Monday, April 17, 2017

Chess, The Learning Process

So most people who play our game have some ambition of becoming better. But just what exactly does that mean? And how does someone go about becoming better at chess? The first question seems easy to answer, we just become stronger players! But what exactly is a better player? Higher rated? What if a player improves, but not as quickly as others? So better can be a relative thing, and is a difficult subject to answer. How does one get better might be easier to answer. There are a set of stages in our development as chess players.

- first we gain knowledge of patterns and ideas.
- second we learn to recognise what we know in our games.
- third we develop an understanding of when our knowledge can and cannot be used.

So I guess we can say that we look to acquire as much chess knowledge as possible, then we try to apply that knowledge in our games to a deeper and gradually more successful degree.

Most people start by learning tactical processes, but this is a never ending process. And we find tricks that become evermore elaborate, good enough to beat top players! Like in the recent American Championship, the winner Wesley So played a brilliant attacking game against reigning World Junior Champion, Jeffery Xiong. It all started with an excellent sacrifice which paved the way for So's minimal force to jump into the attack.


So, as black played 21..Nxf2! and after 22.Kxf2 Rxb2+ 23.Kf1 Qh5 the position had become impossible to defend and So won shortly after.
After So's sacrifice, Jeffery Xiong has an impossible task defending as white.

The knight sacrifice removed a defender, opening up white's king and isolating it for an attack by minimal forces. A brilliant sacrificial attack? Well yes, of course, but there are plenty of examples of this sort of sacrifice, and a player of Wesley So's ability would almost definitely be aware of the pattern. However, the rest of us can learn from this and other examples of this sort.



For example, yesterday, Yifan Hou finished her game from the Grenke GM event with a similar knight sacrifice.


This one is much easier to spot, especially when you know what you are looking for. 29..Nxf2! This opens white's king, and let's black's heavy pieces into the attack. 30.Kxf2 Qe2+ 31.Kg1 Re3, an overwhelming force to attack a lone king. The game finished 32.Qc2 Rg3+ 33.Kh1 Rxh3+ 34.Kg1 Qe3+ a position which caused the white player, Georg Meier, to resign.
White's best is to play 35.Qf2 which will cost a queen after 35..Rh1+ distracting white's king.

Here's an early example of the sacrifice.
This is the game Burn-Pollock Belfast 1886 and black came up with our themed move 12..Nxf2! The key to understanding the success of the knight sacrifice now, is spotting that is followed by another knight leap opening black's light squared bishop to help threaten mate on g2. 13.Kxf2 Nd4! the joint threat of winning a queen and mate in 1 on g2 was too much for white to handle and although the game endured, the result was in little doubt.

Here's a classic example of the same theme, but taken to the extreme. Black has a whole army to break through which he starts with our custom sacrifice. Golgidze-Flohr Moscow 1935: 19..Nxf2 20.Kxf2 Qh4+ White's king has been attracted into a queen check and has to advance to hold on to material, 21.Kf3


But what now? Flohr's concept is absolutely brilliant, denuding white's king of defenders one by one until the white king faces a small but powerful black force alone. 21..Bxh3 22.Bxh3 Qxh3+ 23.Kf2 Qh4+ 24.Kf3 White's rearguard has gone.


And now Flohr removes the final defender, the dark squared bishop 24..Be5 Against this sacrificial onslaught white now crumbled 25.e3 Bxf4 26.exf4 Qh3+ 27.Kf2 Re3 with a similar force to that which Yifan Hou finished with yesterday!

White played a couple more moves before resigning, which brings another point to this issue. The fact is that it is harder to defend than to attack, and there are examples where the sacrifice wasn't fully correct but still worked. Like for instance the game Norman-Colle Hastings 1928


I don't know much about Colle except for his opening, and a game where he played a Greek Bishop Sacrifice. Here he comes up with our themed sacrifice: 19..Nxf2!? 20.Kxf2 Rae8


Although the white king looks in danger, it is also hard to see where the white attack will come from. The cool 21.Rhd1 Qe7 22.Kg1 would have removed much of the threat to white's king, but what better than to trade? 21.Rhe1?! Qe7!
Probably now white realised that trading on e3 is impossible 22.Ne2 [22.Rxe3?? Qxe3+ 23.Kf1 Nc4 when white has to play 24.Rd1 but that puts rook, queen and king in forking position of a knight 24..Qf4+ with the lovely final variation 25.Kg1 Ne3
Black's fork is countered by a white pin 26.Qd2 but black has the temporary queen sacrifice 26..Nxd1! 27.Qxf4 Re1+ 28.Qf1 Rxf1+ 29.Kxf1 Nxc3 with an easily won endgame] 22..Nc4 throwing another piece forward, again without anything concrete 23.Bd3
I guess Colle just couldn't resist, and decided that it was time to give up his other knight! 23..Nb2?! 24.Qxb2 Rxd3
At this point white had to move his knight, but he missed this defensive possibility, losing quickly after the blunder 25.Rc3?? which allowed black's pieces to penetrate 25..Qe3+ 26.Kf1 Re6 and it was all over soon after.

Here are these last 2 classic games!




So by looking at a number of examples with the same theme, we can gain knowledge and hopefully get to use it in our own games, or at least prevent our opponent from using the theme against us. There is one last game with this theme, that happened only a few days ago, but I think I'll show this tomorrow as it was a genuinely magnificent example that deserves a post of its own,

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