Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MCC Openings Group 30/3/2011

Every second Wednesday the MCC hosts a night aimed specifically at issues surrounding the openings of games. Tonight we were looking at creating imbalances by exchanging a knight for a bishop in the opening. For many of us older players, this is something we were taught to be very wary of doing as conceding the bishop pair to an opponent early in the game offers them a long term advantage. So you'd want to get a definite positional concession from your opponent in return for giving up the bishops. These could include:

- pawn weaknesses that can be fairly easily targetted (such as in many lines of the Nimzo-Indian)
- closure of the centre to stifle the bishops (the Hubner Nimzo-Indian springs to mind see the game below from the first Fischer-Spassky match)
- a space advantage (like some Bb5/Bb5+ lines in the Sicilian)
- a supported outpost for one of the knights.

But the main interest for the evening came from the practical side, where we played games from a starting point. This was after a discussion surrounding the paradoxical issue of opening the position after giving up the bishop pair. Although an open position is supposed to favour the bishop pair, a speeding up of the position will favour the better developed side, which is often the one with the knights developed. The game we chose was from the Fischer-Spassky return match of 1992. The position our games started from was:

It is white to play his 7th move and there are a number of candidate moves available. Among the group, d3, and c4 seemed quite popular. You can see what Fischer chose below.

Fischer's energetic opening of the position seems to go against the old maxim that the bishop pair prefer the position to be opened, but of course, it is also the better developed side that wants to see the position opened, especially when there are definite targets to aim at. The following game is the famous 4th game of the first Fischer-Spassky match, where Fischer chooses a more conventional way of dealing with the bishop pair. Here, as black in a Nimzo-Indian, he closes the centre to limit the scope of the bishops, and white's light squared bishop in particular looks a very sorry piece.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MCC Championship Round 7

The MCC Club Championships is coming to the business end with just 3 rounds left. Round 7 clarified things to an extent with 2 players sharing first. Grandmaster Darryl Johansen has not blown the field away as some might have expected, but still finds himself equal first. He is joined by Domagoi Dragicevic who is having a good start to the year. However, there are a number of players within striking distance. Just half a point back are IM James Morris (his game from round 7 showed some sparkling attacking tactics), Anatoli Sirota (another high seed who is quietly progressing toward the head of the field), and Karl Zelesco. Karl is undoubtedly the sensation of the tournament,having scalped a group of strong players. This round he held Sirota to half a point.

A further half point back is where I am sitting along with IM Rujevic, FM Cheng, Jager and another young sensation, Frank Lekkas. Last night I was sitting next to Frank as he tactically smashed David Garner's Najdorf. It was a very impressive game. The quality of the field is shown that behind these players are IM Guy West, current joint Victorian Champions Dusan Stojic and Chris Wallis, and the 2008 champion, Malcolm Pyke.

Full results and standings can be seen on the MCC website.

Round 7 top board games:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

MCC Championship Round 5 and 6 games

Rounds 5 and 6 of the club championship have seen some significant results, but we are no nearer to knowing who will win this tournament. Here are a selection of games from the top tables of the event. The round 5 games first:

In round 6 GM Darryl Johansen became a joint leader after beating IM James Morris, though the result of the round must surely be Karl Zelesco's victory over IM Guy West.

Friday, March 18, 2011

MCC Openings Group 16/3/2011

Every  fortnight on a Wednesday evening, a group of players meet at the Melbourne Chess Club to discuss issues relating to openings. The group is fairly new, and the subject for the night was pawn grabbing in the opening. The old maxim for new players is don't grab pawns in the opening until you are fully developed. However it seems that central pawns are good to grab, if it can be done safely.

Pawn grabbing is essentially a risky way of unbalancing the position, but then again so is the opposite measure of gambitting material, and we all love that. There are some very well known pawn grabs that have become part of respectable opening theory such as in the Sicilian Najdorf and French Winawer.

 Black's queen has flouted traditional opening lore to grab a pawn on b2. The Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Sicilian Najdorf has been a hot topic in opening theory for over 40 years.
White's queen goes a-pawn grabbing in the main line of the French Winawer. The resulting positions are wildly unbalanced but theory seems to be looking in white's favour recently.

The main part of the session involved looking at a pawn grab in an annoying anti-Sicilian variation. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6, white can spoil black's countless hours of opening study by playing 3.Bb5+ and after 3..Bd7 4.Bxd7 Qxd7 he can set up a Maroczy Bind with 5.c4. The main variations now are hardly lively which may be what a black player wants if he's prepared to play the Najdorf or Dragon, so instead of fitting in with white's plans, there is the risky move 5..Qg4 forking 2 important pawns. The pawn on g2 is part of white's potential king's protection after he castles, while the one on e4 is his big central pawn. So which one should white part with? Even among our group there was debate about this, and in the games we played, both pawns were dropped.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

MCC Endgame Group 9/3/11 Zugzwang

The fortnightly meeting of the Melbourne MCC Endgame Group looked at the subject of Zugzwang. As a subject it hasn't really been dealt with too deeply by writers. There is a chapter in John Nunn's 1988 book "Tactical Chess Endings" with some quite difficult examples. And there is a chapter in Mueller and Pajeken's 2008 book "How to play Chess Endings". But beyond that, i haven't been able to find that much, other than the references that are spread through endgame books.

Zugzwang is a powerful tactic though, and the study of zugzwang takes into account issues such as, time, space, waiting/wasting moves, triangulation, targets and weaknesses etc. I'm certain that an appreciation of this tactic would be of benefit to any player's endgame and middlegame understanding.

As a group we started by looking at some classic zugzwangs. If you haven't seen them before, the finale to the games Alekhine-Nimzovich San Remo 1930, and Short-Timman Tilburg 1991 must surely make an impression.

Alekhine-Nimzovich San Remo 1930. Black has no good move, so white played 32.g3 here and put him into zugzwang!

Nigel Short, playing white in this game, saw that his opponent, Jan Timman, has no useful moves so he embarked on one of the most remarkable plans in chess history. White here played 31.Kh2! and black is powerless to stop the king marching all the way to h6 to support checkmate on g7. Black is virtually in zugzwang.

Of course, zugzwang is seen as an endgame tactic, as that is where it is most prevalent. Probably without even knowing it, many of us are aiming for certain positions in endgames which are actually zugzwangs. This will especially be the case in pawnless endgames, and pure pawn endgames, though there are plenty of zugzwang positions in all types of endgames. For instance, an endgame we have looked at in the Group before between Kramnik and Ponmariov from the 2009 Tal Memorial shows an excellent zugzwang in a position where a rook tackles a bishop.

Kramnik, as white, had been searching for this position for some time in this game. Black to move cannot move his king so must move his bishop. Any B move on the h2-b8 diagonal immediately loses the h-pawn, while Bf2 allows the rook to fork on f4. So black is in zugzwang, and immediately resigned.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MCC Championship Round 4

In round 4 of the Club Championship the field tightened up. The top board game was a bit of a tense draw with a bit of probing but no real risks being taken. This left West and Cheng in joint first, but they were joined by James Morris and Justin Tan. These talented young players beat the current joint Victorian Champions Chris Wallis, and Dusan Stojic, respectively. Half a point behind these comes the pre tournament favourite, Darryl Johansen who was held to his second draw in the tournament by Jesse Jager. They are joined by third seed Anatoli Sirota who was happy in the end to take a perpetual against Malcolm Pyke. Perhaps the result of the round, though was Kozo Simutanyi's win against IM Mirko Rujevic, which brings Kozo up alongside the group half a point behind. This is actually quite a big group with both experienced (Dragicevic, Dizdarevic), and new talent (Lekkas, Zelesco) and an fantasically over performing club stalwart, Richard McCart. It is too early to really say that the eventual winner will be coming from this group, but the next couple of rounds will no doubt see a big shake up of the standings.

The critical moment of the game Rujevic-Simutanyi, where black spotted a trick that is would be more typical of his IM opponent. Answer at the end of the article.

In the diagram above, Kozo as black played 15..Nxf2! winning a crucial pawn in a position he was already better.