Saturday, April 30, 2016

Studying Boring Games

How often do you look at some games, perhaps the games from a tournament or of a player, and draws, or long games are glossed over as being not as interesting, or brilliant. But one thing can lead to another, so even looking at seemingly boring games can lead to some interesting finds.

I've been looking through games from Hastings 1895 (not for the first time) but this time I intend to look through all the games, the good, the bad and the ugly. Round 1 of the great tournament saw only 1 draw and some great games already. The draw was between Schlechter and Pollock. Schlechter was a bit of a drawing expert, the Giri of the late 1800's and still and up and coming player. Pollock, on the other hand, was not one of the strongest in the tournament, and fell ill soon after the event, and may have been suffering through it. so a draw would not have been objectionable to either of them. As the only draw of the first round I've never really paid it too much attention before. I mean, there were queen sac's, piece sac's, some amazing attacks and tactics, and the most terrible blunders to get one's chops around.

Well, there were still some interesting moments in this 24 move draw. The game started as a Spanish with one of the popular lines of the time (more n that later) and reached this position.

Pollock, as black, played 10..Be6, an ok looking move, but a blunder. The game continued 11.Nxf6+ Qxf6

The open f-file is crying out to be exploited but how? 12.Nd4 (12.d4 was also promising) 12..Qg5

White's knight can take on c6 or e6, and again, both moves are promising. Schlechter chose 13.Nxc6 and Pollock chucked in the check 13..Qxe3+ 14.Kh1 before dropping back with 14..Bd7

Schlechter played 15.Nxe5 regaining his pawn, and even winning a pawn after 15..Bxa4 16.Nxf7. It wasn't enough to win, as black had the excellent response 16..0-0!

But in the position above there was another possibility 15.Nb4. This will leave white a pawn behind, but black will have virtually nothing to do but wait for white to break through.

To regain the piece 15..Bxa4 is forced, and then 16.Nd5 forks black's queen and c7, so 16..Qc5 seems necessary.

In the tournament book, Schiffers analysed this game and considered this position to be no great shakes for white. I'd have to disagree. 17.b4 Qc6 18.Qg4 and black is struggling to find a useful move. g7 is attacked, and white' missing pawn allows the f-file to be used to great effect.

Defending g7 is not easy Rg8 allows Nf6+ winning an exchange, Kf8 lets white sac a rook on f7 for a devastating attack, and 0-0 loses the queen to a knight fork on e7, so it has to be 18..g6. But if white doubles rooks on the f-file, then black can basically resign. There is nothing black can do.

Now look, I'm not one for giving up material, but seeing positions like this helps with my understanding of compensation. Will it help me to bring these types of ideas into my games? I don't know, I'm very materialistic usually, but at least I'll think about these types of things now.

What's more, I learned a bit about an interesting opening, a variation of the Spanish played by among others World Champions Alekhine, and Spassky. More on this next time, because I've seen some amazing games. And I've leraned not to ignore the most boring game of the round!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Chess Analysis

Following on from yesterday's post, here's some thoughts about the 2 positions I showed.

This was from the game Christiansen-Spassky Linares 1981. Linares was a very strong tournament, and in 1981, the current World Champion Karpov was playing. But the sensational result of young US GM Larry Christiansen, to come equal first with Karpov, ahead of elite players such as Spassky, Larsen and Portisch was the main story.

In the above sharp position with opposite side castling white has an advantage, but the unbalanced nature of the position means that white has to be careful about maintaining his advantage. So what might be a train of thought here?

1. Bxf6 wins the d-pawn as black's knight on f6 is the first defender. 1.Bxf6 Qxf6 2.Nxd5 wins a pawn and the knight improves it's position and gains time by hitting the queen. The question is whether there is anything better than this, as white's bishop is pinning black's knight, so trading it might not seem the best try.

2. e4. Seeing the d5 pawn is pinned, why not attack it again? Black's knight is not a defender as it is also pinned. After 1.e4 there doesn't seem to be a good way to defend d5, and white retains the strong bishop on g5. If black plays 1..Qd6 unpinning, then white will have to capture on f6, when we have a similar type of position to above except white's pawn will be on e4 rather than e3. Which would be better? Is it really that big a difference?

3. As the d5 pawn is pinned, and the f6 knight, the e4 square is undefended. This allows us to consider moves that we might not see at first. How about 1.Ne4? This was the amazing move that Christiansen played, threatening to take on f6, while forking black's rook on c5 at the same time. The knight can be taken 3 ways, but they all lead to a loss of material to black.

The other position I showed yesterday was from the game Schiffers-Chigorin Hastings 1895.

Black has just blocked the h4-d8 diagonal with the move ..f6. The question is how should white respond?

1. Move the attacked bishop. The only sensible retreat seems to be to 1.Bf4, where the bishop stays active. Only black will then play 1..Bc5 and be able to castle. White really wants to keep the black king in the centre for as long as possible.

2. Qh5+ would be good if black couldn't play g6 to block. Then how about a sacrifice, 1.Bxf6 gxf6 2.Qh5+. This looks good. I would just need to continue the analysis of both 2..Bf7 and 2..Ke7 and come up with convincing lines for white. If there was any doubt with either of these moves, then back to the drawing board.

3. Assuming I can't make Bxf6 work, let's go back to 1.Bf4 Bc5 but look a bit deeper. Now 2.Qh5+ is a fork winning a piece, so black can't play 1..Bc5. This might be best.

So now my head is beginning to spin with possibilities, so it's probably time to take a break and set my mind on calculating Bxf6 deeply when I return.

4. Thinking about it, with black's king stuck in the centre, how about just carrying on with development? 1.Qe2 allows black to capture on the bishop, 1..fxg5 but white can now double on the e-file 2.Re1 when black's king is coming under a tremendous attack through the centre of the board. In fact, the only defences of black's light squared bishop are 2..Ke7 which just allows me to triple on the file and win the e6 bishop, so I guess it must be 2..Kf7.

White now has the stunning tactical shot 3.Rd8!! winning black's queen as the black queen cannot take the rook as mate follows by Qxe6.

This final line was the one chosen by Schiffers, Qe2, but his calculation did let him down, because Bxf6 does win, as shown by the analysis in the game.

So chess analysis is just a continuing process of asking questions and extending your chess imagination to include possibilities that would never have appeared to you before. Part of this process is going through material that has been analysed therefore building a database of typical and non typical manouvres and tactical themes. But a big part is just looking at games and asking over and over again, "why this", "why not that", and proving to yourself why one move works better than another. Sometimes you'll get things wrong, but even this is a good learning experience, as if someone questions your judgement, and you correct your own findings, it means you are being self critical which is an important part of being able to grow.

Studying Chess

A friend of mine on Facebook asked this question:

"Is it better to work on one part of your game (say tactics) for a month and then move on or is better to work on tactics on Monday and endings on Tuesday for example?"

I don't claim to be a strong player but as a 2200 ish player, perhaps my opinion, or work regime might provide some ideas for others. One proviso: I have no ambition, so the work I do isn't designed to help me improve, but it maintains my level, roughly.

The simple answer to the question is that I do what I want, when I want, but the work I do is done totally by me. That is, I don't give up on puzzles, I don't guess, I don't use a computer engine. I break the work into 2 distinct types.

- analysis

- calculation

Analysis involves me looking at games, and trying to discover the truth about those games or just some positions. It can be any games, there's no shortage of them. Like the games from the recent Candidates tournament in Moscow were quite interesting at times, but I'm also looking at games from the famous Hastings 1895 tournament.

Thinking nostalgically, a big improvement in my game came in the early 1980's, after I worked through all the games from the 1981 Linares tournament. I had the bare game scores in a little booklet and just worked through the games. It was just 66 games, but I studied them over and over until I found things in the games that I hadn't seen before.

Here's a position from that tournament. It's white to move. White's in a good position, but what's the best way to proceed? I'm guessing that anyone looking at this position for the first time will be able to see a whole bunch of promising moves for white. Finding different plans and ideas, as many as you can is good. Try looking for moves, then black's best replies, seeing if you can come up with a line that you like. It doesn't have to be too deep. Take a break, and then look at it again and see if anything new appears. Do it as many times as you like, either trying to find new ideas, or seeing further down variations. I'll post the game, and some good ideas for white tomorrow.

As I said, I'm currently working through the games from Hastings 1895 and using some games and positions in my lessons. There are some amazing games, some wild positions, some crazy old openings, and some terrible blunders. The strategic considerations aren't as deep as games are now, but the calculation is at times excellent. I've seen most of the games before, but I still enjoy looking through them again and again, and find new things, a bit like someone reading a favourite book many times, or watching a favourite film loads of times.

This is from the game Schiffers-Chigorin that I've been showing kids this week. White had just played Bg5, and to block the diagonal to d8, black has just played ..f6.

The question is, what is white's best move? And just how many plausible options does white have?

Analysing games and interesting positions is unbelievably good for your chess. And looking through analysed games is also good. It teaches you to think of options, and to use your imagination. You have to think of most plausible, and less plausible options, and calculate those moves to see wheich is the best, and why your favourite option doesn't work, or whether it would have been better than the move the GM played. Of course, analysing your own games is important, but studying analysed game collections, and practising analysing GM games is obviously great practice for when you start analysing your own games.

There are other things that one can do to work on one's game. Solving tactical puzzles on a site like chesstempo, working on endgames or openings to improve your technical knowledge. I personally think that help from a strong player, or even employing a coach is good for this. (I'm not looking for clients here, but I'll keep trying to post material on this blog that might make people think)

The last thing. Do I stick to a program or just randomly work when I feel like it, doing whatever I want? Actually, I do more of the latter. I'm of the opinion that if you're looking at different positions, honing your analysis skills and trying to develop and extend your calculation skills, you're already doing more than most players are who are just ploughing through tactics and trying to learn openings in great depth. Sure, I do some tactical puzzles, and when I see a problem that interests me I can't help but try to solve it. And sure, I work a bit on openings, but not that much!

Most adults are hobby players, and as such, they should be playing and studying because they enjoy what they're doing. We all get afflicted by ambitions, and if this ever happens to you, I suggest investing in a coach for a bit (make it a good coach, and one that can work face to face rather than by online instruction; you might need to try out more than one coach before you find the right one for you). Otherwise, work at the game when you can, and if you don't feel like studying, then don't push yourself because you're meant to be enjoying this! Wait until you feel like it, and then start up again. If you play hard and work hard when you feel like it, your game will make jumps at those times. You may quickly plateau out, but it will be at a higher level than when you started.

And please remember! More knowledge won't help necessarily. The most important thing is to be able to put ideas into practice. Therefore, learning to analyse positions, and to calculate variations are the 2 most valuable skills a player can have. Adult club players should leave the latest theory on the Anti-Moscow Gambit to Masters, and promising juniors who have the chess memory to cope with these things.

This advice might not be right for everyone, but it is my view on the game and how an adult should approach it and I guess it explains the way I think about the game, study the game, and play the game.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

MCC Championship...Finally!

This blog has been quiet for a few weeks, due to me being really ill. I was struggling to stay awake, and would tire out after the smallest of tasks, like taking a shower, for instance! The doctor gave me some medicine which helped to accentuate the general feeling of drowsiness, and I am just beginning to come out of it.

It was frustrating at the end of the MCC Championship for me. Before the start of the penultimate round I was in excellent shape, half a point behind the leaders, IM James Morris and the junior sensation of the tournament Vishal Bhat. I had to play white against Vishal and a win would leapfrog me over him. The game started ok for me, but the longer it went, the more difficult it became for me to stay focussed, or awake! When the going got tough, Vishal stepped up to the plate, played excellently, and I faded badly. His victory over me left him in first place, as James could only draw with IM Ari Dale. I had a funny conversation with James just before the penultimate round:

Me: "Hey James, just a heads up. I'm feeling like crap, and probably won't put up much of a fight. Don't expect me to do anything against Vishal today"

James: "You're not the only one who feels crap!"

Going into the last round, Vishal was leading the tournament with an amazing 7/8. James was clear second on 6.5, while IM Guy West had jumped to third with 6. I was sitting in a group on 5.5 including IM Rujevic, Pyke, Ly, and Eamonn O'Molloy who had a great win in round 8 against FM Jack Puccini.

This set up for a great finish in the last round, which unfortunately I was too ill to attend, giving Eamonn O'Molloy a free point and a brilliant finish of 6.5/9 for equal 3rd. But the main attention was on the top boards where all were wondering whether Vishal would put up probably the biggest shock result in MCC Championship history. Unfortunately this was not to be, as he came unstuck against Mirko Rujevic, allowing James Morris to win and jump above him into 1st. James was the big favourite for the event before the start, and his pedigree was further enhanced by his victory at Doeberl which caused a delay in the penultimate round being played. James was a fitting winner for the 150th MCC Championship.

Vishal still managed to finish a fantastic second place. Third was shared by stalwart IM's West and Rujevic, with Eamonn O'Molloy who also should be very happy with his performance. The strength in depth of the MCC is shown by the fact that players like Dale, Puccini, Gorka, Pyke couldn't find themselves in the places. The rating prizes were competitively fought and were won by:

Under 2000: Dizdarevic (playing against doctor's orders), Hibberd (making a welcome return to chess)
Under 1750: Harris, Beattie, Kaplan
Under 1500: Robert Frantzeskos

There is still the Brilliancy prize to be decided, which is being looked at and will be announced soon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Old Books and Forgotten Games

I'm just wondering how many people choose their chess books based on how recently they were published. I guess it can't be many as the there will always be a place for the classics. There are classic chess primers by players like Lasker or Capablanca, or even Purdy or Golombek. There are fantastic biographies of players from the past, and autobiographical games collections must still be very popular. I have collections of games by Steinitz, Lasker, Rubinstein, Tal, Karpov to name a few. Great tournament books are my favourite read, especially if they are by one of the participants.

Periodicals are somewhat different. A book covers a subject, but a periodical covers a moment in time. We generally buy periodicals to keep up to date with whatever subject they cover, whether it be news, or a specific technical issue, like for instance the opening in chess where New in Chess comes to mind. But that doesn't mean that old periodicals are of no value. In fact, they can be very interesting, and provide good background reading. There are often forgotten snippets hidden in their pages.

I've been looking at a random British Chess Magazine from August 1979. Bizarrely, the first article is a theory piece on the Berlin variation of the Spanish, the opening that is plaguing the top level of chess at the moment. I have to say that Jimmy Adams presents it in a much more exciting light, then the post Kasparov-Kramnik era shows it. Ray Keene gives an interesting comparison between the 1979 Montreal GM event won by Tal and Karpov, and some of the great tournaments of the past. And there are some well annotated games by Bill Hartson.

In amongst the home news section I found a game that might be of interest to some of my Australian friends. In May 1979 roaming Aussie IM Max Fuller won a tournament in Jersey with the imposing score of 8/9. One of his wins was published in the BCM, a game that isn't in Chessbase's Bigbase 2015 or Ozbase, so I thought I'd put it on here. I never met Fuller, but I know a lot of people who did so this is for you all. Fuller exploits a space advantage and his opponent's lack of development to force a win of material.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Draws and Tie-breaks

What a weekend for chess! I can remember back to my younger days in the UK and the choice for me was whether to play in the annual Easter congress in Southend, or the SCCU Championship, which for the life of me I can't remember where it was played...Croydon, Crawley? Anyway, I now look at the wide world of chess this weekend and see:

1. Candidates final 2 rounds

2. Doeberl Cup, Australia's premier weekend tournament

3. Norway Qualifier, looking for a player to join Carlsen et al later in the year

4. GRENKE Open, a huge open with over 600 players including a load of 2700+ players headed by Chinese star Li Chao who currently stands above Topalov on the live rating list.

This is just the tip of the iceberg from where I'm sitting. All these events can be seen on the premier news site, chess24, but TWIC shows about 30 major events happening around the world.

Of course, the major event is the Candidates tournament in Moscow which has had a number of twists and turns up to this point. Today is a rest day, and there are just 2 rounds left to sort things out. Currently, the tournament is being led by Karjakin and Caruana. I'm glad to say that when ACP President Emil Sutovsky asked on his facebook page the 2 questions, Who has the best chance of winning the Candidates, and Who do you want to in the Candidates, I answered Caruana has the best chance, while I want Karjakin. These 2 are now the favourites to take it. But ex World Champion is only half a point behind, while Svidler, Giri and Aronian are just a point behind the leaders.

The tournament has been criticised for the number of draws, and indeed there have only been 14 decisive results from the 48 games in 12 rounds of play. Anish Giri has come in for particular criticism, having drawn all his games. But in my opinion, there have been few quick draws, and some amazing defences, especially by my favourite, Karjakin. It is impossible for a player of my ability to judge how difficult it must be to beat a top 20 player. But I'm willing to accept if there are a lot of draws, it has a lot to do with the quality of defence of the players. I think we place too much emphasis on the result in chess nowadays and not the quality of the play.

And as such, I'm very disappointed with the tie break system, even if it does benefit Karjakin. The first tie-break is the results between the players who each have to play 2 games against the others. This makes some sense. But then, the next tie-break is number of wins. This is a tie-break criteria that has me baffled. One could argue that the player who scores the most wins has played the most aggressive chess. One could also argue that the player with the most wins on a given score also has the most losses, and so has mixed good with bad play. Caruana has so far won 2 games and lost none. He has had a number of promising positions which he hasn't managed to convert. Karjakin meanwhile has won 3 games but lost 1, and has had a number of lucky escapes. Who deserves to go through the most? In my opinion a play off is the only way to decide the outcome of a tie at this level, even if it means speed chess leading to the dreaded Armageddon game!

Devaluing the draw is hurtful to classical chess, as draws are a part of the game. Funnily enough, if Karjakin dos win, then it will be more thanks to his tenacity at drawing difficult positions rather than the games he won. I'm happy to see the rise of Rapid and Blitz events, and the high win quotas that come with this form of chess, but Classical chess should be respected too and the higher rate of draws with it. As long as we're talking fighting draws, of course. The short draw shouldn't have a place in modern chess, and it is good to see so many events banning draws before a certain number of moves.

But then again, there could be worse things in the chess world. Like a World Championship played in Trump Tower, New York with Donald Trump the honoured guest making the first move of the first game? That was a suggestion recently put forward by FIDE's leader in exile, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov which I saw on this page!

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Longest Game of the Week TWIC 1114

The longest game of the week from TWIC 1114 was a 158 move marathon from the HD open in Vietnam. The game reached an ending which is most player's nightmare, a queen and pawn endgame. The ideas in these endgames are usually fairly simple, but implementing those ideas is usually tough because of the amount of queen moves that have to be taken into account.

This was the position after 101 moves. Here are a few general observations first.

- I like IM Robert Jamieson's summing up of queen endings: put your queen on a central square and see what happens. White's queen takes up a dominant spot in this endgame.

- white is trying to win this, and even though the position may be theoretically level (though it may not!), white runs no risk of continuing in this position, and hoping that black makes an error.

- black needs to avoid an exchange of queens unless black's king can get to e6 with the opposition.

This is a draw with white to move, but white can still try here, hoping that black is not aware of how to draw. 1.Kf3 Kf5? [1..Ke7 would draw. Black just needs to be ready to move to e6 if white ever plays Ke4] 2.Ke3 Ke6 3.Ke4 and we reach the position above is reached with black to move. That is a win for white as after 3..Kd6 4.f5 gxf5 5.Kxf5 Ke7 6.g6

Now white wins after 6..Ke8!? [Hoping for 7.Kf6? Kf8=] 7.Ke6! Kf8 8.Kf6 Kg8 9.g7 and the pawn will promote.

- the defending side needs to be aware of all possible drawing possibilities, including repetition of positions and the 50 move rule. A few weeks ago I showed a blitz game where the 50 move rule was exceeded but the draw wasn't claimed. This is understandable in a blitz game where a record isn't being kept. In a standard rated game it is unforgivable. Here's the position from the longest game of the week after 151 moves.

Clearly, there have been no captures since the original position, nor have there been any pawn moves. In this position, black should have claimed a draw according to the 50 move rule. Instead the game continued, and black resigned 7 moves later!

- endgames are often decided by fatigue rather than ability. Black was clearly tired in this game, missing the 50 move draw, and then blundering soon after.

From the above position, white would ideally like to force an exchange of queens, so all the time the white queen is looking to block checks from black's queen and at the same time pinning black's queen to the black king. The game continued 152.Qe5 Qd3+ 153.Ke7 Qa3+ 154.Qd6 Qa7+

Black's queen has plenty of space to keep checking white's king and white cannot avoid the checks but white skilfully heads towards f6 with the king. White's queen has a dominating position covering a number of squares, and threatening black's king. Black continued to hassle the white king. 155.Qd7 Qc5+ 156.Kf6

This is a critical position. White has made great progress, threatening mate on g7, and the pawn on g6. A black check on the 6th rank will be blocked by white's Qe6+ forcing an exchange of queens, so black has nothing left. The game finished 156..Qc3+ 157.Kxg6 [No more 50 move draw claim] 157..Qc2+ 158.f5 and black resigned ahead of the imminent mate.