Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Most Instructive....

I'm guessing that many chess players have been following some of the top class action in the northern hemisphere's summer season. For me, the British Championship is an interesting event to follow as I know some of the players. But like many, I've been keeping an eye on the Sinquefield Cup in America with Carlsen and a group of the world's elite. The first 3 rounds have brought about much fighting chess and a joy for those players who include 1.e4 e5 in their repertoires.

However, if we mere mortals want to improve our games and learn from the best what would be the 1 thing that we should study from this tournament so far? Well, any interesting position is good to study, and non standard types of manouvres, like Aronian's 10.Rh4 from his first round game vs Nepomniachtchi is a fun move.

Aronian-Nepomniachtchi Sinquefield 2017
In answer to black's 9..Qa5 Aronian here didn't defend his a3 bishop, or retreat it, but played 10.Rh4!? which protects the bishop due to the threat of Ra4 trapping a queen. Neat!

However, openings, tricks, fanciful ideas are to my mind beautiful to see but unlikely to bring many long term benefits to the game of an average club player. No, in my opinion, the best position to learn was Anand's defence of a rook ending a pawn down against Carlsen.

I'm sure that many people reading this blog will know that this is supposed to be a draw, but I wonder how many would be confident of holding this position with white against Magnus Carlsen? Anand did it comfortably and to be honest, white is starting with the best possible pawn structure for the defence and it is impossible for black to get his rook behind the pawn before white does. But the black a-pawn will force it's way down to a2 or a3. In fact, in just another 4 moves this position was reached.

White still just has to sit and wait for black to try something and then react, but what can black do? Advance on the king side? Bring the king to the queen side? With the pawn on a3, black's king has a hiding square on a2, but white's rook will be able to take king side pawns as black won't be threatening to promote. So the other option is to advance the pawn to a2, but what then? black's rook is as immobile as white's, and if black's king comes to the queen side, it will be subject to checks that it won't be able to escape from.

Carlsen didn't give up trying, and eventually, this position was reached with black pushing his g-pawn. So what would you play here as white? What would be your candidate moves? Perhaps hxg5, or Ra7+, or even Kf3? Let's look at trading a pair of pawns as that's what we're told we should do as defenders. After 1.hxg5 fxg5

Now what? White's king is becoming more open, and what black would like to do is have his rook on a1, pawn and a2 and swing the rook over to do a check. So imagine doing nothing like 2.Kf3 Ra1 3.Kg2 

Now the position is critical for white after 3..g4! If white shuffles the king, black's king will come to the queen side, while if white aims for more trades with 4.f4 exf3 Kxf3, then white's king becomes more exposed.

The whole endgame is a nightmare, and there are simplifications to other endgames that need to be understood as well. Anand's solution was excellent. If we go back a few moves:

Anand chose to play 60.g4! here. I have to admit, it wouldn't have been first among my candidate moves, but the resulting positions are all level.

If black captures hxg4, then white can play hxg5 fxg5 and Kg3 picking up one of the g-pawns before retreating the king back to the corner. Carlsen took the other way 60..gxh4 but after 61.gxh5, this h-pawn gives white sufficient counterplay. Look at the final position when the game was agreed drawn.

It is black to move and although he has an extra pawn, and 2 passed pawns, black has virtually no moves. Playing h3 will allow Kh2 when the only move is Kg8 but a repetition will occur after Rg7+ and the rook will fly back to a7.

While opening knowledge and tactical and imaginative flair are essential ingredients in a players arsenal, learning technique can help us save valuable half points, or like with Carlsen, squeeze out victories from unlikely positions. Remember that very often, the defence in the endgame is being carried out after 4, 5, 6 hours of intense concentration so it is important to keep trying and to keep putting pressure on opponent's. Here's the endgame with some notes by me. I strongly urge anyone with any chess ambition to learn the technique from Anand's play so that you can use it your own games.

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