Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Commiserating with BDK

Ah, sweet, sweet internet access. I'm typing this from a hotel room; tomorrow I fly back home (about 10 pounds heavier from all the Christmas goodies). Before I left on my trip, I had read BDK's recent post on chess suckage. I'm sure we can all identify with his lament:

"It makes me wonder, sometimes, why I bother with this game if I'm going to suck so badly at it after more than three years playing. It's one of those games that I felt so bad about that I don't even want to analyze the game it makes me feel like s*** to even think about it."

Heck, yeah.

I strongly identified with his observation:

"I've also noticed that in real over the board games my chess vision is just not as good. I miss tactics I spot immediately when playing over the computer. I learned on the computer, trained on the computer, and almost always play on the computer.

"That has to stop. I've begun playing games on ICC using my actual board, using the computer only to relay my moves. We'll see if it helps. It feels hopeless sometimes, like my brain is permanently locked into a 2-D way of thinking, where all the pieces are always equally distinct and visible."

The last chess club before Christmas was a blitz tournament, and I truly sucked. I'm terrible at blitz, especially 5-minute games with no time increment (I typically play with a 12-second increment for internet games). I was struck by a couple things:
  • lack of awareness of the whole board. In one game that I luckily won, my checkmating queen on d5 could have been captured by a bishop on a1 had my opponent not conceded. I would tend to focus on one region of the board and miss long moves or tactics in another region. On a computer 2-D board, it's easier to take in the whole board.
  • absolute inability to play anything remotely resembling "real chess" a la Heisman at those time controls. My king was captured twice by missing checks while pressing my attack in time trouble.
With regards to the first point: even though I don't seem to have any trouble switching between 2-D and 3-D positions, I know that I retain material better when using a real board...whether it's practicing tactics problems, learning basic endgames, or deciding on opening lines for my repertoire.

As for the second point: I've only skimmed Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster, but I recall one of his infamous pronouncements is that the thinking method ("think like a tree") doesn't change in time pressure situations...you just do it faster. This seems like a pretty stupid piece of advice on the surface ("gee, thanks!"), but it actually cuts to the heart of the matter. You have to train yourself to consistently play "real chess" so that it's second nature, even in time pressure. It's not enough to know how you're supposed to think: it takes practice to play "real chess" consistently.

I am currently playing a pair of games by email, and I'm trying to play "real chess" in these games. Even with days available per move, I'm not consistent. In one game, I analyzed a promising rook sacrifice but missed a killer response from my opponent. With the luxury of having as much time as I want per move, I still have to force myself to consistently consider my opponent's move, identify candidate moves, select one, and consider all of my opponent's responses.

Training myself to play "real chess" reliably will be like breaking a bone and resetting it. Playing "hope chess", particularly in ICC Blitz, just reinforces the same old bad thinking habits. I'll probably post more on this with a set of New Year's Resolutions.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

From GP's Undisclosed Location in the Wilds of Canada...

I'm currently visiting family for Christmas, and internet connectivity is dodgy. I have some material ready for posting, but it'll have to wait for New Year's Day.

I managed to winnow down my books for the trip to:

plus Lev Alburt's Chess Training Pocket Book for the airplane, and some of Karsten Mueller's endgame DVDs. Way too much material, objectively. I figured that being stranded without internet would be a good opportunity to crack open Levenfish/Smyslov and work on my rook endgames, but so far I haven't gotten that desperate.

I actually was able to teach my mom and dad some basic endgame stuff. Dad didn't humour me as much and we only did some stuff with the opposition and bare kings. Mom actually did fairly well...we moved on to some basic pawn endgame positions that I set up, and she even figured out the "underpass" herself on the second try.

My wife still refuses to participate. It's weird. Right now she's probably doing some logic problems or sudoku. As a chemist, she enjoys analyzing spectra and determining molecular structures. We've even played checkers once (neither of us could remember the rules, but it was still fun). But she won't even look at a problem involving bare kings and only 3 files. I tried to point out that it wasn't even chess at this point, only a harmless puzzle, but no luck. The closest I ever got was by equating the White king as a woman advancing her career, and that if it got past "the man" (opposing king) blocking her progress, it would reach the 8th rank and thereby shatter the glass ceiling. That, at least, elicited a "nice try."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

iPod Touch Chess Applications?

I scored an iPod Touch for my birthday. I saw that there are several chess apps available, but I get the impression that the reviews are grossly padded by developer sockpuppets.

Anyone have iPod/iPhone chess apps that they particulary like? I noticed that at least one (Caissa Chess) mentions playing by email. This is of some interest, since I'm currently playing a pair of email games with someone from the club.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rybka 3 Arrived, but...

My birthday gift to myself arrived...Deep Rybka 3 with the ChessBase interface. Unfortunately, one of the features I was most interested in--Monte Carlo analysis-- isn't working. Shortly after starting the analysis, the program crashes.

I just contacted ChessBase support. Hopefully the issue will be resolved in time for my birthday! I'm curous, though, if other readers have had a similar problem and know a solution.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Simple Forcing Variation

The following tactic is fairly easy to calculate, yet it gave me some trouble. I'm finding that, when calculating forced variations, I have more difficulty when I have a choice of moves than when my opponent has a choice of moves.

White to play:

4r1k1/ppn1bppp/q7/7Q/1nN1P3/1B1P4/PP5P/KN4R1 w - - 0 1

Black to play has a straightforward mate in 2 starting with 1...Qxa2+, so White's play either has to interfere with this mechanism, or be with check. Moves like 1.Nca3 or 1.Na5 don't lead to anything. That leaves two checks: 1.Rxg7+ or 1.Qxf7+. The former check doesn't seem to lead anywhere either (e.g. 1...Kxg7 2.Qg4+ Qg6).

1.Qxf7+ looks like an "obvious" queen sac, because after 1...Kxf6 the knight can move to e5 or d6 with a discovered, double, check. But which knight move?

Correct is 2.Ne5+, because on either 2...Kf6 or 2...Kf8, 3.Nd7#.

However, when I tried to calculate this as I would in an over-the-board game, I would stall at this point. I was seeing the king slipping out of the mating net with 2.Nd7, and didn't immediately see the mate after 2.Ne5 Kf6. That was enough for me to second-guess the entire line and try to find ways to get other first moves to work. In a real game I probably would have bailed out by playing a knight to a3.

This demonstrates both quiescence errors (not calculating out until all checks, captures and threats are spent) and not "thinking like a tree" a la Kotov (calculate each branch of each line only once). And yes, Kotov's technique has been criticized by others, but in general (especially for simple problems like this one) it's an ideal worth striving for.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Euwe Blunder

The next time you feel bummed out because you made some patzer oversight, remember the following blunder that Euwe played against Lasker in the Nottingham 1936 tournament:

8/pp4pp/2p1kp2/b7/2nP4/3K3P/PP3PP1/2B1N3 w - - 0 24

Euwe (Black) had just played 23...Bc7-a5, attacking the knight on e1. If White captures on c4, Black captures on e1. If white moves the e1-knight, Black moves their threatened c4-knight.

But what if White could move the knight with threat?

24.b4! Bxb4 25.Nc2! and Black is going to lose a piece. Euwe chose 25...Bd2 26.Bxd2 Nb2+ 27.Ke2 and resigned six moves later.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Capablanca Making It Look Easy

I've been working on Alekhine's tournament books for NY 1924 and Nottingham 1936. I've finished the first, but am still adding the annotations to my "Master Games" database (a real pain, because all the annotations are footnotes, so there's a lot of page flipping involved). I'm about halfway through the Nottingham book.

I keep finding that it's the little details that I find the most interesting. I don't retain much about the games as a whole, even if it won a brilliancy prize. Yet Alekhine can mention in a footnote "This move loses a tempo", and I can appreciate how such minor inaccuracies can lead towards a loss.

Similarly, I'm once again impressed by the elegance of Capablanca's endgames, especially against weaker players. One of my favorite chess books was Capablanca's Best Chess Endings by Chernev. If there is one player's style I would most like to emulate, it's Capablanca's ability to accumulate advantages and then win the endgame. A lot of the moves in these endgames feel natural, or even simple.

Here is a snippet from the game Thomas-Capablanca, Nottingham 1936, after White's 25. a4?

White's last move has weakened the b-pawn, and Capablanca proceeds to nail it down as a weakness:

25...Bxd4 My instinct would have been to retain the bishop, because there will be play on both sides of the board. Fritz seems to want to keep the bishop as well. 26. Rxd4

Alekhine gives 26.cxd4 Re1 27. Kg2 Rxf1 28. Kxf1 Ke7 29. Rc3 Kd6 30. Rc5 Rb8 31. Ra5 Rb6, which completely ties White up.

I looked briefly at 27. Rxe1 (instead of Alekhine's 27.Kg2) 27... Rxe1+ 28. Kg2 Rc1 29. Re3, where the white rook cuts off the king from running to the queenside. However, Black's majority is on the kingside and it looks like Black can work on both sides of the board towards a win.

Now, however, Capablanca's crisp play nails down the new weakness:

26... c5 27. Rd2 Rb8 28. Rb1 a5

The b-pawn is a fixed weakness, whereas Black's e-pawn isn't really weak. The king will move towards the queenside and help protect it. Black's king is then well placed in the center, whereas White's king is off to the side keeping an eye on Black's majority.

Capablanca concluded by playing on both sides of the board, using both his majority on the kingside and White's weaknesses on the queenside. The game concluded: 29.Kg2 Ke6 30. Rc2 Kd6 31. f3 g5 32. Kg3 h5 33. h4 gxh4+ 34. Kxh4 Re3 35. Kg3 c4 36. b4 axb4 37. cxb4 Rb3 0-1

The "simple idea" here for me was fixing the backwards b-pawn as a weakness. However, we can see a number of other classic themes in this example: mobilization of a pawn majority; play on both sides of the board and the principle of two weaknesses; centralizing the king; control of an open file.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Opening Archaeology

First: shortly after my last post, I dug into my settings and found that I actually am 32-bit...so at least I don't have to deal with OS shuffling. The extra computing power would have been sweet though. I'll be editing the post to fix that.

I'm going to make a new tag, "opening archaeology" for intriguing old opening ideas I come across as I'm studying collections of master games. The following Sicilian idea seems a bit dubious to me, but those that find the 2...e6 Sicilians annoying may want to look at it.

In The Book of the New York International Chess Tournament 1924, Alekhine in the footnotes of a couple games reveals that after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 he likes 3.Be2!?

One of the ideas is that it may be possible to avoid playing Nc3 to protect the e4 pawn. In most open Sicilian lines, ...Nf6 attacking the e4 pawn is played early, which prompts White to play Nc3 and block their c-pawn. The Maroczy Bind (pawns on c4 and e4 in the Sicilian) was considered a Very Good Thing at the time.

In this case, if 3...Nc6 (or another move besides 3...Nf6--3...Nc6 is the most common in this position) 4. d4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6, now 6. Bf3 protects e4:

In theory, c2-c4 would be in the cards now. However, in Tartakower-Steiner, Saltsjobaden 1948 I see that White never got around to it: 6...Ne5 7. O-O Be7 8. b3 O-O 9. Bb2 (9.c4!?) ...d5 10. Nd2 Nxf3+ 11. Qxf3 Bb4 12. e5 Nd7 13. Qe2 Bxd2 14. Qxd2 Nxe5 15. Nxe6 Nf3+ 16. gxf3 Bxe6 17. Kh1 f6 18. Rg1 Bf5 19. Bd4 b6 20. Rg3 Rc8 21. c3 Qd7 22. Rag1 Bg6 23. Qf4 Rf7 24. Re1 Re8 25. Re3 Rff8 26. Rg1 Qh3 27. Rg3 Qf1+ 28. Rg1 Qh3 29. Rg3 Qf1+ 1/2-1/2

In case of 3... Nf6, Alekhine gave 4. Nc3, with the idea of 5. e5 Nd5 6. Nxd5 exd5 7. d4. I started looking at sample lines, and it doesn't seem that simple, but Fritz is giving White a nice edge. I'll leave it to the reader to explore those variations.

I'm unconvinced by the idea of putting the bishop on f3 behind the e4 pawn, and in a few of the games I looked at this indeed became a problem if the pawn remained there. Also, to me the most testing response to 3.Be2 is 3...Nf6, where White ends up playing 4.Nc3 anyways. However, it seems playable, and I think the odds are your opponent would not have looked at these lines.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

64-Bit Vaio Ships With 32-Bit Windows?

{Edit: although it seems from my googling that this has been an issue with some Vaios, it is not with mine...I received a 32-bit comp. Disregard, but thanks for all the input!}

It seems that my Sony SR should be able to run the 64-bit version of Visa, but ships with the 32-bit. Grr.

I'm only an average computer user, so it's not clear to me yet how easy it'll be to solve this problem. My understanding is that when installing a new OS you want to wipe the hard drive clean, but then I'd lose all the stuff that came pre-installed. It looks like I can get a physical copy of the 64-bit OS from Microsoft for a nominal fee, but I've read that installation on Vaios can be problematic because of the Sony drivers.

I'll be phoning various Sony and Microsoft tech help in the next few days to try and find a solution. Until then: if you're ordering a 64-bit computer and want the 64-bit OS, you should check and see which version comes pre-installed.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Toy

I received my Sony Vaio SR laptop today. So far, so good. I've managed to put ChessBase 9, Fritz 9 and CT-ART on it and test them out. The latter two required some googling to figure out how to get them to work in Vista, but everything seems to check out so far. I'm not looking forward to transferring the 4 GB of endgame tablebases over.

Fritz 9 is running at over double the kN/s on the laptop. I'm tempted to try playing my two computers against each other and see how the laptop stacks up.

I've started to shop around for Rybka. I'm interested in picking up other free engines that I can pit against each other in engine tournaments. If anyone has some favorite engines, feel free to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brief Update

I'm still alive, but I've been distracted by other things. For much of the fall I have to work when the local chess club meets. Lately I've been slowly plugging away at collections of old master games, but haven't had any "Aha! this would be good blog material!" eureka moments.

I've ordered a laptop for work and for play, so I expect once it arrives I'll be spending more time organizing material and training. I would be very interested in hearing from people how the new Rybka 3 stacks up to the previous release. Until now, I've been using my old Fritz 9, but I've been hearing "Rybka says this, Rybka says that" for a long time now.

I'd also like to hear if anyone feels that it is worthwhile to upgrade from Chessbase 9 to Chessbase 10. I haven't heard a compelling reason to do so yet...although if it's easier to keep your reference database up-to-date that alone may be worth the price. Currently I do the online updates that download TWIC files...but I tend to put it off and have to manually search their archives. Either way, I still have to cannibalize each TWIC and incorporate into my reference DB.

I have no illusions that new engines or database software will translate directly into better chess skills...but as a hobbyist I enjoy what these programs can do. For example, I'm interested in the use of engine tournaments to assess various positions, as described in Nunn's Secrets of Practical Chess. However, all I really have are Fritz 9/7/5 engines at the moment, which strikes me as incestuous. I've tried a few free engines such as Crafty, but they've caused crashes when trying to run engine tournaments.

Any thoughts on Rybka 3, Chessbase 10 or other nifty software?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Spot the Back Rank Weakness

Even though (if you're at all like me) we still fall prey to "simple" back-rank weakness tactics, I think these tactics are sometimes dismissed as obvious, beginner cheapos. However, these motifs can be quite deeply concealed. The following example from Marshall-Alekhine, NY 1924 caught my attention:

20...h6. Alekhine: "It was surely disagreeable to deprive the Rook of the control of h6, and yet there appeared to be no other way of preparing for Rf6 (20... Rf6 21. Qxe4 Qxe4 22. Nxe4 Rxe4:

23. Rxd5." Of course 23...cxd5?? 24. Rc8+ and back-rank mate to follow. It's not hard to calculate this forcing line, but you'd have to look pretty carefully at the first diagram to see that there was a potential back-rank weakness and that making luft with ...h6 was a good idea. Besides being a good example of calculating a forcing variation, this is also a good example of playing "real chess" a la Heisman: "What can my opponent do after I make the move I want to make?"

To add a dose of humility, I'll conclude with a recent blunder of mine from a blitz game:

I had actually made luft with ...g6 seven moves ago, to hopefully thwart back-rank problems. In time trouble I played 29...Rcc7??, hoping for something like 30.Bxc5?? Rxc5 31.Rxc5 a2 -+.

However, to my opponent's credit, he almost immediately whipped out 30.Bh6! Ke8 31.Ra8+ 1-0.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Was Alekhine Unaware of the Noah's Ark Trap?

The Noah's Ark trap refers to the following tactic that can be found in lines of the Spanish. After, for example, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 d6 5. d4 b5 6. Bb3 Nxd4 7. Nxd4 exd4 8. Qxd4?

8... c5! 9. Qd5 Be6 10. Qc6+ Bd7 11. Qd5 c4 -+ traps the bishop.

Yet, in a footnote to Yates-Alekhine, NY 1924, Alekhine says {note: I'm converting the notation to algebraic} "...White, after 5.d4, must reckon with either choosing an immediate drawing line (5...b5 6.Bb3 Nxd4 7.Nxd4 exd4 8.Qxd4 c5 9.Qd5 Be6 10.Qc6+ Bd7 11.Qd5 Be6 = {instead of 11...c4!-GP}), or being forced to embark upon a doubtful sacrificial variation beginning with 8.c3".

My understanding was that the Noah's Ark Trap gets its name from its antiquity. Yet I see that even 6 years after Yates-Alekhine was played, Steiner used this line as White against Capablanca (unsuccessfully).

Were the masters at the time of the NY 1924 tournament actually unaware of this trap, or am I missing something?

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Thought on GM Openings

I just renewed my lapsed subscription to New In Chess, and I've been going over some of the recent tournaments. My repertoire database in Chessbase is starting to get to a decent size, so for kicks I tested it out by generating a repertoire using the games from the Corus tournament (Section A). For those not familiar with this feature: Chessbase can search a collection of games and compare it to a database of lines you consider to be part of your repertoire. It then spits out all games that match your repertoire. This search actually did produce some significant games (Carlsen-Polgar and Radjabov-Anand, for example).

In the course of reviewing some of these games, I was struck once again by how many of these GM lines seem to teeter on the brink of disaster. Some lines are just positionally awkward, and can only be justified tactically.

I would compare these cutting-edge openings to cutting-edge aircraft. Planes are now being designed with "negative stability". These aircraft are inherently unstable and require a "fly-by-wire", computer-controlled system in order to stay aloft. If a system were to fail, the plane would be uncontrollable. In contrast, a plane designed with "positive stability" will tend to maintain its attitude without external control. The pilot can't just doze off, but the plane has a natural tendency to stay aloft.

My preference is middle of the road...major lines that you see high-rated players play, yet fairly well grounded in general chess principles. No Colle or King's Indian Attack for me (though those would fit the bill as openings with "positive stability"), but no Smith-Morra Gambit or Botvinnik Semi-Slav/Anti-Moscow either.

To each his own. There's an argument for playing highly tactical openings, in that they force you to hone your ability to calculate. For some of these GM lines, though, I think the average club player would just fall into the trap of spending time memorizing lines rather than understand why certain crazy moves are essential.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Gem of an Endgame Book

Back at my first chess club we had a National Master, originally from Russia, that gave group lessons. He would set up positions for us to play against him, and then we would discuss what was played and what proper play would have been. Many of these lessons were on endgame technique. At least one group member questioned the value of the lessons, along the lines of: "What are the odds that I'll see this position in my own games? Maybe I should just work on my openings." I, however, felt I really "got" what the instructor was doing and why.

I have been working through Chess Endgame Training by Bernd Rosen, and I'm strongly reminded of these group sessions from years ago. This endgame book, while instructive on its own, is actually structured pedagogically so that an instructor can use the material in their own group lessons. The bulk of the book consists of the positions and their analysis, with the final section of the book giving advice on how to teach the material.

I am about halfway through this book, and I am completely enthralled by it. This review from Chesscafe.com struck me as being relatively accurate, but lukewarm. In particular, this book is not intended to be the first endgame book you ever read. However, I would say that players class C and above that have already spent time covering endgame basics can get a lot out of this book.

First, let's look at the breakdown of chapters:

  • 6 chapters on pawn endgames
  • 1 chapter each on knight, bishop, and bishop vs. knight endgames
  • 4 chapters on rook endgames
  • 2 chapters on queen endings
  • 1 chapter to test your knowledge

plus the final chapter on Advice for Teachers. This may seem heavily weighed towards pawn and rook endgames, but I think that this is justified. Pawn endgames serve as a foundation for other endgames (for example, you always have to consider possible transitions from an unclear piece endgame to a concrete pawn endgame). I also think that pawn endgames are more coachable than the others, and that they are good tools for practicing visualization and the calculation of variations. Rook endgames are the most common endgame in practice, and are technically demanding, so emphasis there is warranted.

Each chapter contains roughly 8 easier problems and 8 tougher problems. What makes this book special for me is how the more advanced problems are related to the easier. The author is making connections between the classic endgame positions that you may have seen time and again to more complex positions that resemble actual games. Someone casually flipping through the book in a book store may think that this is old material. For example, many of the positions in the first two pawn chapters are old chestnuts. However, dig deeper and you'll see the author bringing in fresh material (fresh to me, at least) that extrapolate from these basic concepts.

The end result is an endgame book that, in a relatively concise manner, manages to both cover the essential basics of endgames and provide examples to challenge good endgame players. I would estimate that players from Class C to Class A can benefit from this book. Weaker endgame players will find many of the endings difficult, and stronger ones will find much of the beginner material obvious, but there is a lot of middle ground here. The easier positions demonstrate standard endgame techniques, but many of the harder positions demonstrate that sometimes there's no substitute for brute-force calculation.

I'm going to share a handful of the many endgames from Chess Endgame Training that, to me, shone like jewels. I've struggled with what to include here, since there is so much to enjoy. The following are taken from the first four chapters. I'm going to show a basic endgame, followed by a more advanced endgame of the same theme. In some cases I've truncated the analysis--in part for brevity, and in part because I want to encourage people to check out Rosen's book themselves. I've also added my own comments and analysis in places. Once again, I'm trying to cleave closely to the Nunn Convention for annotating endgames, so you will see a lot of "!"...there's not much room for error in these endgames.

Chapter 1 covers the square of the pawn, the opposition, waiting moves, and key squares. For this introductory chapter, all of the examples look like standard positions you'd find in endgame manuals, so I've selected a pair that demonstrate the opposition.

Black to move

This is a standard position on opposition. Its position in the chapter (1.6) places it on the more difficult side of the "easy" half. I think that this is a good test to see if Rosen's book may be for you. If this position elicits a "yeah, yeah, I know how this position is played, with either side to move, and can do it in my sleep", then you're ready for this book.

(The solution is 1...Kd8! taking the distant opposition, e.g. 2.Kd5 Kd7! 3.Ke5 Ke7!).

Kranki-W. Lange, Bad Oeynhausen 1940
Black to move

Although this position looks like a study, it's taken from an actual game. This is a great example of how the opposition is used to invade and capture your opponent's pawns. It's pretty obvious that Black needs to seize the opposition, but less obvious to see how they can penetrate. If you still don't have a feel for how to use the opposition, this could be a good position to play against the computer.

1... Kg2! seizes the opposition 2. Kc3 (2. Kc1 was played by Fritz vs. me: ...Kf3! 3. Kd2 Kf2! 4. Kc2 Ke2! 5. Kc3 Kd1! 6. Kd3 Kc1! 7. Kc3 Kb1! 8. Kd3 Kb2! 9. Kd2 Kxb3!) 2... Kf1! the only move that doesn't cede the opposition 3. Kd2 (3. Kd3 Ke1! 4. Ke3 Kd1!
5. Kd3 Kc1! 6. Kc3 Kb1! Note the theme of "scraping off" the opponent's king on a barrier such as a pawn or an attacked square, causing them to lose the opposition) 3... Kf2! 4. Kd3 Ke1! 5. Ke4 Kd2 6. Kd5 Kc3 7. Kc6 Kxb3! 0-1

The next three positions from Chapter 2 demonstrate body-checks and the opposition. The first is a standard position you'll find in many books:

Schlage-Ahues, Berlin 1921
White to move

1. Ke6! Kc3 2. Kd5! the body-check (in the actual game, 2. Kd6? led to an instructive draw: Kd4! 3. Kc6 Ke5! 4. Kb7 Kd6! 5. Kxa7 Kc7!= A standard technique in K+RP vs. K endgames) 2... Kb4 3. Kc6! Ka5 4. Kb7! Kb5 5. Kxa7! Kc6 6. Kb8!+-

However, the next two are far from obvious:

White to move

Seizing the opposition with 1.Kd5? draws, as does 1.Ke5? and 1.f4?. However, 1.Kd4! wins by force (see Rosen for details, or play this against a chess engine).

White to move

A common theme in pawn endgames is defending from the rear. For example, 1. Kc3? Kg4 2. Kd4 Kf4! 3. Kxd5 Ke3!=. White has to take a more coy approach to winning the pawn:
1. Kb4! Kg4 2. Kc5! Kf4 3. Kd4!+-

I feel these last two endgames demonstrate a point: sometimes there's no substitute for calculation. Some people prefer books that help them "understand the ideas" behind endgames, openings and whatnot, and certainly there are standard endgame positions where such commentary is helpful. On the other hand, there are endgames where rules of thumb and pattern recognition are actually detrimental. For example, in 2.10 using intuition and taking the opposition is wrong.

The next two examples from Chapter 3 cover the protected passed pawn:

White to move

1. h6! Kf8 2. g5! creates a protected passer 2...Kg8 (2... f5 3. gxf6! Kf7 4. h7!+-) 3. Kd2! (3. Kc2? The king cannot dilly-dally; the passed pawn doesn't win on its own: 3...Kh7! 4. Kd3 f6=) 3... Kh7 4. Ke3! f6 5. gxf6! Kxh6 6. Kf4! g5+ 7. Kf5 Kh7 (7... g4 8. Ke6! g3 9. f7! g2
10. f8=Q+!+-) 8. Kxg5 Kh8 9. Kh6 +-

White to play

1. b4! creates a passed pawn (1. Ke2? Ke7 2. Kf3 Ke6 3. Kxf4 Kd5=) In the pawn race that follows, both sides queen but White can win by force. However, this is not something that I would care to have to play over the board! 1... Ke7! (1... axb4 2.
a5 +-) 2. b5! Kd6 and the main line, stripped of Rosen's analysis, runs 3. Ke2 Ke6 4. Kf3 Ke5 5. Kg4 Ke4 6. b6 f3 7. Kg3 Ke3 8. b7 f2 9. b8=Q f1=Q 10. Qe5+ Kd2 11. Qxa5+ Kd1 12. Qd5+ Kc1 13. Qc5+ Kd1 14. Qd4+ Kc2 15. Qf2+ +-

One of the most useful chapters for me dealt with separated, isolated, passed pawns. Rosen did an excellent job presenting rules for determining whether such positions are a draw or not.

Black to play

Rosen's rules indicate that here the pawns cannot defend themselves on their own: 1... Kh5! threatens to capture on h4 and still remain in the square of the e4 pawn 2. e5 now 2...Kxh4? would be a mistake, but 2...Kg6! switches the attack to the lead pawn: 3. Kg2 Kf5! 4. h5 Kxe5!=

Here again, Rosen takes basic endgame examples (here: separated, isolated passed pawns) and extrapolates to more complicated scenarios:

White to move

The first stage is a Reti-style manoeuvre (pursuing two objectives at once): 1. Kg3! a5 2. Kf4! a4 3. Ke5! White's king couldn't get into the square of the a-pawn, but by threatening to it got close enough to its own passed pawns. 3...Kg7 (3... a3 4. Kf6! a2 5. g7+! Kxh7 6.Kf7! a1=Q 7. g8=Q+! Kh6 8. Qg6#) 4. Kd4! d5 5. Kc3! +- White can now capture both pawns in the same manner as the previous example.

I hope these examples have whetted your appetite for more. This book is chock-full of positions whose solutions made me think, "whoa, cool!"

In a nutshell, this book impresses me because:

  • it relates basic endgame positions and concepts to more complicated and realistic scenarios
  • it provides rules and guidelines, yet ultimately reinforces the need to think concretely and analyze accurately
  • the careful selection of examples, combined with the chapter "Advice for Teachers", makes this a very good resource for trainers
I highly recommended this book to students that have already studied elementary endgames, and to trainers looking for lecture material.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reti Opening: Rare Bird?

I'm making a push to finish my New York 1924 tournament book annotated by Alekhine. This tournament was a showcase for the Reti opening (18 games, 6 of them classed as the "Reti Reversed").

I updated my file of personal games, and it's approaching 6000 games (mostly ICC). I did a quick search, and only 6 games had Nf3, c4 and g3 as the first 3 moves for white. I did a search of my 3.4 million game database and it only came up about 12000 times...so maybe 3x as often as it does for me, but still pretty rare.

I'm curious if other people find this to be a highly rare opening, either online or over the board. I have no interest in playing the opening as white, and don't think I'd recommend it to a beginner, but it seems like it would be a good surprise weapon based on my statistics.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Name That Gambit

Here is a quest for my dear readers: does the following gambit have a name? Is there any theory associated with this, or a clear refutation?

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.e4:

There were very few examples of this in my large database. I couldn't find a clear path forwards for Black. Surprisingly, Fritz evaluated 3...Nxe4, which I think is the most testing response, to be nearly equal. Even after following plausible moves for both sides down to move 12 or so, Fritz didn't seem to notice that Black was up a pawn! For example, I played this series of moves that felt natural to me and that looked fine to Fritz at first glance: 3... Nxe4 4. Bd3 d5 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 Nd6 7. Bf4 O-O 8. Nbd2 b6 9. Qe2 c5 10. c3 Nc6 11. Ne5 Bb7:

Fritz evaluates this as dead even, despite the pawn minus. I've only done some preliminary, superficial analysis, and I don't suggest the above variation is some sort of main line. My point is that there seems to be more going on here than meets the eye. It would be interesting to grab another chess engine and see its evaluations, or to play engines against each other and see the results.

Other moves such as 3...c5 and 3...d5 may transpose into other openings such as the Sicilian or the French, but that can't be the most serious test (otherwise this opening would be seen more often).

My conclusion right now is that Black takes the pawn and converts the material advantage with good technique. However, I would say that any unusual pawn gambit that Fritz can't easily refute is probably worthy of home analysis and potential use as a secret weapon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Preview of Forcing Chess Moves

{edit: fixed the first diagram}
{second edit: fixed the third. Good grief!}

I've been slowly working my way through Forcing Chess Moves by Charles Hertan. I see that it was reviewed at the Chess Cafe here, so I'll just add a few impressions so far.

First, be forewarned: the author uses ALL CAP EMPHASIS for certain KEY SAYINGS that are repeated throughout the book. I understand the pedagogical intent, but it's distracting. I still haven't decided yet if it's a net plus...if at some point I play a game and suddenly my COMPUTER EYES kick in to realize it's time for BRUTE-FORCE CALCULATION to find the winning move, then I suppose it will be proven effective.

The theme of the book is to train you to analyze the most forcing candidate moves first. What makes this book unique is that it's overall goal appears to be to expand your perception of what a forcing move is. The premise is that a computer will find winning moves that often are omitted as candidate moves by humans, because at first glance they look bad. The author hopes to train the reader's COMPUTER EYES so that they will consider these odd, but forcing moves, as candidates in their own games.

I'm still in the earlier part of the book, which more closely resembles a standard collection of advanced tactical problems in that the forcing moves tend to be checks and direct sacrifices. An example:

simul 1995

1... Qh2+!!

"...it is the most FORCING MOVE on the board. Perhaps your COMPUTER EYES are even able to follow the chain of forcing moves and find the tricky but logical 'quiet forcing move' on move 4?"--Hertan.

2. Kxh2 Rxf2+ 3. Kh1 Ng3+ 4. Kg1 Ree2 0-1

A standard tactical problem, although the not-most-forcing (i.e. non-check) 4...Ree2 could be considered foreshadowing of what's to come.

Here is an example featuring a much less obvious forcing move:

Kavala 2004

1. Qb6! a6 (1... axb6?? 2. Nxb6#; 1... Nd7 2. Qxa7) 2. Nc5 Ne8 (2... Nb5 3. Bxb5
axb5 4. Nxb5 cxb5 5. Nxb7+) 3. N3a4 Nd6 (3... Qc7 4. Qa7! Rd7 5. Nb6+) 4. Qa5 1-0.

I found that the author's comments can be misleading, and that it's better to try and solve the problems yourself with an open mind, and then consult the book text. For example, for the following problem the author says: "Here a beautiful stock mate on h7 relies on a SELF-BLOCKING ENEMY PAWN on g5 containing the black king. Excellent COMPUTER EYES are in play, as all five white moves are the MOST FORCING:"

Bad Pyrmont 1933

1. Qd8+ Kg7 2. Rxg5+! hxg5 3. h6+!

I missed this move. I saw that 3. Qxg5 was with check, and assumed this must be the most forcing move...what's stronger than a queen check?... but saw that 3... Kf8 4. Qd8+ Kg7 5. Qg5+ draws. Further, Fritz found that Black could win with 3...Kh8.

3... Kxh6 4. Qh8+ Rh7 5. Qxh7#.

One thing I've found in analyzing my own games is that Fritz will find moves that are clearly strong, but I would never have considered the first move of the sequence. Sometimes, the tactic will defy categorization as a fork, pin, skewer, deflection, removal of the guard, etc, but simply be a move that works. My impression is that Hertan's book may help open the reader's eyes to these opportunities. I also think that endgame training can also help, because sometimes the winning move can only be found by BRUTE-FORCE calculation. More on that in a future post.

I feel that the standard practice of studying tactical motifs can blind us to other possibilities if we can't classify them as one of these motifs. This is not to say that studying basic tactics is detrimental. My point is that if humans can't name or categorize something, they have a hard time recognizing it. For example, some languages have words that cannot be adequately translated into others, and describe concepts or feelings particular to that culture. I wish I could come up with a good example of that on short notice, but "schadenfreude" comes close...in recent years it's crept into common English because it fills a gap in our language. Similarly, let's say a certain winning move puts the opponent into zugzwang, forcing a self-blocking move that allows a successful king-hunt and mate. For us, that may be an example of BRUTE-FORCE CALCULATION of QUIET FORCING MOVES. For some alien chess culture, that may be a classic example of a "glibberfunken" motif that every alien schoolboy knows.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Another Example of Engame Transitions

This post is in part to let people know I'm alive, and in part to whet my blogging appetite. The end of the semester has been a busy one. I have a couple of book reviews that I've been dragging my heels on but should post shortly.

This is from an online blitz game (2+12 time control). Evaluate 1.Rb5.

I was Black and had been suffering all game. Finally my opponent slipped with 1.Rb5?? I had been hoping for this, but didn't think my opponent, who had played credibly to this point, would fall for it. Even if my opponent had been in time trouble (which he wasn't), 12 seconds is enough time for someone our level to follow the most forcing line and see that this move is bad.

1...Rxb5! is forced, otherwise the h-pawn drops and the connected passed pawns win. After 2.axb5, black steps into the square of the passed pawn, e.g. 2...Ke7:

Now Black will have a protected passed pawn, which takes care of itself while Black's king gobbles the isolated passed b-pawns: 3.Kg5 g6! 4.f4 Kd6 5.f5 Kc5 6.fxg6 fxg6 0-1.

It was only necessary to follow the most forcing moves 4 ply ahead (up to 2...Ke7) to see that White's chosen move loses--assuming a basic knowledge of pawn endgames. Knowing the rule of the square means, for example, that you don't have to calculate ahead another 6 ply to see whether White can promote a pawn safely. It also means you don't need to calculate much to convince yourself that Black's kingside pawns will be safe. After g7-g6, Black has a protected passed pawn. If White tries to capture the base of the pawn chain, the king will be out of the square of the leading pawn, which will go on to queen. If anything in this last paragraph isn't clear to you ("What's 'the square'?") I strongly recommend picking up a basic endgame book (Silman, Pandolfini, or Alburt for example) and getting started.

One possible explanation for my opponent's move is just a silly oversight (I know those all to well), perhaps thinking Black's king wouldn't be able to get into the square of the pawn. It's also possible that they just haven't studied endgames much, and that certain themes such as the square of the pawn or the strength of a protected passer were not yet second-nature. My reason for choosing this position was to demonstrate once again the importance of endgame study: it's not just so that you know the technique required to win a certain endgame, but also so that you can spot transitions to winning endgames...or, to avoid transitions to losing endgames.

By the way, the theme of analyzing the most forcing sequence of moves is foreshadowing for my next mini-book review.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Brief Update: Preparing for Summer

I've had a couple posts in varying stages of completion for a while now, but between real-life distractions and the amount of work they've turned into, I've delayed posting them for a while.

I hope to post a review of Chess Endgame Training by Bernd Rosen soon (short version: me likey!) and some endgame analysis in about a week. I just wanted to confirm that I'm still alive, and also give myself a little kick in the pants to produce something worth reading soon.

I'm looking forward to summer evenings on the porch with a book and a chessboard, and putting a dent in my list of master games to play through.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Important Addition to Marin's A Spanish Repertoire for Black

I think that Marin's two-volume opening repertoire based on 1.e4 e5 (Beating the Open Games and A Spanish Repertoire for Black) is amazing, and packed full of chess knowledge. However, the two books are targeted towards either more-advanced players (particularly the latter), or the ambitious student. They're also directed towards main-line players rather than offbeat-variation players. This means that the reader has to plug a lot of holes themselves, as they find that the opponents they encounter at their level frequently play a line not covered.

I just checked qualitychessbooks.com, and found that a 25-page addendum to ASRFB is available for download in .pdf format. It covers, among other gaps, my biggest problem with that book: no discussion of the departure from the Chigorin mainline with 12.d5 (instead of 12.Nbd2). I see the former more than the latter in my online games, and it's the #2 line by statistics (74 out of 1051 Grandmaster games, according to my home-made opening book; 478 out of 6050 games total).

In other news, it appears that the first volume (BTOG) is about to be reissued as a second edition. When I bought it, it contained a 4-page insert covering two omitted lines. It sounds like a combination of popular demand and reader critique has prompted an upgrade. According to the publisher, it should be out very soon (Spring 2008).

It's annoying when you just buy a book and a new edition comes out shortly after. When the second edition of Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual came out, I decided that I didn't need to worry about the second edition until I completed the first (which is still a loooooong way off). Also, I've heard the quality of print for the second edition of Dvoretsky wasn't as good. However, Marin's BTOG has become indispensable for me, so I'm looking forward to seeing what's been added in the second edition.

Real chess players will roll their eyes because I've held Dvoretsky on the back burner while salivating over an upgrade to an opening book. Well, like the banner says: Do as I Say, Not as I Do.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Polgar Error

I was going over some of the basic endgames from L. Polgar's Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations, and Games. The book's analysis for Position #5113 is incorrect: Black surprisingly can draw!

White To Play

The provided solution is 1.e8=Q, followed by 1...e1=Q(?) 2.Kf6+ and White wins.

However, Black has a surprising draw if instead they play 1...Ke3!:

At this point, I'd like to quote from Muller and Lamprecht's Fundamental Chess Endings: "If {a single pawn} has advanced to the seventh rank and is threatening to promote, everything depends on whether the attacking king can assist the queen. With a central pawn, this is almost always possible, no matter how far away the king is." I briefly touched on these endgames in this earlier post.

Here we have an exception to this "almost always" rule. It turns out that White has an unfortunate placement of king and queen. For example, 2.Kf5+ Kf2!

Black's king hides in the shadow of White's, and supports the pawn's promotion. The queen lacks any move that prevents Black from obtaining their own queen (e.g. by delivering check or by pinning the pawn to the king).

I've been entering endgame positions for books into databases. One reason is that I can later play these positions vs. the computer and practice my endgame technique. Another reason is that I can explore variations not mentioned in the books to make sure I understand the positions thoroughly. However, here we can see one final benefit, especially if you have endgame tablebases at your disposal: you can find errors in old analysis and learn new tricks.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Help Finding Pocket Set Replacement

I bought this pocket set off of the USCF web site sometime around 1995:

I still have all the pieces, which for me is some sort of miracle. However the plastic case is cracking and I'm not sure how much longer it will last.

I'm calling out to the community for help in either identifying a supplier for this pocket set, or the nearest equivalent. Here is what I find special about this set:

  • The board is metal, not vinyl.
  • The board does not fold.
  • The board can be held comfortably in one hand.
  • The magnets are very strong. There's no chance at all of the position being lost in transit.
  • A plastic lid snaps on with magnets, protecting the pieces in transit.
  • The set is thin... roughly 5 mm. Almost thin enough to act as a bookmark:

The only negative thing I can think of is that there is limited room to place pieces not in play. If I'm in the middle of a game and want to save it, I have to creatively place the pieces so that they avoid the spots where the lid's magnets touch the board.

My backup set is a metal case set I grabbed at Starbucks. However, the board is hinged, so there's a barrier wall that runs between the 4th and 5th ranks. The files also don't quite match up where the hinge is, and I find the slight offset a bit distracting. Finally, the magnets aren't as strong as I'd like.

This is your mission, dear readers. Can anyone tell me who the maker of my set was, and if it can still be found? Or, does anyone know of a pocket set that would be a worthy replacement?

Fly, my monkeys! Fly!

Thursday, March 6, 2008



Edit: Wow, three responses!

I was trying to use the new remote blogging tool for Blogger, and thought I had failed at a test message from my new phone. Didn't check to verify the fail though.

The pictures that I tried to send from my phone will be in my followup post.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Interesting CTB Error

When using the program Chess Tactics for Beginners, one shouldn't unquestioningly accept their answers. Sometimes there are alternate solutions to the problems that aren't accepted as correct answers. But you should also question their evaluations of variations.

The following problem was interesting. White to draw:

Note: for the following analysis, I'm trying to abide by the Nunn Convention for annotating endgames, hence the extensive use of "!". It's not just me being over-excited. (Technically, some of them might really be "!?", because other moves waste time but don't actually give away the win, but close enough.)

The move 1.Ng1! indeed does lead to a draw, as shown by 1...c1(Q) =. However, the software also gives the following line as a draw: 1...Kf5 2.Ne2 Ke4 3.Kg1 Kd3 4.Kf1 Kd2=. I've checked this with Fritz, and 1...Kf5? actually appears to lose for Black! The main theme appears to be that the white Knight can prevent the c-pawn from promoting (either from e2 or a2, as required) while White queens the h-pawn.

After 1.Ng1!= Kf5?-+ 2.Ne2! Ke4 3.Kg1! Kd3 4.Kf2! (instead of CTB's 4.Kf1?=):

For example, 4...Kd2 5.Kf3! Kd1 6.Nc3+:

It seems clear that Black cannot queen the c-pawn. However, I wasn't ready to trust Fritz yet. I wondered: is it possible that Black can draw the rook-pawn endgame, as I discussed in my previous post? Apparently not. One line continues: 6...Kd2 7.Na2 Ke1 (7...Kd3?! 8.Nb4+. This is a common theme in this, and other knight endgames: some squares such as d3 are "mined" because a king on that square falls victim to a knight fork that wins the offending pawn.) 8.Kg3 Ke2 9.Kxh3 Kf3 10.Kh4 Kf4 11.Kh5 Kf5 12.h4 Kf6 13.Kh6 Kf7 14.h5 Kg8 15.Kg6 Kh8 16.h6 Kg8:

We've followed the drawing procedure for K+RP vs. K, and it looks like Black will draw. However, after 17.Nc1! Kh8 18.Nd3! Kg8 19.h7! Kh8 20.Ne5!:

20...c1=Q 21.Nf7#.

Totally freakin' cool.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Another Example of Applying Basic Endgame Knowledge

Here's an example from a recent game where knowledge of a basic endgame helped resolve a more complicated position.

In the case of King and Rook's Pawn vs. King, the defender draws if their king gets in front of the rook pawn. Barring that, if the king can reach the B7 or B8 squares (e.g. f7/f8 vs. an h-pawn), it prevents the attacking king from reaching the key N7/N8 squares (e.g. g7/g8 vs. an h-pawn).

{Aside: although I normally use algebraic notation, the old descriptive notation has one advantage in cases such as this: it doesn't matter if we're talking about white or black queening the pawn, or whether it's the queen's or king's rook pawn.}

For example, in the following position:

Black draws if their king gets to one of the green squares; White wins if their king gets to one of the yellow squares. For example, with Black to move in the above position, 1...Kd7 2.Kg5 Ke7 3.Kg6 Kf8! and Black's king reaches the f8 square and secures a draw:

There are two basic drawing ideas from this position: either get the defending king in front of the rook pawn, or trap the attacking king in front of its pawn.

For example, 4.h4 Kg8! and the king reaches the corner:

White, at best, can stalemate Black (e.g. 5.g5 Kh8 6.h6 Kg8 7.h7+ Kh8 8.Kh6 =).

If White tries to get his own king ahead of the pawn, it can be trapped on the h-file, e.g. after 4.Kh7 Kf7!

As long as White's king is on h7 or h8, preventing Black from reaching g8 and h8, Black keeps his king on the drawing f7/f8 squares. Eventually White will either advance his pawn as far as possible and be stalemated, or he'll try to get his king off of the h-file (e.g. moving to g6), which allows Black to play ...Kg8 and reach the previously described drawing scenario.

There is one exception to this rule that the defender will draw by getting to the B7/B8 square first:

Here, 1.h7! prevents 1...Kg8 and wins.

Studying basic endgames allows you to spot favorable transitions (or avoid unfavorable transitions) to them from more complicated endgames. An example occurred in one of my recent ICC games, where I had White:

If White chooses to capture the d-pawn, does he have to be afraid about Black trading off all the rooks and threatening to queen the h-pawn? {Fritz actually prefers 39.Rg2+!, but we'll let that slide}. No. After 39.Rxd4 Rxd4+ 40.Rxd4 Rxd4+? (Keeping a rook offers the best defensive chances for Black), 41.Kxd4+- Kxf5:

Black has traded down to a lost pawn endgame. On the kingside, we have the standard draw vs. a rook's pawn. However, White has a majority on the queen's side, which wins on its own. The game concluded: 42.b4 (no rush) Kg4 43.Ke4 (or 43.a4--still no need to rush) Kh3 44.Kf3 Kxh2 45.Kf2:

and now the win is clear. The game concluded 45...Kh3 46.a4 Kg4 47.b5 axb5 48.axb5 h4 49.b6 h3 50.b7 h2 51.Kg2 1-0.

If you've avoided studying endgames up to this point, hear me now and believe me later: mastering these basic positions will help your chess.

Reference: Secrets of Pawn Endings, by Muller and Lamprecht

Monday, February 18, 2008

Deceptive Tactic

It took me a few minutes to solve this tactic from "Chess Tactics for Beginners":

The reason is that this looks like it's set up to be the old "windmill" or "see-saw" tactic: rook moves along a rank or file to deliver a discovered check; king moves; rook returns to original square to check. This is normally combined with other threats, such as merely gobbling material with the rook. I was thinking, "well, this is a tactics problem, the answer must involve this tactic" and kept trying to make it work.

Here, rook moves along the 7th rank or the g-file don't accomplish anything. I briefly wondered if the trick was to set up a winning zugzwang after moving the rook, but (for example) 1.Ra7+ Kg8 2.Bg7 can be met by 2...Rf7=.

Then I realized that a safe king move would also put black in zugzwang. Correct is 1.Ka2! Only the black rook can move, and it will be lost to the discovered check (e.g. 1...Ra8+ 2.Ra7+).

However, 1.Kb1 doesn't work, because here the white rook can't block the check after 1...Rf1+, e.g. 2.Ka2 Rf8.

The hardest part of this problem was letting go of my preconception of what the solution must involve, and postponing the "obvious" windmill pattern for one move. Sometimes familiarity with standard tactical motifs can blind you to other tactical possibilities.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Interesting Sicilian Tactic

I've set my formula on ICC to play opponents 0-200 points higher than my current rating, and I'm seeing games where the opening resembles something "normal", including a lot more open Sicilians. So far, the Sicilian/Najdorf hybrids seem pretty common, although they seem to leave book quite early. I've been playing Sicilian systems with Bc4, f4, and kingside castling for the most part. I should reread the sections in Soltis' Pawn Structure Chess on the e4-e5 and f4-f5 breaks, since that's a key issue in a lot of my Sicilians.

The following position occurred in a recent ICC game:

I dismissed 14.fxe6, which Fritz discovered, because I thought the exchanges relieved the tension and gave Black a freer game. It turns out that the main line seems to lead to about a pawn advantage for White after 14...Bxe6, but the line isn't very forcing so I forgive myself for not seeing this at the board. What's more interesting is that the alternate recapture 14...fxe6 is a tactical blunder. The reason is the nasty move 15.Nf5!:

There's a few motifs here that I should remember for future games. One is the possibility of a pin on the a2-g8 diagonal allowing a piece to hop into f5. Another is that the bishop on e7 is often insufficiently protected. When lines open up, these factors may come into play.

Here, the knight move is possible because the e5 pawn is pinned. Mate on g7 is threatened, as is the knight fork on e7.

If Black tries to defend by playing 15...Rf7:

White has the simple "removal of the guard" tactic 16. Nxe7+ Rxe7 17. Rxf6, since the g7 pawn is pinned.

Another defensive try is 15...Ng6:

But a removal-of-the-guard/counting tactic gives White the clear advantage: 16. Qxg6! hxg6 17. Nxe7+ Kh7 18. Nxc8. After the knight is recaptured White is a piece up and has a great position to boot.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Back with New Year's Resolutions

I took a bit of a break from chess and blogging after Christmas, but I'm starting to get back into it. If you sent email in the last couple weeks, my apologies for the delay in responding.

I'm going to start the year with stating a few of my chess resolutions for the coming year, which will hopefully help keep me "on the wagon".

Things to do:

  • Play slow games against Fritz to practice consistency
  • Resume playing through master games. I'm thinking I should set a goal of at least one per day
  • Work on tactics, especially tougher problems. Key references: Encyclopaedia of Chess Middlegames, Anthology of Chess Middlegames, Van Perlo's Endgame Tactics, Tal's Winning Chess Combinations, and CT-ART
  • When tempted to play a few quick blitz games, substitute the above tactical exercises
  • Work my way through Muller's Rook Endgame DVD, entering all the examples into ChessBase and playing the positions versus the computer
  • Start analyzing my blitz games without a chess engine, and then check my analysis with a chess engine.
  • Play more rated tournaments

Things not to do:

  • Late-night ICC blitz benders

Now I need to get off my butt and get some instructive posts up. Thanks for your patience.