30 January 2014

Annotated Game #114: A speculative "sacrifice"

This game was the next game played on Chess.com after Annotated Game #113 and made me wonder if my opponent had looked that up and copied the Exchange Variation, simply because White had won the previous game that way.  In any case, the game diverges early (move 6) and Black achieves a more standard position in the line than in the other game, easily equalizing.

After mishandling a combinational idea (see move 15), which resulted in what I thought was a rather stale-looking position, I decided to undertake a speculative "sacrifice" on move 18.  Black nets three pawns for the knight, so it's not technically a material deficit, but Black still feels the loss of the piece before the pawns can mobilize effectively.  Despite some additional pressure that I also obtained from placing a rook on the second rank, my opponent defended well and I decided to try and head for the endgame, where I felt with my extra pawns I would have an edge and all the real winning chances.

Unfortunately there was still enough material on the board for White to be able to gain the initiative and pose some threats - to which I reacted poorly, making what should have been a losing blunder on move 27. The seesaw battle after that was not well played by either of us, but as Tartakower said, the winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.  I felt a little personally redeemed at the end of the game, since I correctly calculated a sequence involving a pawn sacrifice that ensured White could not prevent one of my central pawns from queening.

I learned a good deal from this game and did some rare things for me as a player (the knight "sacrifice" and finding an endgame combination), so despite the panic and poor play for a series of moves I'll chalk it up as a positive experience in general for my chess.

[Event "DHLC Slow Swiss #11"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2014.01.26"] [Round "5"] [White "Okieman888"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "1365"] [BlackElo "1470"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 6. Nf3 {normal is Bf4 or Bg5 as an alternative.} Bg4 {I thought for a little while here and decided that this made the most sense as a reaction to White's move-order. It is a standard move anyway in the variation.} 7. O-O e6 {by this point Black already has comfortable equality.} 8. Bg5 h6 {provoking the exchange. I thought that the dark-square bishop would be better placed on d6 than it would after Be7, which the database shows is the standard move in the position.} 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 { with the queen in place, now Black can think about exchanging off the Bd3 without ruining his pawn structure.} 10. Nbd2 (10. Qb3 {might challenge Black a little more, at least removing the queen from the kingside.} Qe7 11. Nbd2 g6 $11) 10... Bd6 11. Re1 O-O 12. Qb3 Rab8 {I didn't see anything better here. Although the rook is tied to the defense of the b-pawn, White's queen isn't doing a whole lot more. Houdini agrees.} 13. h3 Bf5 14. Bf1 {this was a bit of a surprise, although the bishop does play a defensive role here. Rarely does White let Black get dominance of the h7-b1 diagonal and it gets used in this game to good effect later.} Rfc8 {this is intended to activate the rook and shore up Black's queenside against potential breaks on the c-file.} 15. Nh2 $6 {seemingly intending Ng4 or Nbf3, but neither seem to be particularly effective maneuvers for White. However, with my next move I turn it into a smart idea for White.} Bxh2+ $6 {dubious for both the reason played (calculation of a flawed combination) and for the positional blunder of exchanging a beatiful, unopposed dark-square bishop for a knight on the rim.} ( 15... Bxh3 $1 {is the correct version of the combination, taking advantage of the weakness of f2 and the hanging Nd2.} 16. Ndf3 (16. gxh3 $2 Bxh2+ 17. Kxh2 Qxf2+) 16... Bf5) 16. Kxh2 Qh4 (16... Bxh3 $2 {was what I had originally calculated, only considering the pawn recapture, which would then allow for ... Qxf2+ and then taking the unprotected Nd2. Luckily I actually rechecked the move and falsified it, as} 17. Kxh3 {refutes the idea.} Qf5+ 18. g4 Qxf2 19. Qd1 $16) 17. g3 {After Black's last move, White apparently saw the renewed threat of ...Bxh3.} Qf6 18. Qd1 {now the Nd2 is no longer hanging.} Nxd4 $5 { I thought for a while here and calculated that I could get three pawns and some pressure for the piece, along with a dominant center. In part I simply wanted to see if the idea would work for my own edification, while also not seeing any other useful alternate plans for Black.} (18... b5 {followed by ... b4 is Houdini's preferred plan, the idea being to undermine support for the d4 pawn.}) 19. cxd4 Qxd4 20. Kg2 {White thought a while over this, choosing to save the f-pawn.} Rc2 {I thought for a little while here, considering the rook move would cause much more difficulty for White than simply snatching the b2 pawn.} 21. Re2 {White thought for a good length of time here and defends correctly with the only move.} Qxb2 (21... Bd3 {I calculated would not work because of} 22. Nf3 {and now the Bd3 is pinned while White attacks both the Qd4 and the Re2.} (22. Nb3 {is even much better for White.})) 22. Nf3 {White has avoided the major threats and I felt it was best to start exchanging material and heading for an endgame, where Black's extra pawns (especially the protected passed d-pawn) should give him a significant edge.} Rxe2 23. Bxe2 Be4 {I thought at the time that it was best to immobilize the Nf3, at least temporarily, but ...Rc8 in hindsight looks much better (Houdini agrees), as the Rb8 contributes little to the fight, a crucial deficit at a time when Black is trying to contain White's pieces.} 24. Rc1 a6 {with the idea of cramping White's bishop and making the pawns less vulnerable to a White rook on the 7th rank.} 25. Rc7 Qxa2 {I felt afterwards that this was greedy and it nearly cost me the game, as White now gets a strong initiative. Houdini considers it objectively best, however.} 26. Bd3 {a strong move, as it eliminates a key Black piece and will open up lines in a dangerous way for White's queen.} Qa5 {I rush to bring my queen back into the defense. Unfortunately, the queen is still not well placed.} 27. Rd7 f5 $2 {at the time this idea seemed like the only way to hold the positon together and I was feeling some time pressure so went ahead and played it without sufficient calculation. In fact it should lose, as it fatally undermines Black's center and exposes the king.} (27... Qc3 {there was no need to get panicky and play the text move, as something relatively simple like this will keep Black equal.} 28. Bxe4 dxe4 29. Nd4 Qc8 $11) 28. Bxe4 fxe4 29. Ne5 $2 (29. Qd4 {and now White has a mate in 6, as g7 cannot be defended.}) 29... Rd8 $2 {this superficially looks helpful but in fact simply weakens Black's position.} ( 29... Qc3 $16) 30. Rxb7 $18 (30. Nc4 $1 {is even better.} dxc4 31. Rxd8+) 30... d4 $2 {the point of the rook being on d8, to allow the advance of the pawn with a discovered attack on the Ne5. However, I completely missed the possibility of a fork with Nc6, probably because I had not properly considered (visualized) the position of the Qa5 in relation to the rook; I very rarely have a queen in that spot in my games. My opponent mentioned afterwards that he saw the fork, but thought that the text move would be more effective.} 31. Qg4 $2 (31. Nc6 $18) 31... Qxe5 $19 {the only move, covering g7 (and winning for Black). I had a bad moment here during the game, as the text move seemed crushing, but then I perceived that the queen would in fact protect against the mate. I attribute the difficulty to the well-known problem of sometimes missing "backwards" moves by pieces.} 32. Rb6 e3 {I spent a fair amount of time here to calculate the forced continuation into a winning endgame. Finally the pawns that Black sacrificed for come into their own!} 33. Qxe6+ Qxe6 34. Rxe6 d3 {now White cannot stop one of the pawns from queening.} 0-1

26 January 2014

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Hell yeah!  And answered truthfully.

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You are Jean-Luc Picard
Jean-Luc Picard
Deanna Troi
Geordi LaForge
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James T. Kirk (Captain)
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Mr. Scott
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and a firm hand in dealing with others.
Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test

Annotated Game #113: An aggressive Caro-Kann

This next Slow Chess League game features a very aggressive Caro-Kann - from the Black side!  I rarely face the Exchange Variation, popularized by Fischer back in the day, so decided to try a rather sharp approach to it.  I knew my opponent had played the King's Indian Attack previously, so likely would not have much experience either in the line.

In the game, Black offers an exchange of bishops on f5, which White only briefly hesitated before executing, giving Black a sort of Stonewall-type pawn structure and an open g-file.  While familiar with the general ideas of this variation, I did not execute it particularly well, in general being a little too slow (for example on move 11).  Given White's structural advantages, Black needs to press harder and quicker, looking to activate a rook on the g-file and get his king out of the way - things I accomplish too late.  The critical position, however, did not occur until move 29, when White after a long think offered the h-pawn; after a shorter think, I took it, not seeing the full consequences of the action.  My opponent well deserved the win, but I gained a great deal of understanding about the variation as a result, so it was good for training purposes.

[Event "DHLC Slow Swiss #11"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2014.01.25"] [Round "4"] [White "Da-Waaagh"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B13"] [WhiteElo "1567"] [BlackElo "1453"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "69"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {B13: Caro-Kann: Exchange Variation and Panov-Botvinnik Attack} 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3 Nc6 5. c3 Nf6 6. Bf4 g6 7. Nf3 Bg7 8. O-O Bf5 {the most aggressive form of this variation for Black.} 9. Bxf5 gxf5 10. Re1 {White immediately deploys the rook on the e-file, to good effect. Black will need to watch out for tactics involving the pin of the e-pawn.} e6 $146 {I thought for a little while here and decided that since ...e6 would eventually be played, might as well do it sooner rather than later.} 11. Nbd2 h6 {Covers g5, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface, but this is too slow and unnecessarily cautious.} (11... Ne4 $5) 12. Nb3 $14 (12. Ne5 {would be the most aggressive continuation.} Nxe5 13. Bxe5 Rg8 $14 {I thought that Black would be all right here, although the kingside is looking a little airy.}) 12... Ne4 {the obvious reaction, establishing a strong centralized knight.} 13. Ne5 {I welcomed this, as it gave the opportunity to trade my terrible bishop for a very good knight. The drawback is that it leaves Black weaker on the dark squares.} Bxe5 14. Bxe5 Nxe5 15. dxe5 {at this point I was happy with my position, as the White e-pawn now blocks tactics down the e-file and White has fewer possible threats with most of the minor pieces off the board.} Rg8 {this seemed like an obvious move, but was not the most effective. No immediate threat is created.} (15... Qb6 { would immediately get the queen into play in an effective way, targeting f2 while also playing an important role covering the queenside.}) (15... Rc8 { is another useful idea, which occurred to me a couple moves later. The rook is activated and firmly controls the half-open c-file, including the key c4 and c5 squares. There is also the idea of transferring the rook via the fourth rank at some point to the kingside, if the opportunity appears.}) 16. f3 { this would have been more difficult and time-consuming to execute after ...Qb6. } Ng5 (16... Qb6+ {was something I looked at, but I did not like the fact that White could simply block on d4.} 17. Qd4 Ng5 18. Kf1 Nh7 $14) 17. Kh1 Rc8 18. Nd4 {A comfortable square for the white knight, says Houdini. However, Black can neutralized it fairly easily with ...a6} (18. Qd2 Rc4 19. Nd4 {is better for White.}) 18... Qb6 {it is worth noting that when the Black queen finally does sally forth from d8, it's much less effective than it could have been on move 15.} (18... a6 19. Qb3 Rc7 20. Rac1 Kf8 $14) 19. Qa4+ {an unexpected development. Not unwelcome, however, since I thought it simply helped chase my king to where it would be better placed.} (19. a4 {is a move that certainly didn't occur to me, nor to my opponent most likely. It contains a trap, though, as} Qxb2 $2 {fails because of} 20. Rb1 Qxc3 21. Nb5 $18 {and Black cannot stop the knight fork on d6.}) 19... Kf8 20. h4 $6 {this weakens White's kingside and should be more effectively punished by Black.} Nh7 $11 {while this looks awkward for the knight, it can redevelop itself to a good square via f8... which unfortunately never happens in the game.} 21. Re2 Kg7 $6 {here I did not give sufficient thought to alternative ideas, instead focusing on getting the king to the corner and the knight redeveloped.} (21... Rc4 22. Qa3+ Qc5 23. Qxc5+ Rxc5 24. Kg1 $11) (21... Qd8 {would also be good.}) 22. Qd7 Rgd8 { as usual, one always picks the wrong rook when there's an option.} (22... Rcd8 {Houdini evalutes that the rook is worth more on the c-file.}) 23. Qe7 { this is good for a cheap threat, but nothing more.} (23. Qa4) 23... Re8 24. Qd7 Red8 {Twofold repetition} (24... Qd8 {would be best, but I was still looking for winning chances, which meant avoiding a queen trade.}) 25. Qb5 Qc7 $6 { now Black starts a downhill positional slide. My pieces are uncoordinated and White can transfer his much more effectively to the kingside to start making threats.} (25... Qxb5 $5 26. Nxb5 a6 {I rejected this during the game because of Nd6, but although the knight is temporarily annoying, it can't hurt Black.} 27. Nd6 Rc7 28. Rg1 f6 29. f4 h5 $11) 26. Qd3 a6 27. g4 fxg4 {forced, otherwise Black's pawns are shattered.} 28. fxg4 Qe7 {a key position for the defense. Unfortunately, I go astray with this plausible-looking queen move. Better would have been to get the king in the corner and off the g-file.} ( 28... Kh8 29. Qf3 Rg8 $14) 29. Rg1 {offering the h-pawn. After several minutes of thought, I did not see a direct win for White if I took it (seeing through move 32), so I decided not to believe my opponent. However, he was correct.} Qxh4+ $2 (29... Kh8) 30. Rh2 Qg5 $2 (30... Qe7 31. g5 Nxg5 32. Rxg5+ Qxg5 $18) 31. Nf5+ $18 {the point being that after an exchange on f5, the g-pawn takes and leaves the Rg1 pinning the queen against the Kg7.} Kf8 $2 {this turns out to be worse than h8 as a flight square, although Black is losing in either continuation.} (31... Kh8 32. Rh5 exf5 33. Rxg5 Nxg5 34. gxf5 Rc4 $18) 32. Nxh6 Qg6 (32... Rc7 {does not help much} 33. Qxh7 Qxe5 34. Qg8+ Ke7 35. Qxf7+ Kd6 36. Qf3 $18) 33. Qxg6 fxg6 34. Rf1+ Ke8 35. Nf7 $1 {now Black loses too much material to stay in the game.} 1-0

A good day to be Black

I didn't want to give the erroneous impression that the avoidance of draw death in chess would/should unfairly prejudice Black; this in fact was proven wrong by the latest Tata Steel Masters round:

Round ten - Masters

Group A: Round 10 - Saturday Jan. 25
Anish Giri - Sergey Karjakin
Leinier Dominguez - Levon Aronian
Loek van Wely - Boris Gelfand
Pentala Harikrishna - Wesley So
Fabiano Caruana - Arkadij Naiditsch
Richard Rapport - Hikaru Nakamura

21 January 2014

Draw death for chess

Guess it hasn't happened yet.  (Although a bad day to be Black!)

Tata Steel 2014: Round eight - Masters
Group A: Round 8 - Tuesday Jan. 21
Anish Giri - Levon Aronian
Sergey Karjakin - Boris Gelfand
Leinier Dominguez - Wesley So
Loek van Wely - Arkadij Naiditsch
Pentala Harikrishna - Hikaru Nakamura
Fabiano Caruana - Richard Rapport

Round nine - Challengers

Group B: Round 9 - Tuesday Jan. 21
Anna Muzychuk - Zhao Xue
Ivan Saric - Radek Wojtaszek
Yu Yangyi - Merijn van Delft
Sabino Brunello - Baadur Jobava
Benjamin Bok - Etienne Goudriaan
Jan Timman - Jan-Krzysztof Duda
Dimitri Reinderman - Kayden Troff

20 January 2014

Commentary: Tata Steel Group B (Challengers) - Round 1

This next commentary game features an unusual Dutch Stonewall from the round 1 game between Radek Wojtaszek and Dmitri Reinderman from the Tata Steel Group B (Challengers) section.  As is typical of many master games, the opening is fluid and contains a number of transpositional possibilities, until the point Black chooses to construct a Stonewall formation.  He does this in a favorable way, with White in the end not having much to show from the opening.

The middlegame features some interesting choices in terms of piece exchanges and has a heavy strategic and positional flavor.  White has no prospects for an advantage, but nevertheless passes up a chance to go into a repetition sequence on move 26 - perhaps influenced by the players' rating difference?  If so, it was a poor choice, as White on move 32 follows up by deciding to sacrifice one of his weak queenside pawns for insufficient compensation; Black deserves credit for finding the non-obvious 33...Nf7 in order to gain a slight advantage.  By move 36 we have a minor piece endgame, where Black's two knights shortly become dominant over White's B+N combination.  Reinderman plays the remainder of the endgame masterfully, exchanging off a pair of minor pieces and carefully shepherding his advantage home with his remaining knight.  An excellent game for those interested in things like the Dutch Stonewall, positional considerations behind piece exchanges in the middlegame, or how to win tricky knight endgames.

[Event "Tata Steel Challengers"] [Site "Wijk aan Zee NED"] [Date "2014.01.11"] [Round "1"] [White "Wojtaszek, R."] [Black "Reinderman, D."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A85"] [WhiteElo "2711"] [BlackElo "2593"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "142"] [EventDate "2014.01.11"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] 1. d4 e6 2. c4 b6 $5 {this actually is "hot" according to ChessBase and scores 50 percent. Although statistics are mostly meaningless this early in a game, it's still an indication that the move should not be dismissed. There are many transpositional possibilities, one of the attractions of the move.} 3. a3 { prevents ...Bb4, preparing White's next move.} f5 {transposing immediately into a Dutch Defense. The majority of the time Bb7 is played first, but Reinderman has other plans for the bishop deployment.} 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. g3 Ba6 ( 5... Bb7 6. d5 {with an independent line of play.}) 6. Bg2 c6 7. b3 (7. Qa4 { is the other alternative that has been played, scoring 3-0 for White in the database. It is an aggressive departure from standard development, but poses more probems for Black on the queenside by pressuring the Ba6, c6 and b5.}) 7... d5 $11 {now Black has a rather favorable version of the Stonewall, where his light-square bishop is already developed and White has not done anything comparably useful.} 8. Nh3 {a common alternate plan in the Stonewall - instead of trying to dominate e5, with the more standard Nf3, White's knight instead heads for f4.} Bd6 9. Nf4 Qe7 10. O-O Nbd7 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. a4 {White moves to establish an outpost on b5, with the idea of trading knight for bishop.} O-O 13. Nb5 Bxb5 {a positional necessity. Black in the Stonewall normally tries to avoid trading off the dark-square bishop, given his weakness on the dark squares, so takes the Nb5 with the other bishop. From White's standpoint, this rids Black of a strong piece on the a6-f1 diagonal and opens the a-file for White's rook. From Black's standpoint, White's queenside pawns are now weak and Black is left with a lead in development.} 14. axb5 Rfc8 15. Bb2 Nf8 { Black overprotects e6, thereby freeing up his queen.} (15... Bxf4 16. gxf4 Nf8 {is Houdini's preference, with the idea of following up with ...Ng6-h4. Black's dark-square weakness is not easily exploitable and White's two bishops are constrained by the pawn structure.}) 16. e3 Qd7 17. Qd3 Ne4 {a standard idea in the Stonewall. Here it may not be the most effective immediate choice for Black.} (17... g5 $5 {is a more aggressive approach, but fully in keeping with the Dutch.} 18. Ne2 h5) (17... Rc7 {is another possibility, looking to immediately occupy the c-file.}) 18. Ne2 Rc7 19. Rfc1 Rac8 20. Rxc7 Qxc7 21. Rc1 Qd7 22. Rxc8 Qxc8 {by capturing with the queen on move 20, the difference on move 22 after the additional rook exchange is that the queen is on c8 rather than c7.} 23. f3 {this move is always expected after the knight sortie to e4, but it of course further blocks the Bg2.} Nf6 24. Nc3 Bb4 {the bishop had no future on the b8-h2 diagonal.} 25. Na2 Bd6 26. Bc3 {avoiding the repetition after Nc3. The position does not justify White's playing for a win, however.} Ng6 27. Nb4 Ne7 {the knight comes back to defend c6, the point of the maneuver. Given the lack of a threat to e6, it was also doing nothing on f8.} 28. Qd2 h6 29. Nd3 {clearing the square for the bishop, as White is looking to exchange on d6.} Qd7 30. Bb4 Ne8 {Black again repositions a knight to a more effective square.} 31. Bxd6 Nxd6 32. Ne5 $6 {White seems to be trying too hard for the win. Alternatively, perhaps he saw the sequence through move 35 and incorrectly evaluated it as an easy draw.} (32. Qb4) 32... Qxb5 33. Qc3 Nf7 $15 {Black finds the best defense to White's threat to penetrate with the queen.} 34. Bf1 (34. Qc7 $2 Nxe5 35. Qxe7 Qd7 $17 {and White has almost nothing to show for the sacrificed pawn.}) 34... Qa5 35. Qxa5 bxa5 {perhaps White evaluated this position as easily drawn, which turns out not to be the case.} 36. Nd7 Nd6 37. Kf2 Nc6 {Black's knights keep looking better and better.} 38. Nc5 Kf7 {time to activate the king, which is sufficient to protect e6.} 39. Ke2 g5 {now Black seizes some space on the kingside.} 40. Kd3 Ke7 41. Be2 $6 (41. Bg2 {and now} f4 {does not work:} 42. gxf4 gxf4 43. Bh3 $11) 41... f4 {Black finds the way to exploit the inaccuracy of the bishop's location, using a temporary pawn sacrifice to undermine White's center and achieve dominance with his knights.} 42. gxf4 gxf4 43. exf4 Nf5 44. Bf1 Ncxd4 $19 {White now will lose 2 kingside pawns and can only pick up one of Black's on the queenside in return.} 45. Bh3 {White must start desperately looking for counterplay.} Nxf3 46. Nb7 Nxh2 47. Nxa5 Kd7 48. b4 h5 49. Bxf5 exf5 50. Nb3 {the endgame is now lost for White, although he apparently held out some hope for a draw, perhaps by sacrificing his knight to eliminate all of Black's pawns.} Nf3 51. Ke3 Nh4 52. Nd4 Kc7 53. Kf2 Ng6 54. Kf3 Ne7 55. Kg3 Nc6 56. Nxf5 Nxb4 57. Kh4 Nd3 58. Kxh5 Nxf4+ 59. Kg5 Ne2 60. Kg4 Kb6 61. Kf3 Nc3 62. Ke3 Nb5 63. Kd3 Kc5 64. Ne3 a5 65. Kc2 a4 66. Nd1 Na3+ 67. Kd3 (67. Kb2 {is no help, as this possible line of play shows:} Nc4+ 68. Ka1 d4 69. Nf2 Kb4 70. Nd3+ Kc3 71. Nc1 d3 72. Na2+ Kb3 73. Nc1+ Kc2 74. Nxd3 Kxd3) 67... Nc4 68. Nc3 a3 69. Na2 d4 70. Kc2 Na5 {the most effective way to make progress.} 71. Nc1 Kc4 0-1

17 January 2014

Annotated Game #112: A positional squeeze by Black

This 45 45 game, played in the first round of a Slow Chess League quads section, features a strong positional squeeze by Black.  My opponent varied from his previous Nimzo-Larsen on move 4 and went into a more standard, but still rather passive, type of setup; the database shows it as a transposition into a Reti opening.  Black as a result of his space advantage easily equalizes and then starts to turn up the pressure on the queenside, while actively seeking to shut down any White counterplay.  Along those lines, the decision on move 15 to shut out White's dark-square bishop with ...e5 is a direct result of analyzing the previous encounter with my opponent (Annotated Game #106: A first Nimzo-Larsen), so that was a useful lesson learned.

By move 24 I am able to clearly seize the initiative and start making tactical threats against White's cramped position, which results in winning the exchange and achieving a dominant position.  The big guns then come into play on the open d-file and the game is effectively won after White is forced to exchange queen for rook.  However, my opponent still puts up stout resistance, hoping to take advantage of the mostly closed nature of the position, so careful endgame play is needed to seal the win.  This game was a model of play for me, as I was able to consciously stick with my thinking process for the entire time, ensuring that no blunders occurred.

[Event "DHLC Slow Chess Quads"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2014.01.11"] [Round "1"] [White "Yamaduta"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A06"] [WhiteElo "1441"] [BlackElo "1448"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "134"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {A06: Reti Opening:1 Nf3 d5} 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. b3 d5 3. Bb2 c6 4. e3 (4. d3 { is what my opponent played against me previously. The text move is more consistent with the standard Nimzo-Larsen ideas.}) 4... Bg4 {this seems the most effective square for the bishop, although ...Bf5 is also reasonable.} 5. Be2 e6 (5... Nbd7 {is something I considered playing immediately, although the move order is not significant if Black intends to follow with ...e6 anyway.}) 6. O-O Nbd7 {the most flexible move, deferring placement of the dark-square bishop for the moment.} 7. d3 {this move indicates that White is going for a rather passive setup; either d4 or c4 would give him more space and potential activity at this stage. As it stands, Black is given a clear space advantage.} Bd6 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. a3 $146 {White has a variety of choices here, although the variation with h3 is most popular. The text move gives Black a target (the a-pawn), which facilitated my decision to choose a queenside strategy.} (9. h3 Bh5 10. c4 Qe7 11. Nd4 Bg6 12. cxd5 exd5 13. N2f3 Ne8 14. a3 Ne5 15. Qd2 h6 16. b4 Nxf3+ 17. Nxf3 Nf6 18. Rfc1 Rfe8 19. Bd4 Nd7 20. Qc3 Ne5 21. Bxe5 Bxe5 22. Nxe5 Qxe5 23. Qxe5 Rxe5 {Zant,J-Bernauer,S Germany 2003 1/2-1/2 (33)}) 9... Qe7 {a thematic move taken from my knowledge of the Dutch Stonewall, which is not too far off from the game position. Black targets a3, connects the rooks and provides additional support for a possible future e-pawn advance.} 10. Re1 a5 { the idea being to break up the a/b pawns of White and open one of the files for Black's rooks.} 11. c4 {expected, since otherwise White has few active choices.} Rfc8 {activating the rook on the queenside and positioning it to take advantage of any exchange on d5 with subsequent opening of the c-file.} 12. Qc2 {although this connects White's rooks, the lack of space is already making itself felt. The queen's presence on the c-file opposite Black's rook is also something that Black can also take advantage of immediately.} b5 13. h3 Bh5 {I decided to preserve the bishop, the most important factor being that it would now be well placed on the h7-b1 diagonal if it needed to retreat again, being opposite White's queen.} 14. e4 {I was not expecting this move and thought that the resulting pawn formation favored Black.} dxe4 15. dxe4 e5 { The pawn is overprotected and shuts out the Bb2 from the game, as well as effectively controlling d4. Its counterpart on e4 is weaker and can be pressured more effectively.} 16. Qd3 {threatening to resolve the queenside tension on b5 in White's favor by taking twice. However, this is easily dealt with, resulting in another space gain for Black.} b4 17. a4 {I thought that this was the correct decision, as after exchanging on b4, White could not further target the a-pawn and Black would gain further space. However, Black after the text move gets an excellent game and activates the knight on d7 and other pieces very effectively. Houdini therefore favors the pawn capture.} (17. axb4 Bxb4) 17... Nc5 {an excellent square for the knight, which cannot be directly challenged by any White piece.} 18. Qc2 Rd8 {with only one open file, it seemed strategically best to put as much firepower as possible on it.} 19. Rad1 Rd7 20. Nh4 {heading for f5. This maneuver ends up gaining White nothing on the kingside, as Black after the exchange on e2 prevents the knight from reaching f5. The piece exchange favors White in positional terms, since his bishop was worse off and exchanges in general help the side with less space. However, the loss of tempo moving the knight back and forth, and the displacement of the Re1, help Black.} Bxe2 21. Rxe2 g6 $15 (21... Bc7 22. Nf5 Qe6 {is preferred by Houdini, with doubled rooks coming and then tactics based on the underprotected rook on d1 and the pawn on e4. For example} 23. Ree1 Rad8 24. Nf3 Nfxe4 25. Rxd7 Rxd7 $17) 22. Nhf3 {this seemed reasonable, otherwise the knight is doing nothing at all on the rim.} Rad8 {Black's dominance of the d-file is now assured.} 23. Bc1 {my opponent appears to be thinking about exploiting the dark-square weakness on the kingside, but the bishop never gets there.} Bc7 {done with both the d-file opening, unleashing the rooks, and a redeployment to the long diagonal in mind. Although material remains even, Houdini shows a nearly two-pawn advantage for Black in its evaluation.} 24. Ree1 Nd3 $19 {the initiative now clearly shifts to Black, who starts making a series of threats.} 25. Rf1 Bb6 {by this point I had already seen the idea of playing ...Nh5-g3 and forcing the win of the exchange. White allows me to carry this out now, although it would have been difficult to stop.} 26. Ng5 { now White cannot defend against the knight maneuver.} Nh5 27. h4 Ng3 {this gives Black a winning continuation, although Houdini shows that the pawn on f2 can be taken as well.} (27... Bxf2+ 28. Rxf2 Nxf2 29. Kxf2 Qc5+ 30. Ke2 Ng3+ 31. Kf3 Rd3+ 32. Kg4 Qf2) 28. Ndf3 Nxf1 29. Rxf1 f6 {I thought for a while here, since I thought it might be better to keep the pawn thrust in reserve, but decided it would be simpler to just push the knight to the rim, which can't be bad for Black.} 30. Nh3 Nxc1 {I was a little reluctant to give up the well-placed knight, but it had done its job and now in exchanging itself for the Bc1, makes its colleague the Bb6 that much stronger, being unopposed. Houdini concurs.} 31. Rxc1 Bd4 (31... Rd3 $5) 32. g4 $2 {I'm assuming my opponent did not originally take my next move into account.} Qe6 33. Nh2 { White's knights are now far away from the action in the center and awkwardly placed.} Bc3 {showing the value of a forward outpost for a bishop, as well as a knight.} 34. Kg2 {obviously intending to avoid potential back rank tactics, but now Black can take advantage of the White queen's lack of squares and win material.} Rd2 35. Qb1 Rb2 36. Qa1 Rxf2+ (36... Rxb3 {is actually best, adding insult to injury by taking the extra pawn. This is significantly better than the text move, in reality, as Black having a passed, protected b-pawn at this point would have helped end things much more quickly.}) 37. Nxf2 Bxa1 38. Rxa1 {on a strict material count, Black has a completely won game. If the position were fully closed, White could hope to hold, but Black starts opening additional lines in order to avoid that.} f5 39. Ra2 fxg4 40. Nhxg4 Rd4 { threatening to take the e4 pawn followed by Qxg4} 41. Re2 h5 {this turned out to be less useful than I thought, since the knight proves to be better placed afterwards.} 42. Nh2 Qe7 (42... Qf6 {is a much better square, but I started playing a bit conservatively here, with my clock starting to get low.}) 43. Nf3 c5 {White cannot hope to win with R+N against queen and pawns here, plus Black would have a strong protected passed pawn on d4 if the exchange occurred.} 44. Re3 Qf6 45. Nd3 Rxd3 {based on the same principle as offering the exchange earlier, although the circumstances are more favorable for White. Here I did not see another way for Black to make progress, though.} 46. Rxd3 Qf4 {the queen needs to penetrate into the White camp and start creating threats against the king and multiple pieces/pawns, rather than play defense.} 47. Rd8+ Kf7 48. Ng5+ Ke7 49. Rg8 Qxh4 50. Rxg6 {although the material balance is the same after the pawn captures, White simply cannot do anything against the Black king with an unsupported knight and rook combination. Black has to take care not to walk into any knight fork possibilities, but otherwise has a won game.} Qg4+ {around here I had a little over a minute left on the clock, so was primarily working off of the increment. Given the time limitations, I chose to play safely with queen checks and look for an opportunity to incrementally make progress, rather than calculate a win. Black does not need to rush things.} 51. Kf2 Qf4+ 52. Kg2 h4 53. Re6+ Kd7 54. Rg6 Qg3+ 55. Kf1 Qd3+ 56. Kf2 Qxb3 {not done to win the extra material per se, but to create another threat of a passed pawn, giving Black even less to worry about to secure the win.} 57. Nf7 Qc2+ 58. Ke3 Qc1+ 59. Kf2 Ke7 (59... Qf4+ {is what I should have played, immediately picking up a piece.}) 60. Nd6 Qf4+ 61. Ke2 h3 62. Nf5+ Kf7 63. Rg7+ Kf8 {the threats from the R+N are now exhausted and the end is in sight.} 64. Rh7 Qxe4+ 65. Kd2 Qxf5 66. Rh8+ Kg7 67. Rh4 Qf2+ 0-1

12 January 2014

DVD completed: Viktor Kortchnoi - My Life for Chess, Vol. 1

I recently completed Viktor Kortchnoi - My Life for Chess Vol. 1, one of the Friztrainer series DVDs that come with video analysis and an accompanying database, in this case of 1,799 of Kortchnoi's games from 1946-1979.  I purchased the DVD in the mid-2000s shortly after it came out; after a couple of different tries over the years, I finally finished it, having reviewed it again from the beginning.

The multiple tries required was the result of my previous low level of seriousness about chess study, rather than any fault of the DVD.  In fact, it is very well set up for study purposes, with each of the nine video segments running a half-hour or less and except for the introductory interview, focusing on a single key annotated game.  Kortchnoi has a great facility for explaining strategic ideas, ranging from basic to sophisticated, in a natural way as part of his explanation of each game.  While he can chop through move series rather quickly on the board, he does take care to explain the analysis behind what he considers the key moves.  Digesting one of these analysis sessions is easily done and in fact pleasurable, given the high quality of the narration and Kortchnoi's good humor.  The benefit of the database format is that you can also go over each game afterwards, at your leisure, if you want to delve into it further.

As is the case with other top grandmasters such as Carlsen and Kramnik, Kortchnoi demonstrates during his discussions an objective view of his games, painting the correct impression of chess as a game which can be mastered but never fully perfected or necessarily understood, especially when in the middle of a fight over the board.  Speaking of Carlsen, it was interesting to see that during the DVD interview (recorded in 2004), Kortchnoi was asked about the best future chessplayers and the one person he endorsed wholeheartedly was Carlsen.  (The only other name he mentioned was Karjakin.)

Kortchnoi has had both a remarkable life and chess career and this DVD manages to capture some of the magic in both, even if it does not try to be comprehensive with either.  I would say that as a training resource it is also quite useful, as is the case with any set of well-annotated games by a top player who was one of the participants.

11 January 2014

Dan Heisman on paths to chess mastery

The following, an excerpt from NM Dan Heisman's January 10 Q&A session, addresses the central theme raised in "Do study techniques matter in chess?"
One player noted his FM coach has a certain training regimen and wondered what I thought about it. There's many ways to skin a cat - and many paths to chess mastery. Almost all these paths will contain some similar elements (see Every Good Chess Player...). Another viewer asked "Which is more important in becoming a top player: hard work or great talent?" While I said both were necessary, if backed to a wall, I guess I'd choose "hard work".
(The entire Chess.com Q&A article can be found here.)

07 January 2014

Silman on Chess.com: To Master an Opening You Need to Embrace Defeat!

IM Silman's full article can be found on Chess.com and is in fact a deep and instructive treatment of a King's Indian Defense setup.  Some of the learning principles he cites are general in nature, however, and could for example be applied to Annotated Game #111: A first Dutch Defense - especially the following:
I might seem to be harsh, but Black’s mistakes are actually a healthy part of learning. He put in the work and absorbed various key setups – that’s great. And now he’s using them incorrectly, which is also good since he’ll learn a lot from this game (the pain of defeat is an incredible teacher). That’s how one gets better – a mix of study, trying to use the knowledge from that study, screwing it up badly and losing, making adjustments, and eventually getting it right and discovering that the wins start to fall into his lap.
It's useful to understand that losing badly is in fact a natural part of the learning process of a new opening - you just need to make the effort necessary to make sure that part of the process doesn't last for too long.

05 January 2014

Annotated Game #111: A first Dutch Defense

This game, my first in the Dutch Defense, contains pretty much what you would expect from the occasion: an opening blunder on the kingside, lots of tactics, and unexpected resources by Black that (almost) save the day.  I was unfamiliar with the sideline my opponent chose - probably so was he - and learned the hard way the need to look for tactics in the Dutch from very early on, rather than proceeding only on opening principles.

White chose to let up on the pressure in the middlegame, however, and also missed a tactical blow from Black on move 16, which eventually let me equalize.  I should have entered the tactical complications of 17...Qxb2! after which White has no better than a perpetual, but even after spending a great deal of time on the calculations, could not definitively resolve them in my favor.  Even with the lesser move, a bishop retreat, I was able to transition into an equal endgame, but being tired (or lazy, depending on how you look at it) I allowed White to win a decisive central pawn, then called it quits after blundering another one.

The game showed how psychology and fatigue can influence both sides in what was a rather wild, see-saw match.  However, that's exactly what a Dutch Defense game should be, so I'll keep working on it.  Lesson learned in one sideline, at least.  On the positive side, my tenacity in the middlegame was good, as I constantly sought for opportunities to strike back rather than accept my fate.  My tactical vision (when I actively looked for it) was also good in places, for example with the exchange sacrifice sequence started on move 9, the need to play 13...e5 to try and free my game, and seeing the possibilities on moves 16 and 17, even if I failed to fully calculate the large amount of complications after the best move.

[Event "DHLC Slow Swiss #11"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2014.01.04"] [Round "2"] [White "MurkyLizard"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A80"] [WhiteElo "1611"] [BlackElo "1435"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {A80: Dutch Defence: Unusual White second moves} 1. d4 f5 2. Nc3 {this move normally implies that Bg5 will follow} Nf6 3. Bg5 {with similar ideas for White as in the Veresov Attack (the same initial three moves, except with Black playing ...d5 instead of ...f5)} d5 {Black gets a lock on e4 and opens the diagonal for the Bc8} 4. e3 (4. Bxf6 {is by far the most common choice.}) 4... Ne4 {here I had no idea what to do, having expected the bishop to take on f6, so thought for a bit and figured that the best way to take advantage of White's omission would be to use the knight actively. I was wrong. This was a failure to correctly evaluate the resulting position, as well as a failure to consider the burden of proof on Black of violating general opening principles (not moving the same piece twice early on).} (4... e6 {would be a reasonable move, freeing the Bf8 and reinforcing Black's central pawns. Black would thereby head for a type of Stonewall position.}) 5. Nxe4 fxe4 {Black now has major problems developing his pieces and his king position is weak.} 6. c4 $146 {now out of the database; only one other game had been played previously in this line, a White victory.} h6 $2 {this move was played because I completely focused on my own "threat" against the bishop, assuming it would have to be retreated, and therefore missed White's next move. In the Dutch Defense, one has to be looking for tactics from early on, something which I forgot and was playing simply on (poor) principle. Specifically, Black after his first move has to guard the weakened h5-e8 diagonal.} (6... Qd7 {is Black's best try, according to Houdini, but this is still quite awkward.} 7. Ne2 e6 $16) 7. Qh5+ $18 Kd7 {the only move} 8. Bf4 g5 $2 {Black's game is strategically ruined by this point, but the text move makes it even worse.} (8... c6 {would put up the most resistance.} 9. a3 (9. cxd5 {was what I had worried about most, but Black has the useful maneuver} Qa5+ 10. Kd1 Qxd5) 9... e6) 9. Be5 {Houdini's evaluation function gives White the advantage of more than a full rook here.} e6 {the only move to allow Black to try and get some activity going, an exchange sacrifice.} 10. Bxh8 {White goes for the easy material gain, somewhat freeing Black's game (which is still losing objectively).} (10. Qf7+ {would be more effective for White's attack, at least temporarily passing up on capturing the rook.} Be7 11. Bxh8 (11. cxd5 $18) 11... Qxh8 12. cxd5) 10... Bb4+ 11. Kd1 Qxh8 12. Qf7+ Kd8 13. cxd5 e5 {my opponent apparently did not expect this and thought for some time here. As with the exchange sacrifice, it is Black's best (and only) attempt to generate some counterplay, based on attacking d4 and getting the Qh8 into the action.} 14. Rc1 Bd7 {I considered this the most active defensive move. Black protects c7 by interfering with the 7th rank.} (14... Nd7 {is what was preferred by the engine, although it's no solution to Black's problems.} 15. Ne2 Qf6 16. Qg8+ Bf8 17. dxe5 Nxe5 18. h4 $18) 15. dxe5 $6 {I was happy to see this, as it opens up the long diagonal and activates my queen. White is still winning, of course, but Black now has more chances.} (15. Ne2 {instead would bring another piece into the fight.}) 15... Qxe5 16. a3 $2 {ironically, White makes a similar tactical oversight as Black previously did on the kingside, when attempting to kick White's bishop.} (16. Kc2 {is the best defense, apparently, but would be difficult for a human to play without misgivings.} Bd6 17. h4 $18) 16... Ba4+ $1 $11 {I thought for a little while here, but the bishop move was clearly best, so saved my big think for the next move.} 17. Rc2 {the only move that prevents mate} Be7 $2 { my opponent, who was significantly lower on time, must have appreciated this defensive retreat from me.} (17... Qxb2 $1 {is what I spent most of my time calculating, but I could not see the end-state clearly after White's series of checks and thought that White would eventually be able to do something besides check the king. I was wrong, as it turns out White can pick up a couple of pawns, but has nothing better than to keep a perpetual check going, or suffer a similar fate from Black.} 18. Qg8+ {is actually what I spent most of my time on.} (18. Qxc7+ Ke8 19. Qc8+ (19. axb4 Nc6 {using an interference theme} 20. f3 Qxc2+ 21. Ke1 Rd8 $11) 19... Kf7 20. axb4 Qb1+ 21. Kd2 Nd7 $11) 18... Ke7 19. Qh7+ Kf8 20. Qxh6+ Ke8 {I thought I had to avoid this square, because of} 21. Bb5+ {which I thought would be a decisive deflection tactic, but it in fact loses. Black still has enough material left to mate.} c6 22. Bxa4 $2 Qb1+ 23. Rc1 (23. Ke2 Qe1#) 23... Qd3#) 18. Kc1 (18. Qg8+ $5 Kd7 19. Qe6+ Qxe6 20. dxe6+ Kxe6 21. Bc4+ Ke5 22. b3 $16) 18... Bxc2 $14 {the attack is over, so I cash in the material.} 19. Kxc2 Bf6 20. Qg8+ (20. Qf8+ $5 Kd7 21. Qb4 Qxd5 22. Bc4 $14) 20... Ke7 $11 21. Qe6+ {White has nothing better now than to head for the even endgame, as he has to exchange off the Qe5.} Qxe6 22. dxe6 Kxe6 23. Bc4+ Ke5 { the king is properly placed here, at an active central location, although I thought that it got in the way of my other pieces afterwards; it should have been strategically withdrawn to e6 at an appropriate time.} 24. Ne2 Nc6 25. Nc3 Na5 $2 {simply a lazy move.} (25... Rd8 $142 $5 $11 {was what I had originally planned. Then I had the idea of chasing the Bc4, without seeing that it could now move forward to d5 with the Nc3's protection. This was a thinking process failure, by not asking myself what the previous White move had accomplished (additional control of d5, attacking e4).}) 26. Bd5 $16 {Attacks the isolani on e4, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface. A positional characteristic (isolated pawn) I also should have paid more attention to when starting the endgame, from a strategic point of view.} c6 27. Bxe4 $16 {Things are now looking rather grim for Black, with the passed e-pawn. However, resistance is still possible.} Nc4 28. Rd1 Nd6 {not a bad move, closing off the d-file.} 29. Bg6 (29. Bf3 Rf8 $16) 29... Rg8 {this was a rather cheap threat.} (29... Ke6 { would be better here, untangling the king from the Bf6 and also covering the d7 square.}) 30. Bh5 g4 $2 {the last mistake. I had ideas of isolating the bishop on h4, but White's rook move ended that.} (30... Ke6 $16 {again would be best.}) 31. Rd4 $18 {Black will lose another pawn and have no counterplay remaining in the ending, giving the game to White.} 1-0