31 May 2014

Mastery Concept: Cross-training Openings

As part of an occasional series of Mastery Concept posts, I'd like to highlight the benefits of cross-training openings.  Cross-training is all the rage for getting in physical shape (witness Crossfit) and can also be an important part of strengthening your mental game.

For example, I used to be too narrow in my opening study methods and, like many players when they are first exposed to opening theory, focused on choosing and memorizing "book" variations.  Study of complete, annotated games featuring chosen variations was a big step up from this constrained and ultimately counterproductive method, and I believe this should be the cornerstone of most improving players' practice.  Another step forward in knowledge and sophistication, however, is looking at a broader range of games in order to take away valuable lessons at a conceptual level.

Naturally you need to have a balanced approach to selecting games to study, since with a limited time budget you can't just take in everything indiscriminately.  However, while looking at games from contemporary tournaments of interest, or when working through collections of annotated games of world-class players, similar concepts across different openings should pop out at you during the process.

Sometimes I find that identifying an analagous concept in a completely different opening has an even greater impact on my understanding of it, perhaps due to its unexpected nature.  These types of common concepts are, by definition, worthy of further study and examination due to their appearance in multiple types of games.  Striving to understand small differences in how concepts are applied across different games, or in different variations, I believe is also one of the keys to mastering positional understanding.  (See Training quote of the day #2)

Examples of openings cross-training are legion; here are some that I have run across at various points in my studies.  As can be seen below, cross-training opening ideas can range from direct transpositions between openings, which are more obvious, to individual maneuvers that can be applied in similar circumstances.

Caro-Kann / Slav combination: I've played both openings for a long time and I don't believe they have a large number of identical ideas, despite the duplication of Black's first two moves (1...c6 followed by 2...d5) and the common initial idea of supporting the d5 pawn in the center.  Their main commonality is that they both normally lead to semi-open type games, rather than open or closed positions.  Nevertheless, there are some benefits to being able to play both, given some early transposition possibilities (as occurred in Annotated Game #67).  Switching to the Caro-Kann is also an easy way to meet the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (1. d4 d5 2. e4 c6), if you have it in your repertoire.

Caro-Kann / Queen's Gambit Declined: further along in the opening, the Caro-Kann can in some cases also merge with queen's pawn openings, as occurs in a popular line of the Panov-Botvinnink Attack after Black plays 5...e6; see Annotated Game #38 and Annotated Game #123 for personal examples.

Slav / Stonewall Dutch: the Stonewall can be reached from a Slav move-order and can be used to good effect that way, as Anna Zatonskih did in the 2013 U.S. Championships.

Bishop retreat to h2/h7: an example of the value of this maneuver for White can be found in this 2014 U.S. Championship game by Gata Kamsky featuring the London System, while its analog for Black can be found in the analysis to Annotated Game #124.  In both cases the point is to preserve the light-square bishop rather than allow the opponent to trade it off.

And finally, here is a more sophisticated example, with the comment excerpted from the November 2011 Chess Evolution analysis of a top-level game in the Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez:

As a postscript, a couple of other observations on opening cross-training from the chess blogosphere:

GM Nigel Davies - The Benefits of Cross Training

GM Vinay Bhat - Mind = Blown

Sputnick - Responding to 1.d4 with the Nimzo-Indian and Ragozin

29 May 2014

Commentary: XV Karpov-Poikovsky Tournament - Round 4

Before continuing on with an account of my best recent tournament, started in Annotated Game #123, I have a pending commentary game to post.  From round 4 of the 15th anniversary Karpov-Poikovsky tournament in mid-May, this features two well-known international players (Bologan and Nepomniachtchi) slugging it out in a Leningrad Dutch.  Bologan's unusual 6th move creates a new strategic picture in the opening variation, but Black is the one who takes advantage of it.  It is instructive to see Nepomniachtchi successfully execute several thematic moves (7...Nc6, 9...Ne4 and 11...g5) that allow him to equalize and then seize the initiative.  Bologan had some opportunities to pull himself back into the game later on, but they were difficult to find and Black's threats kept coming in a relentless fashion.  Overall, this game is an excellent example of what Black can do in the Leningrad Dutch against imprecise play.

[Event "15th Karpov GM 2014"] [Site "Poikovsky RUS"] [Date "2014.05.14"] [Round "4.5"] [White "Bologan, Viktor"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A81"] [WhiteElo "2655"] [BlackElo "2735"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2014.05.11"] 1. d4 f5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. c3 {White apparently wants to avoid a theoretical duel in the Leningrad variation, settling for an uncommon solid-seeming move rather than the usual c4. The immediate logic is obvious, to reinforce the d4 strongpoint, but the line is certainly less challenging to Black. One difference that Black should keep in mind, though, is that White now has Qb3+ without a pawn blocking the diagonal.} a5 {Black cheekily answers with an offbeat response of his own. This pawn move seeks to restrain White's potential follow-up play on the queenside, including b4. Prior to this game, however, it scored horribly, with no Black wins and White scoring a similar number of wins and draws.} 7. Nbd2 {the natural square (c3) having been occupied, White needs to take some extra time to get his knight developed. From here White may also think about supporting the e4 advance.} Nc6 {when Black can get away with this knight development in the Leningrad, it's usually a good idea to play it, since it fights directly for e5. The usual advance d5 here is not playable for White, due to the c-pawn being a square short of its usual post.} 8. Re1 d5 {a strong central reaction. Black sees that exerting control over e4 and c4 is more important than any potential resulting pawn structure weaknesses.} 9. Nb3 {the knight has now taken two moves to get to a not-very-useful square.} Ne4 {another move Dutch players always love to be able to execute unchallenged.} 10. a4 {otherwise Black threatens to push the a-pawn and kick the hapless Nb3.} e6 {the structure is now a hybrid of Stonewall and Leningrad. However, the main point of the move was not the pawn placement, but rather to open the diagonal and support Black's following move.} 11. Bf4 g5 {yet another favorite move in the Dutch. Although Houdini still rates the position as equal, the fact that Black has been able to consistently play his desired thematic moves and take over the initiative this early is bad news for White.} 12. Be5 Bh6 {Black chooses to avoid exchanging the Bg7 while also preventing White from establishing a useful outpost on e5.} (12... Nxe5 13. Nxe5 Qe7 $11) 13. Rf1 {it seems that White is already running out of good moves and can do little in the face of Black's initiative.} g4 $15 14. Ne1 Nxe5 {now Black exchanges, with the knight out of the way.} 15. dxe5 {now the pawn on e5 will be a source of weakness for White.} c5 {playing this without preparation is possible for Black, although perhaps not the strongest continuation.} (15... b6 {is favored by Houdini.}) 16. Bxe4 dxe4 17. Nxc5 Qb6 18. b4 $6 (18. Nb3 {instead would allow White to regroup and address his backwards development while Black spends time regaining the pawn.} Bg7 19. Qc2 Bxe5 20. Ng2 $11) 18... Rd8 {an easy decision to seize the only open file.} 19. Qb3 {White now attends to his weak b-pawn, but Black is able to continue making threats and improving his pieces without impediment.} Rd5 {a powerful centralization move, threatening both e5 and c5 due to the pin of the b4 pawn against the unprotected Qb3.} 20. Qc4 $2 { unfortunately for White, this just moves into another pin.} (20. Qb1) 20... Qc7 {attacking e5 again and pinning the Nc5. White has no good way to meet all the Black threats.} 21. Nc2 $17 {the least worst option, leaving the Nc5 to its fate but trying to stir up some counterplay.} (21. Qa2 {withdrawing the queen helps, but is not sufficient to get White out of danger in the rest of his position.} axb4 22. cxb4 Rd2 {made possible by the offside yet influential Bh6. } 23. Qb1 Qxe5 24. Ra2 Rxa2 25. Qxa2 b6 26. Nb3 Qd5 $19 {and now Black's two bishops are going to carve White up, assisted as needed by his central pawns and more active major pieces.}) (21. Qb5 {would be a perhaps too-obvious try for a swindle.} b6 $2 (21... Kf7 $19) 22. Qe8+ Kg7 23. Nxe6+ Bxe6 24. Qxe6 Rxe5 25. Qb3) 21... b6 22. Nd4 {the point being that the knight now threatens to take on f5, with some counterplay, as the Rd5 would be hanging if Black recaptured with the e-pawn.} Rxe5 {Black (perhaps in some time pressure?) goes for the safe-looking choice.} (22... bxc5 {simply taking the piece, however, looks best.} 23. Nxf5 Bg7 $17 {and regardless of what White does, Black takes the e-pawn and has a fine position.}) 23. Nb5 Qe7 24. Nb3 $15 {White has managed to extricate himself from the pin, with only a slightly worse game according to the engine, although Black still looks threatening and the defender will have to walk a tightrope. Unfortunately, White cannot maintain equilibrium.} e3 {the only real try for an advantage.} 25. Qd4 (25. N3d4 { is preferred by the engine, but this is not at all obvious.}) 25... exf2+ 26. Rxf2 Re4 {the strongest option for the rook, attacking the queen and keeping control of e3, with the threat of ...Be3.} 27. Qxb6 axb4 (27... Be3) 28. cxb4 $2 {after this White is lost.} (28. Nd6 {the only move that lets White keep equality, according to the engine. A sample line:} Be3 29. Qc6 Bxf2+ 30. Kxf2 Qa7+ 31. Qc5 Qxc5+ 32. Nxc5 Re5 33. cxb4 $11 {although down an exchange for a pawn, the two connected passed pawns should be enough compensation.}) 28... Be3 (28... Rxb4 {also wins.}) 29. N3d4 (29. Qc6 {here does not work due to} Bb7 { which would be prevented in the above variation by the Nd6.}) 29... Bb7 30. Rd1 Ra6 31. Qc5 Qxc5 {Black decides to accept the trade and exchange down into a simpler won position.} 32. bxc5 Re5 33. Nd6 Ba8 34. Nc4 Bxf2+ {Black is forced to finally pull the trigger on the pinned rook to win the exchange.} 35. Kxf2 Rxc5 {White has no compensation for the exchange and Black's rooks and bishop can run rampant in the position.} 36. Ne3 Kf7 37. Nb3 Rc3 38. Nc1 Be4 39. Na2 Ra3 {the a-pawn will fall and then Black will just chew White up with his stronger pieces and extra pawn.} 0-1

21 May 2014

Commentary: 2014 U.S. Championship - Round 11

The final round of the U.S. Championship was outstanding to see, especially the must-win effort from Gata Kamsky to gain a spot in the playoffs (which he then won).  In this game, he chose one of his regular weapons as White, the London System, against GM Josh Friedel.  This strategy of opening selection, relying on a deeply known opening that is considered solid rather than unbalancing, is similar for example to Kasparov's choice of the English in his must-win final game against Karpov in the 1987 World Championship.

Kamsky's strategic depth was shown via moves like 13. a5, which in fact is aimed at undermining the center.  Friedel had multiple chances to equalize or gain counterplay, but instead ended up choosing to play his opponent's game rather than his own.  I identify move 21 as the key strategic decision point for Black, as he deliberately passes up unbalanced play on the queenside, where he has an advantage, in favor of attempting to shore up his kingside defenses.  Black's subsequent awkward defensive contortions are eventually exploited by White, who ends up dominating the entire board.

The game is worth examining for its individual positional and tactical decisions, but what stands out are the strategic factors and the role psychology played, with Black evidently feeling the pressure of playing against his world-class opponent.

[Event "ch-USA 2014"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2014.05.19"] [Round "11"] [White "Kamsky, G."] [Black "Friedel, J."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A46"] [WhiteElo "2713"] [BlackElo "2505"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "127"] [EventDate "2014.05.07"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bf4 {the London System.} c5 {this and ...b6 are the two most popular responses.} 4. e3 {continuing with the standard setup, although c3 is also possible. Exchanging on c5 would simply give Black what he wants in the center and develop the dark-squared bishop.} cxd4 {exchanging the c for the d pawn, which according to classical theory is a plus. Of course this is done all the time in the Open Sicilian by White, so general ideas only get you so far.} 5. exd4 b6 {again, the most popular continuation. The light-squared bishop will otherwise be out of the game.} 6. h3 {a typical feature of the opening, although played early here. The main point is to provide a retreat square for the Bf4, rather than to take g4 away from the Nf6.} Bb7 7. Bd3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 d6 {Black challenges the hold White has over e5, which otherwise would be an excellent outpost for him.} 10. a4 {the idea is to undermine Black on the queenside.} a6 11. Nbd2 Nbd7 12. Bh2 {White anticipates a challenge to the bishop and withdraws it to safer territory.} Re8 13. a5 { demonstrating a deep understanding of the position. With this advance on the wing, in fact Kamsky is undermining Black's position in the center.} d5 { while a central pawn on d5 is not a bad thing in itself, here the pawn advance gives up the e5 square and also blocks the Bb7.} (13... bxa5 14. Nc4 Bxf3 15. Qxf3 d5 16. Nxa5 $14) (13... b5 {is Houdini's preference, which maintains Black's central configuration and makes fewer concessions to White.} 14. c4 bxc4 15. Nxc4 Qb8) 14. c3 {Kamsky with this move reinforces d4 and gives his queen (or bishop) the c2 square.} Bc6 (14... bxa5 {still does not work.} 15. Qa4 {and the a5 pawn will fall, leaving its double on a6 a target.}) 15. axb6 Qxb6 16. Ra2 Bb5 17. Bc2 {Kamsky's decision to avoid the piece trade I believe was influenced by the must-win nature of the game. He likely assessed that in practical terms, his winning chances would decrease, even if the position appeared slightly better.} (17. Qe2 Bxd3 18. Qxd3 $14) 17... Rec8 {the action looks to be over on the queenside, so Black commits his rook.} 18. Ne5 Nxe5 { leaving the strong knight on e5 would do Black no good and the piece exchange is also welcomed. However, White as a result of the maneuver gains more control over the strategic square.} 19. Bxe5 Nd7 20. Bf4 a5 21. Re3 {the rook lift idea looks a little crude, but again White needs the win. Black's forces are also away from the kingside, so there is an intimidation factor to White's potential attack.} Nf8 {a key turning point strategically. Friedel chooses to shift his play back to the kingside for defense, mirroring Kamsky's efforts, rather than play on the queenside where he has a space advantage and pressure.} (21... a4 {here or on the next move is the engine's recommendation, as it assesses that White will not be able to put together a successful kingside attack.} 22. Ra1 (22. Bxa4 $2 Bxa4 23. Rxa4 Qxb2 $17) 22... Bd6 23. Bxd6 Qxd6 24. Rg3 g6 $11) 22. Qg4 Bd7 23. Be5 Ng6 24. Qh5 Rf8 {Black continues to play White's game, rather than try to impose his own ideas.} 25. Nf3 Be8 26. Bh2 { again preserving the bishop and anticipating possible Black tactics with the Be8 now lined up on the Qh5.} f5 27. Nd2 {this clears the h5-d1 diagonal for the queen.} Rf6 {while this reinforces Black's defense on the 6th rank, it hampers his piece coordination.} 28. Re1 f4 $6 {this loosens Black's position and gives back the g4 square to White.} (28... Bd6 $5 {looking to exchange pieces.}) 29. Qg4 Bd6 30. Nf3 {the knight can now return to its more active square, since the queen is safe.} Qc7 31. Kh1 {this looks like a waiting move, as there does not appear to be a pressing reason to delay Ng5.} Bf7 {still playing defensively and rather passively.} (31... Rb8 {would provide some counterplay, or the aforementioned ...a4 idea.}) 32. Ng5 {now White looks to be in control strategically.} Nf8 {Black has to contort himself even more to cover his weaknesses, while White feels no pressure.} 33. Nxf7 Kxf7 34. Qf3 Rb8 35. Bg1 {apparently aimed at covering the f2 square, although the engine considers that Kg1 is a better way to accomplish this. The bishop also eventually provides support for d4 after the c-pawn is pushed, but locking the piece away in the meantime seems a high price to pay.} (35. Kg1 Kg8 36. Qd3 $16 ) 35... Kg8 36. Bd1 {a passive move that follows the previous passive move, meaning that White has seemingly dissipated much of his pressure. I imagine both players were in time pressure by this point, which explains the following repetition.} Qc4 37. Ra4 Qc7 38. Ra2 Qc4 39. b3 Qc7 40. Qd3 {compared with the above variation on move 36, White's bishops are significantly worse in this position.} Rc8 41. Rc2 Qb7 42. c4 Qb4 (42... Bb4 $5 {seems to be a more effective blockading piece for the queenside, leaving the queen available for other duties.}) 43. Rf1 dxc4 {this transformation of the pawn structure benefits White more than Black. Again Black gives up a key central square, this time e4.} 44. bxc4 Rd8 45. Qe4 (45. f3 {is also possible.}) 45... a4 { Black does not have sufficient support for the a-pawn, while in contrast the c/ d pawn duo is stronger and has better piece support.} 46. Bg4 $16 {the bishop finally springs to life again, also clearing the first rank for the rook.} (46. c5 {played immediately also looks very effective, as Houdini already evaluates White as being the equivalent of two pawns up.} Bc7 47. f3 Ng6 48. Ra2 $18 { and the a-pawn will fall.}) 46... a3 47. c5 a2 $2 {this loses material and seals Black's fate, but perhaps Friedel thought it gave him the best practical chances, setting a trap if the Bd6 is captured.} (47... Bc7) 48. f3 $18 (48. cxd6 $2 Qb1 $1) 48... Bb8 (48... Qb1 49. Rcc1 $18) 49. Rxa2 Qc4 50. Raa1 { although White is only a pawn up, it is a protected passed pawn. Meanwhile, his pieces are so active and coordinated, and Black's are not, that it is nearly impossible to imagine any way to save the game against someone like Kamsky.} Rf7 51. Rfe1 Re7 52. Bf2 Ree8 53. h4 {a simple but effective idea, to threaten to pry open Black's king position.} Re7 54. h5 Ree8 55. Rab1 {White is able to make threats on both wings and also dominates the center.} Rd7 56. Kg1 Qa2 57. c6 Rde7 58. Ra1 Qd2 59. Rec1 Ra7 60. d5 {Kamsky ruthlessly presses home his advantage in the center, utilizing the pin on the Re8.} Rxa1 (60... Qxd5 $2 61. Qxd5 exd5 62. Bxa7) 61. Rxa1 Bd6 62. dxe6 Qc3 63. Rd1 Bc5 64. Qxf4 1-0

20 May 2014

Annotated Game #124: Crazy attacking interlude

Before resuming analysis of the tournament begun in Annotated Game #123, I could not resist looking at a recent Slow Chess League game that featured an unsound attack for Black (me) and surprising resources for both sides.  Having been caught off guard by an unpleasant opening sequence, I decide to sacrifice a piece for two pawns and an attack.  This is in fact a typical recipe for disaster at the novice level and I fail to do any better with it.  However, I was able to see a number of attacking ideas and thought it would be much more fun to go out fighting than be squeezed to death out of an inferior opening.  The attacking idea on move 19 for Black is especially noteworthy and the analysis shows how I could have legitimately obtained a dominant kingside attack by finding a way of employing all of my limited resources, despite being the equivalent of two pieces down.  In the end, at least it was a fun game with a worthy opponent.

[Event "DHLC Slow Swiss #13"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2014.05.17"] [Round "6"] [White "Constantine73"] [Black "ChessAdmin_01"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "1650"] [BlackElo "1451"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "55"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [TimeControl "45"] {D11: Slav Defence: 3 Nf3 sidelines and 3...Nf6 4 e3 Bg4} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. g3 {the fianchetto setup aganst the Slav is rarely played, as the bishop is normally not nearly as useful on g2 as it can be elsewhere.} Nf6 4. Bg2 Bf5 { I thought for a bit about the best square for the bishop, eventually deciding that the traditional f5 placement was best, since it dominated the h7-b1 diagonal without being able to be challenged by its White counterpart now.} 5. Nf3 e6 6. Nc3 Nbd7 (6... h6 {scores close to 52 percent for Black and gives the Bf5 a place to retreat to. It could also have been played on the next move. }) 7. O-O Be7 $6 (7... dxc4 {looks good here, taking advantage of the bishop not being available to recapture on c4.} 8. Nh4 Bg4 9. Qc2 Be7 10. h3 Bh5 11. g4 Nd5 $15) 8. Nh4 {a strong, logical move that looks to chase Black's bishop and gain space. White scores 61 percent with it.} Bg4 9. h3 Bh5 10. g4 Nxg4 $146 {rather than face the awkward bishop retreat and come under lasting pressure from White, I decide to sacrifice the piece for an attack.} (10... Bg6 {would be the best move here, but I was worried about the follow-on threat of g5, which I had not initially considered when entering the sequence, and lurking attacking possibilities for White. Play could have continued} 11. Qb3 Qb6 12. g5 Nh5 13. Nxg6 hxg6 14. cxd5 exd5 15. e4 $14) (10... Bxg4 {has actually been tried before (unsuccessfully).} 11. hxg4 Nxg4 12. Nf3 Qc7 13. Qd3 dxc4 14. Qxc4 Nb6 15. Qd3 h5 16. Qe4 g5 17. Bd2 Nc4 18. Rfc1 Nxd2 19. Nxd2 Qh2+ 20. Kf1 Qh4 21. Nd1 Bb4 22. Nf3 Nh2+ 23. Nxh2 Qxh2 24. d5 h4 25. dxc6 h3 26. Bf3 Rh4 27. cxb7 Rd8 28. Qc6+ Kf8 29. Rc4 Rxc4 30. Qxc4 Qd6 31. Qc8 Kg7 32. Ne3 g4 33. Bxg4 h2 34. Kg2 Ba5 35. Rd1 {1-0 (35) Barberi,A (2160)-Cantore,A (2195) Asti 1998}) 11. hxg4 $16 Bxg4 12. Nf3 h5 {a logical continuation, seeking to work the open flank, but not decisive enough.} (12... dxc4 {would at least grab another pawn, although Houdini still shows White with close to a pawn equivalent advantage here; the open nature of the position should allow White's extra piece to be an effective attacker. Although I did notice the capture idea earlier, I effectively dismissed it in favor of an all-out (desperate) kingside effort.}) 13. Bf4 (13. Qb3 Qc7 14. cxd5 exd5 $16) 13... g5 (13... dxc4) 14. Bh2 {presumably the original idea behind the bishop move. White adds a defender in front of his king but still dominates the full diagonal.} f5 (14... h4 {would be a better way to continue with Black's quasi-attack, not committing the f-pawn and making the h-pawn more of a direct annoyance.}) 15. Ne5 f4 16. Nxg4 (16. Ng6 {is what I was expecting, disrupting Black's ability to castle and exchanging off a piece.} Rh6 17. Nxe7 Qxe7) 16... hxg4 17. e4 (17. cxd5 {is the correct idea here and could also have been played before or afterwards by White. With an extra piece and Black's king in the center, blowing up Black's protective pawn shell is the indicated strategy. } exd5 18. e4 f3 19. Bh1) 17... Nf6 {this turned out to have been an excellent practical choice, as the move played in response - the obvious reaction - is actually rather dangerous for White.} (17... dxc4 18. Qxg4 Rh6 $14) (17... f3 { would have had better practical chances.}) 18. e5 (18. cxd5 f3 19. dxe6 fxg2 20. Kxg2 $18) 18... f3 19. exf6 Bd6 $4 {I thought for a long time at this point, considering the rook sac on h2, but I didn't see how I could make it work in the end. Houdini however does not have that limitation.} (19... Rxh2 20. Bxf3 (20. Kxh2 Bd6+ 21. Kg1 Qxf6 $1 (21... fxg2 $2 {was the only move I considered.} 22. Kxg2 $18) 22. Re1 O-O-O $1 {and now the rook has been brought into play, which will allow Black to have local superiority of forces on the kingside despite being down material. White's king cannot easily run away and Black should get at least a draw out of it, although the position remains complicated.}) 20... gxf3 21. Qxf3 Bd6 22. cxd5 cxd5 $11) 20. Be5 $18 {White finds the best answer and from this point has a fully won game.} (20. Bxd6 $4 Qxd6 {and mate is unavoidable.}) 20... Bxe5 21. dxe5 Kf7 22. cxd5 cxd5 23. Bxf3 $1 {a beautiful, forced end to the game says Houdini via the Fritz interface. Not that hard to find, in reality, as White is up so much material that simplifying down in this manner is an easy win.} gxf3 24. Qxf3 Rh4 {trying to stay as active as possible on the kingside in hopes of a swindle.} 25. Nb5 { now the knight decisively enters the fray, ready to move to the d6 outpost and kick the blockading Kf7.} g4 26. Nd6+ Qxd6 {I was rather proud to find this - indeed the best move - but my opponent finds the obvious flaw.} 27. Qg3 Rh3 28. exd6 {and there is no point in continuing a full rook down.} (28. exd6 Rxg3+ 29. fxg3 $18) 1-0

12 May 2014

Commentary: 2014 U.S. Championship - Round 2

This game from round 2 of the ongoing U.S. Championship (Women's section) is one of the more interesting Hedgehog-type games I've seen.  The opening normally requires a good deal of maneuvering from both sides, with White enjoying a small space advantage early on, but Black being very solid and hard to make progress against.  While the English is a common way to reach this formation, it's also possible via the Sicilian, for example.

Black, the now-famous teenage player Ashritha Eswaran, I think erred in selecting to transpose into this opening against GM Irina Krush.  These types of positional battles are bound to favor the more experienced and prepared side, which in this case must be White.  Eswaran in fact goes astray with an innocuous looking move (15...a6) - something that is easy to do in the Hedgehog - that leads to a loss of a pawn, thanks to an overloaded queen and White's chance to reposition her pieces with tempo.  Krush then relentlessly applies pressure until her opponent cracks.  A valuable game to study, from both sides.

[Event "ch-USA w 2014"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2014.05.09"] [Round "2.1"] [White "Krush, Irina"] [Black "Eswaran, Ashritha"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "2489"] [BlackElo "1979"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "77"] [EventDate "2014.05.08"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 {Black decides to head for a Hedgehog formation.} 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O Be7 {the standard Hedgehog position in the English.} 7. Re1 {this postpones d4 in order to support an e4 push.} O-O 8. e4 d6 {the key part of the Hedgehog pawn structure. Black's pawns along the 6th rank act as a barrier against any White initiatives. The d-pawn needs to be guarded well, however, as the d-file will be opened by White.} 9. d4 cxd4 { otherwise White gains a true space advantage after the d5 advance.} 10. Nxd4 Nfd7 11. Be3 Ne5 {while centralized, the knight is going to be vulnerable to the f4 push, which later turns out to be decisive.} 12. b3 Nbc6 13. h3 $146 { a prophylactic move against the harrassing ...Ng4} (13. f4 {was played immediately in the following game:} Nxd4 14. Bxd4 Nc6 15. Bf2 Rc8 16. Rc1 Qc7 17. Qd2 Qb8 18. g4 Rfd8 19. g5 Bf8 20. f5 Ne5 21. Qe2 g6 22. f6 h6 23. gxh6 Nd7 24. Rf1 Re8 25. Bg3 Rc5 26. Rcd1 Rh5 27. Nb5 Ne5 28. Bf4 a6 29. Nd4 Qd8 30. Nf3 Qc7 31. Nxe5 dxe5 32. Be3 Bxh6 33. Bxh6 Rxh6 34. Qe3 Rh8 35. Rf3 Rd8 36. Rxd8+ Qxd8 37. Qd3 Qd4+ 38. Qxd4 exd4 39. b4 Rh4 40. Ra3 e5 41. c5 bxc5 42. bxc5 Rf4 43. Rf3 Rg4 44. Rg3 Rf4 45. Rf3 Rg4 46. Rg3 Rf4 47. Rf3 {1/2-1/2 (47) Knott,S (2387)-Sarakauskiene,Z (2158) Liverpool 2006}) 13... Nxd4 14. Qxd4 Bf6 { the threat here seems a bit cheap, while withdrawing support from d6.} 15. Qd2 a6 $2 {The Qd8 is now forced to cover both d6 and b6, something which White can take advantage of. Remarkably, Black is essentially busted out of the opening at this point.} (15... Be7 {would be rather humbling, but would limit White's advantage.}) 16. Rad1 Be7 17. f4 {kicking the knight with tempo and allowing the queen into the f2 square.} Nc6 18. Qf2 {Black now has no good options regarding the fatally weak b-pawn.} Qb8 {this further reinforces the e5 square, but otherwise buries the queen.} (18... b5 19. cxb5 axb5 20. Nxb5 Nb4 21. a4 d5 22. exd5 Bxd5 $16) 19. Bxb6 Bd8 20. Re2 {White now has the obvious follow-up plan of doubling rooks on the d-file.} Ne7 21. Red2 Bxb6 22. Qxb6 Nc8 23. Qe3 $18 {White is a clear pawn to the good and holds all the positional trumps, including well-developed pieces and a space advantage. Houdini evalutes the position as more than 2 pawns in White's favor.} Bc6 24. Ne2 Ra7 25. Nd4 Ba8 26. Nf3 (26. f5) 26... f6 27. Nd4 {it's unclear whether White was simply repeating moves here in order to help with the time control, or had some other purpose. In any case, the follow-up break of f5 is the key and could have been played earlier.} Re7 28. f5 e5 {attempting to play in a more closed fashion, but giving away the e6 square to make an outstanding outpost for the knight.} (28... exf5 29. Nxf5 Re5 30. Nxd6 Nxd6 31. Rxd6 { also looks good for White, however.}) 29. Ne6 Rfe8 30. c5 {White keeps up the pressure.} Qa7 31. b4 Bc6 {attempting to blockade the pawns' progress.} 32. Kh2 {White chooses safety first, getting the king off the a7-g1 diagonal before moving forward with her breakthrough.} dxc5 33. bxc5 Bd7 34. Bf1 {White needs to get this bishop into the game and can ignore the buildup against e6 for tactical reasons.} Bxe6 35. fxe6 {and the pawn is tactically defended, due to the skewer on the a2-g8 diagonal.} Rc7 $2 {this loses quickly, due to allowing the penetration on the 8th rank to have greater effect, but Black had no counterplay in any case.} (35... Qb7) 36. Rd8 Kf8 (36... Rxd8 37. Rxd8#) 37. Rxe8+ Kxe8 38. Qd2 {mate is now inevitable.} Ke7 39. Qd8+ 1-0

11 May 2014

Annotated Game #123: Off to a good start

After my "best game ever" to end the previous tournament, the next tournament got off to a good start in the first round with the following game.  I played solidly as Black and was in control of my own destiny the whole time.  The only error was in missing an interesting and hard-to-find knight sacrifice (19...Nxg2!) which serves as a lesson to investigate these sorts of opportunities in more depth, rather than dismissing them because there is no chance for a mate.  As part of my careful play, I also kept in mind the "evil e-file" tactics, showing that learning actually has taken place as a result of my study program (always a positive).

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D40"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "53"] {D40: Queen's Gambit Declined: Semi-Tarrasch with e3} 1. c4 c6 2. e4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. d4 {my opponent admitted to not knowing the Panov-Botvinnik Attack, but played this as the closest thing to a queen pawn-type opening.} Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 {the solid choice, which leads the game into territory that the opening books classify as a Semi-Tarrasch queen's pawn defense.} 6. Bg5 Be7 7. Nf3 O-O 8. Bd3 dxc4 9. Bxc4 Nc6 10. O-O a6 {the other main option is b6; in both cases, the idea is to develop with Bb7. With the White bishop on c4, a6-b5 is not in fact a slower route to development, since the Bc4 will have to move.} 11. a3 b5 12. Ba2 {this is in fact the 3-to-1 favorite in the database, versus retreating to d3. With Black about to play Bb7, the Ba2 has the possibility of being involved in a sacrificial tactic at some point on e6, as well as fighting for the d5 square. It can also go to b1 at some point to form a Q+B battery on the b1-h7 diagonal, a common theme that my opponent decides to immediately execute.} Bb7 13. Bb1 (13. Qd3 {is the preferred move here, for example:} Na5 14. Rad1 Bxf3 15. Qxf3 Nc4 16. Bxc4 bxc4 17. Rfe1 Nd5 18. Bxe7 Nxe7 19. d5 Nxd5 20. Nxd5 exd5 21. Rxd5 Qb6 22. Qc3 Rab8 23. Rd2 Rfc8 24. h3 h6 25. Re4 Qb3 26. Qe5 c3 27. bxc3 Qxc3 {Palatnik,S (2480)-Sveshnikov,E (2510) Leningrad 1976 1-0 (31)}) 13... Rc8 {the rook was doing no good on a8 and the c-file is one of Black's few sources of active counterplay.} 14. Qd3 g6 { forced.} 15. Re1 $146 {now out of the database. White eyes the semi-open e-file, thematic in the Caro-Kann, but here Black's defenses are more than adequate.} (15. Rd1 {is what has been played in a handful of games in the database.}) 15... Re8 $11 {having been burned previously due to "evil" e-file tactics, I reinforce my already-strong defenses. This also sidesteps a future Bh6 from White.} 16. Ba2 {with no prospects left on its previous diagonal, the bishop switches back.} Nh5 {following the standard plan of looking to trade minor pieces when the opponent has an isolated queen's pawn.} 17. Bxe7 { Houdini considers that avoiding the exchange is better for White, in accordance with IQP theory.} Nxe7 18. Rad1 $2 (18. g3 $5 $11 {should not be overlooked, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface.}) 18... Nf4 $17 {the point of Black's choice of square for the knight on move 16. However, I failed to see the follow-up sacrificial tactic that could have made it a winning move.} 19. Qe3 $2 (19. Qd2 {is what the engine shows as the best defense.} Bxf3 20. gxf3 Ned5 $17) 19... Nfd5 $2 $11 {what a pity, victory was in sight, comments Houdini. The second best move, in other words.} (19... Nxg2 $1 20. Kxg2 Nf5 { the king is not directly threatened, which is what one would normally look for with a sacrifice on g2, but the Nf3 is now pinned and can't be protected except by the queen, which allows Black to press for the win.} 21. Qf4 (21. Qd3 Nh4+) 21... g5 22. Qc1 Nh4+ 23. Kf1 Nxf3 $19 {and now Houdini judges Black's material and positional advantage to be worth roughly a piece.}) 20. Nxd5 { now a series of exchanges occur which favors Black somewhat.} Bxd5 21. Bb1 Bxf3 22. Qxf3 Nd5 (22... Qb6 {would put more pressure on White. For example} 23. Rd2 Red8 24. Red1 Rc4 25. Qf6 Nd5 $15) 23. Be4 {White moves to equalize the pawn structure and eliminate any Black hopes of a win.} Qd7 24. Bxd5 Qxd5 25. Qxd5 exd5 26. Rxe8+ Rxe8 27. Kf1 {and my opponent offered a draw.} 1/2-1/2

03 May 2014

Commentary: Women's Grand Prix Khanty-Mansiysk 2014 - Round 5

I chose the following game for study because it illustrates well the sometimes amorphous concept of positional compensation for a pawn.  In contrast with her round 1 game, Hou Yifan is unable to immediately recapture her Queen's Gambit pawn, but is not bothered by this fact.  She goes on to play exactly as required in order to actively press Black, keeping her off-balance and unable to consolidate her position; specifically, Black fails to develop her pieces well enough in order to be able to take advantage of the extra pawn.  Eventually Black stumbles under the pressure and White crushes her with rooks on the 7th rank.

It is worth noting that the Houdini engine had Hou either slightly favored or equal while down the pawn for the entire time (until Hou established a clear winning advantage).  Engine evaluations are sometimes rightly criticized for being too materialistic, but I have not found Houdini to have this flaw.

[Event "4th WGP 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk RUS"] [Date "2014.04.14"] [Round "5.4"] [White "Hou Yifan"] [Black "Muminova, Nafisa"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E04"] [WhiteElo "2618"] [BlackElo "2321"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2014.04.09"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] 1. c4 e6 2. g3 d5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Bg2 a6 {this is not one of those types of positions where ...a6 will be inevitably played at some point, so throwing it in this early appears artificial. White scores a healthy 60 percent from this position.} 5. d4 {transposing to a Catalan where Black's previous move definitely looks strange. However, the point is that White cannot automatically regain the pawn after the capture on c4, as ...b5 is now possible.} dxc4 6. O-O {it's sometimes hard to remember that the Queen's Gambit is actually a gambit, but now White is playing it as such.} Nc6 7. Nbd2 {not the most promising-looking move. Top players normally play e3 or Bg5.} Nxd4 {although by no means obligatory, this has been played in all 8 database games.} 8. Nxc4 {White has indirectly exchanged the d and c pawns.} Bc5 { Black plays to maintain the central knight, rather than trade it off.} 9. Nfe5 {White in turn also foregoes exchanging the Nd4, preferring to establish her own knight in the center.} O-O 10. Be3 {developing a piece and maintaining pressure in the center, temporarily pinning the knight against the hanging Bc5. Interestingly, Houdini already gives a small plus to White, meaning she has more than enough compensation for the pawn.} Ba7 {protecting the bishop in the best way, although it still looks awkward.} 11. Rc1 $14 {What does White have for the pawn? The Ne5 is excellently placed and cannot be easily driven off. The Nc4 is also strong and can be routed to c6 if Black plays ...b5. White's Bg2 also looks excellent, while its counterpart is doing nothing on c8 and will be a pain to develop. Finally, the half-open c-file is already occupied by a White rook.} c5 {Black attempts to play as actively as possible and supports the d4 outpost.} 12. Bd2 {White judges that the bishop has no future on the g1-a7 diagonal and prepares to reroute it. This also clears the square for the e-pawn to kick the Nd4.} Nd5 {besides centralizing the knight, this blocks the long diagonal and potentially will assist Black in developing the queenside.} 13. e3 Nb5 14. Qe2 {while this develops the queen to a useful square, the main effect is to clear d1 to develop the other rook.} Nd6 { Black looks to start some exchanges, in the hopes of trading away White's advantages.} 15. Rfd1 Nxc4 16. Nxc4 (16. Qxc4 {would give Black easier play.} Qc7 17. Nf3 b5 18. Qh4 f6 $11) 16... b5 17. Ba5 (17. e4 {immediately is also possible.} bxc4 18. exd5 exd5 19. Bc3 {and although now down two pawns, White still has the upper hand.} Be6 20. Bxd5 Bxd5 21. Qe5 f6 22. Qf5 g6 23. Qxd5+ Qxd5 24. Rxd5 $14) 17... Qe7 18. e4 {White must continue to play actively.} ( 18. Ne5 $6 Bb7 {and now Black has a freer game and the material advantage will start playing more of a role.}) 18... Nb4 {a committal move on the queenside. White can now transform Black's pawn structure there to something much less effective, while continuing her central play.} (18... Nf6 $5) 19. Bxb4 cxb4 20. Ne5 (20. e5 Bb7 21. Bxb7 Qxb7 22. Na5 {is Houdini's preferred continuation. White's pawn on e5 is strong and cramps Black, while her rooks look excellent and the knight is prepared to hop into c6.}) 20... Qg5 (20... Bb7 {it seems like finally getting this piece into the game would be a good idea.}) 21. Nc6 e5 {a useful move for Black that would have been prevented by an earlier e5 on White's part.} 22. h4 {White pre-empts potential activity by Black on the kingside and kicks the queen.} Qf6 23. b3 {White decides not to rush with the pawn capture on b4 (and in fact never plays it).} a5 $6 {playing a pawn move here essentially gives White a free tempo and shows too great an attachment to the b4 pawn. The b5 pawn is immune to capture because of the threat to f2, but White can immediately remedy that.} (23... Be6 $11) 24. Rc2 Bb7 $2 {ironically the bishop finally develops, and it's the losing move.} 25. Nxa7 Rxa7 26. Rc7 { the pin against the Ra7 and the fact that the Bb7 is otherwise unprotected mean that White now has too many unanswerable threats.} Qb6 {this attempts to remedy the pin situation, but White can powerfully double rooks on the 7th rank and Black cannot do anything about it.} 27. Rdd7 a4 {Black attempts to distract White with this queenside sortie, but to no avail.} 28. Kh2 {White puts safety first, getting the king out of the f-pawn pin and off the back rank.} h6 29. Qe3 Qa6 30. Qc5 {the queen now enters with decisive threats.} axb3 {again, more desperately, attempting to distract White.} 31. Qxf8+ { and it's mate in 3 (or 1, if Kxf8).} 1-0