30 August 2014

Annotated Game #132: Flawed Draw

The following second-round game illustrates the value of seeing patterns pop up in analysis of your own results.  In this case, I achieved a significant positional plus out of the opening, but mis-evaluated the relative value of pieces (knight and bishop) which lead to an incorrect exchange on move 20 and eventually exchanging down into an equal ending.  It is exactly this sort of thing that prompted me to post the related Mastery Concept.  There was also a missed endgame opportunity, subtle but well worth keeping in mind for the next similar situation.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "ChessAdmin"] [Black "Class B"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A22"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2012.07.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] {A22: English Opening: 1...e5 2 Nc3 Nf6} 1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 d6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 Nbd7 5. Bg2 c6 6. O-O Be7 7. d3 O-O 8. Rb1 a5 9. a3 Re8 {Black has pursued an Old Indian-type setup in the opening, which is a little passive - especially in the placement of the dark-square bishop - but solid. White continues with the standard plan of queenside expansion.} 10. b4 axb4 11. axb4 Nf8 12. b5 c5 $146 {this is a significant strategic error, essentially giving up d5 and the long diagonal without a fight.} (12... Qc7 13. Qb3 Bd7 14. Ba3 Ng6 15. d4 Bf8 16. d5 c5 17. e4 Rab8 18. h3 h6 19. Kh2 Nh7 20. Bb2 Be7 21. Ra1 {1/2-1/2 (21) Smagalski,S (2042)-Milanowski,J (2131) Polanica Zdroj 2004}) (12... h6 $11) 13. Bg5 $14 {my idea was to eliminate Black's remaining defender of d5.} h6 14. Bxf6 Bxf6 {Black has the pair of bishops, notes Houdini via the Fritz interface, but the dark-square bishop is "bad" and the light-square one is doing nothing currently.} 15. Nd5 (15. Nd2 {would have been a useful preparatory move here, unleashing the Bg2 and preventing Black from developing the Bc8.}) 15... Be6 16. Nd2 Bg5 17. h4 {I chose the more aggressive move here, which however is inferior to the blocking move e3.} (17. e3 {and now the dark-square bishop is even more limited. The move also prevents a trade of the bad bishop for the Nd2, which has strong potential in this position.}) 17... Be7 $6 {my opponent should have seized the opportunity for the piece exchange.} (17... Bxd2 18. Qxd2 Nd7 19. Ra1 Bxd5 20. Bxd5 $14) 18. Ra1 {the obvious method of continuing on the queenside, but b6 should also be considered.} (18. b6 Bxd5 19. Bxd5 Rb8 20. Ne4 $16) 18... Rxa1 19. Qxa1 Qb8 (19... Bxh4 $5 { the engine considers this diversionary sacrifice slightly preferable. It would certainly generate more activity for Black, whose pieces are largely on the sidelines. One possible continuation:} 20. gxh4 Ng6 21. Ne3 Qxh4 22. Re1 $16) 20. Nxe7+ $6 {this betrays my lack of positional understanding, specifically of the relative value of the minor pieces. White essentially starts to liquidate his own advantage.} (20. b6 $5 Bd8 21. Qa7 $16) (20. Qa2 {would also be a good plan, with the idea of Ra1 to follow.}) 20... Rxe7 $14 21. Qa5 $6 { this was simply dumb, allowing Black a tempo to chase the queen and also giving up the a-file. The plan with Qa2 (or Qa3) would be better.} b6 $11 22. Qc3 Ra7 23. Ra1 Rxa1+ {Black need not have been in a rush to exchange, a typical Class player reaction. Maintaining the tension would have been better for control of the a-file.} (23... f5 $5) 24. Qxa1 {White now has a small positional advantage.} Nh7 $6 {poor placement for the knight.} (24... Bg4 25. Kf1 Ne6 26. Qa8 Qxa8 27. Bxa8 $14) 25. Qa8 {this move heads for an obvious draw, although Black played on for a while after the exchange. I was not sophisticated enough to spot an alternative.} (25. Nb1 $5 {is what the engine finds, getting the knight into play effectively. For example} Nf6 26. Nc3 Kf8 27. Qa6 Bc8 28. Qa8 Qxa8 29. Bxa8 Be6 30. Na4 $16) 25... Qxa8 $11 26. Bxa8 Kf8 27. Nf1 Ke7 28. Ne3 Kd8 29. Bd5 Nf6 30. Bg2 Ke7 31. Kh2 Kd8 32. Bh3 Ke7 33. Bxe6 1/2-1/2

20 August 2014

Annotated Game #131: First Blood

Following the tournament that wrapped up with Annotated Game #130, I felt confident that I'd had a significant breakthrough in my chess performance and started fantasizing some about being able to break the Class A barrier in my next tournament. This did not reflect the more neutral and calm mental mindset I possessed in the previous tournament and undoubtedly reduced my overall effectiveness as a player.

Although the following game was a win, it showed some old, negative tendencies on my part such as a significant drop in quality of play when making the transition to the middlegame.  Here in the opening, one can point to the conceptually dubious 9...Bb4 as the start of the downward trend, followed by my failure to attend to my opponent's threats (another common error).  However, I manage to break the trend starting with the counterblow 19...e5 and after a weak response by White (including unjustified pawn-grabbing) I established a dominant passed c-pawn, whose threats eventually win the game.

By the time this series of tournament games is over, I should have additional insights into the course of the tournament and the inconsistency shown in overall results compared to its predecessor.

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D13"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "68"] [EventDate "2012.07.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "9"] {D13: Slav Defence: Exchange variation without ...Bf5} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. cxd5 cxd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 Nh5 7. Bg3 Nxg3 8. hxg3 e6 9. e3 { the only logical way to develop the bishop.} Bb4 $146 {while not a horrible move, this is not the best way to develop the bishop. Some alternative moves:} (9... g6 10. Rc1 (10. Be2 Bg7 11. a3 O-O 12. O-O Qd6 13. b4 Rd8 14. Qb3 b6 15. Rfc1 Bb7 16. Rc2 a5 17. Nb5 Qe7 18. bxa5 Nxa5 19. Qb2 Rdc8 {1/2-1/2 (19) Taimanov,M (2480)-Van der Wiel,J (2540) Belgrade 1988}) 10... Bd7 11. a3 Bg7 12. b4 O-O 13. Qb3 Re8 14. Be2 Qe7 15. Na4 Rec8 16. O-O Bf8 17. Rc2 e5 18. dxe5 Nxe5 19. Rxc8 Rxc8 20. Nc5 Bc6 21. Rd1 b6 22. Nd3 Nxd3 23. Qxd3 Bb7 24. Nd4 { Jankovec, I-Ujtelky,M Zvolen 1963 1/2-1/2 (50)}) (9... Bd6 10. a3 Bd7 11. Bd3 h6 12. Rc1 f5 13. Nd2 O-O 14. b4 Ne7 15. Nb3 b6 16. Ba6 Kh8 17. Nb5 Bxb5 18. Bxb5 a5 19. Qd2 axb4 20. axb4 Ng8 21. O-O Qe7 22. Rc6 Rfb8 23. Qc2 Bxb4 24. Rc7 {Despotovic,M (2355)-Ljubisavljevic,Z (2200) Smederevska Palanka 1978 1-0 (54)} ) (9... h6 10. Rc1 a6 11. Bd3 g5 12. g4 Bg7 13. Kf1 Kf8 14. Qb3 Bf6 15. Na4 Kg7 16. Nb6 Rb8 17. Nxc8 Qxc8 18. g3 Qd7 19. Kg2 Rbc8 20. Nd2 Be7 21. Qa4 Ne5 22. Qxd7 Nxd7 23. Nb3 b5 24. Na5 {Heinig,W (2270)-Neckar,L (2340) Leipzig 1978 1/ 2-1/2 (40)}) 10. a3 Bxc3+ {otherwise the bishop simply loses time by retreating.} 11. bxc3 O-O 12. Bd3 g6 $6 {while this blocks the attack on h7, now without the dark-square bishop it creates exploitable weaknesses on the kingside.} (12... h6 $5) 13. Qd2 Bd7 {here I miss the point of the previous move.} (13... f6 $11 {played immediately would allow the queen to protect the 7th rank. However, I only realize the importance of this on the next move.}) 14. e4 $16 {now the c1-h6 diagonal is opened and White is advancing in the center. The next sequence is largely forced.} f6 15. Qh6 Qe7 16. e5 Qg7 17. exf6 Rxf6 18. Ng5 Qxh6 19. Rxh6 e5 {I was proud of finding this counterblow, which by no means solves Black's problems, but is the best move. Black must let the h-pawn go and seek counterplay in the center.} 20. Rxh7 Bf5 $2 { while this looks good at first, developing a piece and protecting the g-pawn again, if White exploits his kingside initiative then the bishop move proves to be a wasted tempo and losing.} (20... exd4 {countering the center was the best option.} 21. f4 Re8+ 22. Kd2 dxc3+ 23. Kxc3 $16) 21. Bb5 $6 (21. Kd2 { is a move the Class players would struggle to find. The point is to free up the first rank for the Ra1 to transfer to the h-file. The main variation also involves a counterintuitive sacrifice.} Bxd3 22. f4 (22. Kxd3 {is also sufficient for a winning advantage.} Rxf2 23. Rah1) 22... exd4 23. Rah1 { the point is that the mate threat on h8 constrains Black from any counterplay and White will then use his two rooks to win material.} Kf8 24. Rxb7 Kg8 25. Kxd3 Re8 26. Rbh7 Re3+ 27. Kd2 Kf8 28. Rc7 Ke8 29. Rh8+ Rf8 30. Rc8+ $18) 21... exd4 22. Rxb7 $2 {pawn-grabbing allows Black to immediately equalize.} (22. O-O-O Ne5 23. Rxd4 $16) 22... dxc3 $11 23. Bxc6 {at the time I thought this was a big benefit for Black, but Houdini considers it the best option for White. I was happy the rook was behind the c-pawn and White's bishop was out of the way.} Rxc6 {White is now in a difficult position and another counterintuitive move is his only path to maintaining equality.} 24. Nf3 $2 ( 24. O-O-O {and White can hope to live, says Houdini. The other rook is activated on the d-file and the king is also available to combat the advance of Black's pawns.}) 24... Re8+ $19 {the obvious move is also best.} 25. Kf1 c2 {the key to the position is the advanced c-pawn and the threats it causes. The hanging a-pawn can be ignored.} 26. Rc1 Bd3+ {not the best way to make progress.} (26... Rc3 {with the bishop protecting the pawn on c2, Black's winning idea is to threaten to get this rook into the fight on the first rank. White cannot take the a-pawn because of this. For example:} 27. Nd4 Bd3+ 28. Kg1 Rc4 29. Rb4 Rxb4 30. axb4 Re4 31. Nxc2 Rc4 32. Rd1 Bxc2 33. Rxd5 Bf5 $17) 27. Kg1 a6 28. Rb3 $17 Be2 29. Nd4 Rc4 $17 {An ideal square for the black rook, comments Houdini.} 30. Nxe2 (30. Re3 $5 Rxe3 31. fxe3 Bd3 $17) 30... Rxe2 31. Kf1 $2 {White instead needs to get the Rb3 into the game and seize the d-file to meet Black's threats there.} (31. Rd3 Rce4 32. Kh2 Rxf2 33. Rxd5 $17) 31... Rd2 $19 32. Ke1 Rcd4 {by this point, White is lost, as he will have to give up material in the face of the threat of Rd1+} 33. Rb8+ Kg7 34. Rb7+ Kh6 0-1

08 August 2014

Commentary: Biel 2014 - round 6

The following game, from round 6 of the Biel GM tournament, finishes off a trifecta of Slow Slav commentary games, following the more classic 4...Bf5 approach of the first one.  Analyzing the game in the context of similar recent GM-level ones was quite helpful to understanding the thematic ideas, especially in looking at the opening to middlegame transition.  This has been a particular weakness of mine and seeing which ideas are common (and why), along with alternatives at certain points, significantly improved my understanding of the variation and both sides' plans.  Specifically, examining the decision by Black to castle early or late, resolving the central tension with ...dxc4 followed by the ...c5 pawn break, and the prophylactic ...a6 yielded useful insights.  All in all, a worthwhile example of a more holistic approach to opening study.

[Event "Hans Suri Mem 2014"] [Site "Biel SUI"] [Date "2014.07.19"] [Round "6.2"] [White "Wojtaszek, Radoslaw"] [Black "Motylev, Alexander"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D12"] [WhiteElo "2733"] [BlackElo "2698"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "2014.07.14"] [SourceDate "2014.01.04"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. e3 Bf5 {the traditional approach to the Slow Slav.} 5. Nc3 e6 6. Nh4 Bg6 7. Nxg6 hxg6 8. Bd2 Nbd7 9. Qc2 Be7 {an older move that has given way to ...Bd6, but nonetheless has a better overall score in the database.} 10. h3 a6 11. Be2 Rc8 (11... O-O {seems like a solid choice here, as White has no threats for the moment.}) 12. O-O {a very reasonable move, but now out of the database.} dxc4 {starting a largely forced sequence that simplifies the structure in the center and on the c-file.} 13. Bxc4 b5 14. Be2 c5 15. dxc5 Rxc5 (15... Nxc5 {would be more standard and lead to equality.} ) 16. b4 Rc7 {apparently the idea behind the rook capture on the previous move, in order to leave c8 available for an eventual doubling of heavy pieces on the file. This appears to be a little slow and awkward, however, leaving Black slightly behind in development.} 17. Qb3 Nb6 (17... O-O $5) 18. Rfd1 Nc4 19. Be1 {White correctly keeps the two bishops on the board, as part of his only chance for an advantage in the endgame. Black also now has to be careful.} Qb8 {interestingly, this is the only move that does not lead to a significant White advantage, as the pawn advance a4 threatens to crack open the queenside and win a pawn. Black's failure to castle earlier helps White in that regard.} ({for example:} 19... Qc8 20. a4 Nd6 21. axb5 axb5 22. Nxb5 Nxb5 23. Bxb5+ Kf8 $18) 20. a4 O-O 21. axb5 axb5 22. Ra6 {after this move, which releases the pressure by not making any new threats, Black consolidates his position and both sides head for a draw.} (22. Rd4 Ne5 23. Nxb5 Rb7 24. Qa4 Nd5 25. Rb1 $14 {White may not in the end be able to keep the b-pawn, but Black has no other compensation and will have to struggle to regain the material.}) 22... Rfc8 23. Rda1 Kh7 24. Ra8 Qb6 25. R8a6 Qb8 26. Ra8 Qb6 27. R8a6 Qb8 28. Ra8 Qb6 29. R8a6 1/2-1/2

06 August 2014

What makes a chess nemesis?

A recent article by IM Silman at chess.com, "The Difficult Opponent", provides some useful insight into what makes particular individuals - of similar strength or even below that of a player - become someone else's chess nemesis.  Silman never actually uses the word "nemesis", but many of us have experienced the phenomenon where it seems that every time you play a certain opponent, they "have your number".

The article focuses on the idea of a matchup in chess style between two players that significantly favors one side, rather than emphasizing the psychological factors between the two players, although Silman also gives that some credit.  However, although he provides some entertaining examples, he never really defines what aspects of the chessplayers' styles contributed to this.

By comparison, the factors that go into personal pluses or minuses against particular opponents were also discussed by Viktor Kortchnoi in his "My Life for Chess" DVD interviews.  There he talked about his record against various top players during different phases of his career, which sometimes had more to do with playing strength and preparation, while other times it seemed more due to psychological dynamics.

To gain additional personal insight into this, I examined one series of games played during the later portion of my scholastic career against an opponent with whom I always had significantly more trouble than others.  In two out of three games I nevertheless managed an undeserved result (win or draw).  He had a somewhat unusual style, content to exchange off and head for endgames, which he understood better.  This matched up in an asymmetrical way with my understanding of endgames (nearly nonexistent) and the transition from middlegame to endgame.  My opening selection was also conducive to his style, as I had White in all three games and played an unambitious line in the English against his Queen's Indian setup.  What I think threw him off in the end was my refusal to give up (tenacity) and my ability (with some luck) to find unexpected tactical resources.  One could even say that we were "difficult opponents" for each other, for different reasons.

Another more recent example for me has been a two-game tournament losing streak against a lower-rated opponent.  Both games I should have won and I was looking forward to the second one as a revenge opportunity (which never materialized).  I hope the third time in fact, will be the charm.

Which brings us back around to the psychological factors.  I analyzed both of the games (the first being Annotated Game #116) and the common feature in both was that I made things more complicated for myself - and simpler for the opponent - than they needed to be.  Part of the challenge in my next game with this opponent, if and when it occurs, will be making the necessary correction in my approach to the game, along with not getting psyched out by our previous history.  I think the latter consideration starts to loom large in a player's thoughts after a losing streak gets going, so can become a perpetuation of defeatism.  One way to break out of the mental trap - I believe probably the best one - is to focus on playing the board, not the opponent.  This requires mental toughness but is quite doable, unless your opponent is truly significantly stronger than you are.