former Norwegian champion, and Sverre Johnsen a strong Expert-level writer - for me was a strength rather than a weakness.  They had personal experience with the opening for a number of years and brought that experiential knowledge, along with a willingness to research a wide range of alternative methods of play, to their analysis and presentation of the different opening lines.  Despite the book's title, this is not a one-sided tract for lovers of the Modern Stonewall, but a thorough and balanced treatment.  Although the authors are not completely objective, in the sense that they want Black to be able to do as best as possible, this does not appear to have affected their judgment of chessboard realities.  They also have a certain sense of humor, which I think helps to put evaluations of different possibilities in perspective, rather than taking everything deathly seriously.  This also feeds into a certain tolerance for unclear evaluations, which are part of the reality of chess.

The "real-world" approach of the book, which relies on a large number of annotated games to inform its theoretical sections at the end of each chapter, is designed to highlight practice before theory.  The main annotated games are also where a number of important concepts are discussed.  Most important for improvement and training purposes is the fact that the book challenges the reader, both explicitly and implicitly.  There are 12 exercises which require the reader to think for themselves, not just look over material, and include a variety of content such as middlegame combinations.  Some exercises are also deliberately designed to have a long-term effect on your chess training practices and studies, including analyzing a variety of move choices in a theoretically critical line as well as the aforementioned "Stonewall Hero" database and analysis exercise.

Another challenging and valuable aspect of the book is that it is not a repertoire book where only one recommended line is treated for Black.  Where the authors do have a preferred repertoire choice in some cases, they explain their reasoning and normally provide at least a description of the alternatives.  The book of course is not infinitely expandable, so judgment had to be used in terms of what was most important to include.  There is in fact a huge amount of material and the authors do not shy away from addressing things like move-order and transpositional issues, which adds to the complexity of the work but I think is both welcome and essential.

I went through the book using a full-size wooden chessboard and played through the vast majority of the book's lines, variations and sample games.  (The one exception to this was the chapter on playing the Dutch versus openings other than 1. d4, which I have no intention of doing.)  After having completed the book, I'm now going back over the material using my repertoire database and selecting my preferred lines, in the process doing additional research and analysis.  The book contains far too much material to be absorbed fully in one or even several pass-throughs.  Reading and playing it through once, however, gave me a great sense of the Stonewall in all phases of the game.  I expect return to the book repeatedly for study and reference purposes.

A few other relevant points:
  • The Classical Stonewall (with development of ...Be7 instead of ...Bd6) is not treated at all.  This means that the book cannot be considered a complete guide to the Stonewall.  This did not bother me too much, as I preferred that the authors focus more fully on one option or the other, rather than bouncing back and forth, which is what occurred in the otherwise excellent Starting Out: The Dutch Defence.
  • The main Classical Stonewall plan of developing the light-squared bishop to the kingside is given secondary treatment here to the modern queenside development options after ...b6, although in some lines the old plan is still necessary and is covered well.
  • Secondary variations in the main annotated games are usually quoted from other games, with light or no annotations, although with evaluations given in each line.
  • Coverage of the anti-Dutch lines, including the gambits, is more restricted in terms of Black repertoire choices, so the reader will need to do additional research if they want more choices.