Friday, September 28, 2007

Odds and Ends

I'm still on a semi-holiday while my parents are visiting, and I'm still getting caught up on my backlog of ICC games to analyze.

I tweaked some of the older posts. Most notably, I mentioned Marin's and Johnsen's books in the post on suggested openings as black for improving players. Seriously, if you play 1.e4 e5 as black, or if you've been wanting to but haven't taken the plunge yet, you should check these out before considering buying any others...especially Marin's two books.

Are any readers interested in a tutorial on how to use ChessBase's "repertoire" feature? It's a bit labor-intensive to use properly, and I imagine not that many readers have CB, but if you're hard-core it's pretty nifty.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Tried to Avoid Chess, and Failed

"Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in"-- Michael Corleone

So, I thought I'd take a break from chess and enjoy time with the family. Unfortunately, chess lurks everywhere:

A giant board in a mall courtyard.

I tried to ignore the fact that the pieces weren't set up right, but was only partially successful. I corrected the positions of the black king and queen but refrained from repositioning all of them so that the pieces are on the right side of the board.

Since my move, I had been missing my notepadpad of thoughts and analysis that was to provide fodder forl some future blog posts, but finally I found it today. I'll try to have something more substantial up after I'm done traveling.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hall of Shame, Episode 2

In my defense, I was on a late-night blurry-visioned blitz binge when I missed this mate. Still, there is no reason for me to miss this as long as I still test positive for brain stem activity.

Make sure you're familiar with this mating pops up quite often, and you see it in a lot of tactics books.

1. Bxh7+ Kh8 2. Bg6+ Bh6 3. Qxh6+ Kg8 4. Qh7#

This was an example of chess blindness. During my few seconds of analysis I thought that the king would escape via f7, missing that my queen prevents that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What a Coincidence!

This is bizarre. A few hours after final editing and posting of my previous article dealing with a piece sacrifice, I encounter something very, very similar when analyzing one of my blitz games:

This is not the actual game continuation, but a "what if my opponent had played x instead?" scenario. After the bishop sacrifice with1...fxe3 2.fxe3 White will gain the f7 pawn and the f-file. In this case it's not as crushing as in the Nimzo game, but Fritz still gives a nice edge to White.

If you've never studied classic games, you may not appreciate how relevent they can be to your own games.

Would You Sacrifice Here?

The following game, Samisch-Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen 1923, contains an example of a piece sacrifice that is actually quite understandable. Look at the following, and ask yourself if you would have sacrificed the knight given the same position, or if you would have fallen into the trap of "point-counting" and tried to save it.

White had just played 20.e2-e4, with a discovered attack on the knight.

20... fxe4!

You don't need Fritz to tell you that this is good. All you have to do is visualize what the position will look like after 21. Qxh5 Rxf2:

Black has seized control of the f-file (note that White can't play a rook to f1 because of the bishop on b5) and will probably double up on it. White's pieces are all tangled up defensively on the back ranks. Black's bishops are like sharks with frickin' laser beams, pewpewpew, whereas White's just seem to be in the way. All this, and two pawns, for the sacrificed knight. Then, consider that White's extra piece is the undeveloped knight on b1 that's stuck protecting the d2 bishop.

Just for kicks, let's also apply the space-counting technique mentioned in Best Lessons of a Chess Coach. The rules are a bit unclear, but here's how I apply them:

  • For every Black piece, count the number of squares it attacks on the opponent's side. For example, the bishop on b5 attacks 5 squares on White's side of the board.
  • If there's a piece blocking the way, you can't count the squares beyond. So for the bishop on d6 I count g3 and not h2.
  • Occupying a square on the opponent's side doesn't count, but protecting a piece on the other side does. So I count d2, e2, g2, f1, f3 and f4 but not f2 for the rook on f2. I count b4 for the bishop on d6 but not for the b4 pawn itself. We're counting applied force, not occupation.
  • You can count a square more than once if more than one piece attacks it, because that means you're projecting extra force. The square f3 is counted twice for Black because it's attacked by both pawn and rook.

If you don't like these rules, relax. This is just one way of illustrating whether one side has a space advantage. Here, it's pretty clear just looking at the board who has the advantage, but I thought I 'd introduce the concept here.

Black out-attacks White by 20 to 17. However, it's only that close because of the relative queen activity (9 for White vs. 0 for Black), and it's clear that the White queen can't do much all by herself. Should the a8 rook finds an open file and the queen placement change, White will be absolutely smothered.

I want to re-emphasize that this is more of a party trick than meaningful analysis, but it gives you another way of thinking about space advantage. Don't do this over the board, for Pete's sake!

White lost fairly quickly after 22. Qg5 Raf8 23. Kh1 R8f5 24.Qe3 Bd3 25. Rce1 h6 0-1. Fritz finds some inaccuracies on both sides but nothing that would save White.

Counting the point values of the pieces is helpful, but shouldn't be adhered to dogmatically. You should be willing to risk some of the "safer" sacrifices, like minor piece for two pawns, or Rook for minor piece and (usually) a pawn, if you feel there's adequate compensation. I think it's important to get practice exercising such judgements. For example, such sacrifices can be used defensively, as well as offensively, to help defuse an attack.

Nimzo's sacrifice here feels perfectly natural to me, and I would like to think that I'd find it over the board. I know that I've made similar judgement calls in my own games. Sometimes I've been wrong, but at least I'm confident that I'm capable of thinking outside of the point-counting box and considering other factors.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Back On the Wagon

Since the move in July, I've been a bad, bad boy. I played 187 ICC games and barely looked at them. I'm going to atone for my sins and examine all of them before I play another ICC game.

In other news, I finally snagged Mihail Marin's latest Spanish repertoire book. When I've read a decent chunk of it I'll post a review. However, since his previous book was simply the best opening repertoire book I've ever come across, I have high hopes.

I am starting to think that any book with Marin's name on it is gold.

Hall of Shame, Episode 1

I'm still getting settled in to my new locale, but I've started playing chess locally and getting back into the groove.

The following position is from a casual but slow game, which was a grueling, back-and-forth, positional struggle. I am relying on my memory here, since regrettably I did not keep score:

I am playing Black. I decided to dart across enemy fire to bring my king to the defense on the kingside. I had calculated that the pawn endgame after 1... Ke5 2. Re1+ Kf6 3. Rxe7 Kxe7 should at least be a draw. However, there are two major flaws with this sequence. My opponent found the lesser of the two rebuttals (which was enough for me to immediately resign) but missed the best response.

Try to find the two biggest flaws with my intended sequence. Using a chess engine is gauche.

I'll post the answers later.