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.