29 November 2014

FT: Natural Pawn Killer

The Financial Times' joking front-page title for its post-World Championship article on Magnus Carlsen.  My favorite portion, which fits in with the idea of chess vs. life balance:
Peter Heine, himself one of the world’s top players, is Carlsen’s most-trusted assistant. “Magnus believes in his pure chess strengths,” he told the FT this week. “You shouldn’t be able to do that in today’s world and none of us thought it was possible. Luckily, we were wrong.”
When preparing for a match, the world champion has better things to do than homework. “We play a lot of basketball,” Mr Heine says.

24 November 2014

Chessplayers are people too...and sometimes wolves

GM Irina Krush's report from an Arctic "wolf camp" is a great story about life outside of chess and how you can (and should) take advantage of chess tournaments to do other fascinating and unusual things.  A fine example of balance in chess vs. life.

As the holidays approach, I'll return to the blog with more chess content, starting with the analysis of some standout games from the Sharjah women's grand prix tournament; I found several which had particular relevance for my repertoire and study of preferred position-types.

15 November 2014

The importance of CCT: example #7

Here is a very recent and topical example - from game 6 of the 2014 World Championship - of why including CCT (checks, captures, threats) as a core part of your thinking process is important.  In this game, even Carlsen and Anand overlook the move 26 tactical idea, initiated by a capture, which is only a couple moves deep.

09 November 2014

Annotated Game #139: Hung by hanging pawns

This last-round game is a fitting end to the tournament, as it reflects the low level of play I had consistently shown throughout.  Coming out of a Colle-Zukertort opening setup that White chose, I had an equal position but could not figure out a worthwhile plan.  This planlessness contributed to poor decisions which tied my pieces up and allowed White to take the initiative and never let it go.  Analysis shows that I had more than one opportunity to level the game after inaccurate moves by White, but my thinking under pressure was muddled and I failed to see my own chances, as well as adequately falsify my moves (move 34 being an excellent example of this).

From a strategic point of view, the game is an interesting look at the hanging pawns structure and how it can be exploited.  White in this case supported them well and eventually after exchanges obtained an advanced passed d-pawn, which tied my pieces down while he switched to a kingside attack.  Hanging pawns are always double-edged, though, and I had plenty of chances to neutralize White's play.

I was glad to get this tournament over with, as you might imagine. We'll eventually see how my subsequent tournament went and to what extent I was able to recover my play.  For a little while, though, I'll plan to do some more master-level commentary games which I've been saving up, for a change of pace (and better examples of play).

[Event "?"] [Site "?"] [Date "????.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Class B"] [Black "ChessAdmin"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D04"] [Annotator "ChessAdmin/Houdini/Komodo 8"] [PlyCount "81"] [EventDate "2012.07.??"] [EventRounds "9"] {D04: Colle System} 1. d4 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Bd3 {one of the ideas behind the Colle System is to develop this bishop early and hopefully use it for kingside pressure. This also prevents Black from developing his bishop to f5.} Bg4 { I wanted to pursue a similar strategy to my typical Slav and develop the white-square bishop early. Black has a large number of potential approaches here and the text move scores well (over 50 percent).} 4. Nf3 e6 5. h3 Bh5 ( 5... Bxf3 {was worth considering here. Usually an early bishop for knight exchange is frowned on, but in this position it would eliminate a good knight that has a potentially strong outpost on e5, while Black's bishop has limited scope.}) 6. b3 {my opponent evidently has a preference for the Colle-Zukertort system, which features a queenside fianchetto.} (6. Nbd2 Nbd7 7. O-O Be7 8. b3 O-O 9. Bb2 c5 10. c4 Rc8 11. Rc1 Qa5 12. Bb1 Rfd8 13. Qe2 Bg6 14. Bxg6 hxg6 15. a3 Qb6 16. Ne5 Nxe5 17. dxe5 Ne4 18. Nxe4 dxe4 19. Qc2 Rd3 20. Bc3 Rcd8 { Zakharov,K-Lobov,D (2155) Khanty-Mansiysk 2009 0-1 (38)}) 6... c5 $146 { the standard response by Black, gaining space on the queenside and looking to open the c-file after a pawn exchange on d4.} 7. Bb2 Nc6 8. a3 {continuing with the standard C-Z setup.} cxd4 9. exd4 Be7 {this is an overly passive move. The bishop is doing nothing relevant on the d8-h4 diagonal, as there is no danger of White playing Bg5.} (9... Bd6 {is the superior bishop move.}) (9... Ne4 $5 {is an interesting possibility, as Black could follow up by supporting it with . ..f5 and achieve a favorable Stonewall-type position.}) 10. Nbd2 O-O 11. O-O Rc8 12. c4 dxc4 {this is a critical decision point, as the game's strategy now revolves around White's hanging c/d pawns. Black must attack them vigorously, while White needs to play actively and use the extra space they offer him.} (12... Bg6 {is an alternative which might lead to different play, for example} 13. Bxg6 hxg6 14. c5 a5 $11) 13. bxc4 Rc7 {at this point I understood the general idea Black should pursue - pressuring the c/d pawns as much as possible - but did not have a concrete plan to achieve it. The text move is not bad, but I get into trouble afterwards due to this planlessness.} 14. Rc1 Rd7 15. Nb3 Bg6 {by this stage of the game, without a strongpoint on d5, exchanging on f3 would simply bring White's queen to a better square. Instead I look to exchange bishops, which also takes a defender away from the c4 pawn.} 16. Bxg6 hxg6 17. Qc2 Rc7 {an indication of planlessness is shuffling pieces. I fail to understand that while the c-file is important and a rook placed there is useful, it would be even more useful to activate the Rf8, which is currently doing nothing.} (17... Qc7 18. Rfe1 Rc8 $11) 18. Rfd1 { Black has a cramped position, comments Houdini via the Fritz interface. The effects of this will become evident, as White later puts an effective squeeze on Black's position. Objectively speaking, however, Black is still equal.} Bd6 19. Ne5 Nd7 (19... Qe7 $5 {shows the value of being active, even in a more cramped position. The Rf8 would be free to develop, for example.}) 20. Nxd7 Qxd7 21. Qe4 Qc8 $6 {any move with the Rf8 to a central file would be good here.} 22. d5 exd5 23. cxd5 {While Black is by no means lost here, I have a much harder task on the defense and immediately go astray.} Re8 {ironically, when I finally develop the rook, it is the wrong move.} (23... Ne7 $5 $11 { is what the engines show as holding for Black.}) 24. Qa4 $16 {now Black in this sequence cannot recapture with the queen on c7, once the Nc6 moves, or the Re8 is lost.} Ne7 25. Rxc7 Bxc7 26. d6 Rd8 27. d7 Qb8 28. Nd4 $2 {moving to either a5 or c5 would be fine for White. This gives Black a tactical boost, as the Nd4 can be pinned against the Bb2 and provide relief. Alas, I do not see this.} a6 $2 {Secures b5, notes Houdini, which is what I was focusing on. However, White has a very effective follow up.} (28... Bh2+ {is a move that I considered, but dismissed too quickly as leading to no advantage. The check itself is not the point - although it moves the king off of its ideal square - rather, the follow-up pin is.} 29. Kf1 Be5 $11) 29. Nf3 $18 {this appears innocuous, but is in fact the most effective attacking move possible. White's knight and queen can now combine effectively on the kingside.} Nc6 30. Qh4 Bf4 {there is nothing better. Black must try to defend against the Ng5-Qh7 threat.} 31. g3 Bd6 $2 (31... Bh6 {unfortunately does not save Black, as I now saw during the game, so I tried in desperation to play more actively. For example} 32. Be5 Nxe5 33. Nxe5 g5 34. Qd4 {and White's threats to f7 after Qd5 cannot be parried without losing material.}) 32. Ng5 Be5 33. Bxe5 Qxe5 34. Nf3 $2 { White's dithering back and forth now lets Black back in the game. Unfortunately by this point I was not thinking well under pressure and I miss the chance, failing to see White's follow-up move.} (34. Rd3 Qf6 35. Rf3 $18) 34... Qf5 $4 (34... Qe7 $11 {would bring relief, says Houdini.} 35. Qxe7 (35. Re1 Qxh4 36. Re8+ Kh7 37. gxh4 f6) 35... Nxe7) 35. Re1 $18 Qxd7 36. Ng5 { White's mating threats are now decisive.} Ne7 37. Rxe7 $1 {the rook cannot be recaptured, as then the Qe7 would cut off the king's retreat.} Qd1+ 38. Kh2 Qh5 39. Qxh5 {this also wins easily by transitioning to the endgame, even if it does not lead to a quick mate.} (39. Qc4 Rf8 40. Rxf7 Qxg5 41. Rf5+ Kh7 42. Rxf8 Qf6 43. Qg8+ Kh6 44. Rxf6 gxf6 45. f4 g5 46. f5 a5 47. Qg6#) 39... gxh5 40. Rxb7 f6 (40... Re8 {does not help much} 41. Ra7 f6 42. Nf3 $18) 41. Ne6 1-0

03 November 2014

Studying the other side of your chosen defense

In the past I've made a number of observations about opening study, but one thing that hasn't been discussed is studying your chosen defense from the other player's perspective.  When you have limited time to put into your chess studies, it makes sense to focus on books and other materials that treat your defense (the Caro-Kann, the Dutch, etc.) from Black's perspective. Ideally they will be both objective and comprehensive. The best indicator of this is how White's plans and prospects are treated.

Too often, especially with resources aimed at the Class player, Black's chances are exaggerated, or White's are downplayed (which amounts to the same thing).  It's interesting to note that so-called repertoire books, while narrowly focusing on Black's preferred moves, tend - if the author is honest - to provide a deep look at all of White's possibilities.  This is made easier by limiting the scope of the material covered and subjecting the chosen variations to (hopefully) rigorous testing.  Black players benefit tremendously from making a serious effort to fully understand all of White's plans and how to respond to them.

Taking the idea further, I've found some of the most valuable opening study material for my defenses to have been written from White's point of view.  The Caro-Kann in Black and White, for example, was authored by Beliavsky and Karpov, each taking one side's perspective; Beliavsky's portion (as White) taught me a lot more.  A more recent example that looks worth examination by Black players is 1. e4 versus the French, Caro-Kann and Philidor, reviewed by GM David Smerdon on Chess.com.  It's always good to see the other side's playbook, especially when it deepens your own understanding.