Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Steady Play

With each passing game, a growing confidence evolves within me. An insatiable growth in playing strength; afforded to me as result of sound judgement, positional understanding and tactics, make for steady play. Finally, study, time, effort and coaching are beginning to pay off dividends.

Granted I lost the first two rounds, but it wasn't due to any opening or middle game failures and may I remind the reader that I just returned from a 3 month hiatus. In both matches, I was quite solid into the late stages of the game with winning positions. It was only some old habits, cockiness and lack of concentration during the end game that led to my undoings in those games.

In the final round of this month's tournament, I was, once again, paired up against Doug Thompson. But before I get to the game, I need to say that Mr. Thompson is one classy guy and a credit to our club. A while back I wrote about "Chess Mannerisms"; Doug has all the class and sincerity that all club players should espouse too.

OK, so on to the game...

Smith,Warner (1471)
Thompson,Douglas (1477)
[C00] French: Kings Indian Attack
MCC New Years Swiss Natick MA (4)

1.e4 e6
Doug likes the French Defense. Last time I played him I was rather aggressive and played into the "Advance" version of the French Defense with 3.e5. However, I wanted to give Doug a different look this time around. So I decided to play a line I don't play much anymore...something a little less "edgy" and more conservative -- Kings Indian Attack.

2.d3 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Bd6
I considered a pawn push with 5.e5, but I was in prophylactic think mode with this particular player and wanted to continue with my opening development before putting together a solid attack plan. Moreover, I find that players of the French Defense sometimes forget about the simple pawn fork that can arise in this position with ...Nf6?

5.g3 d4!?
I found this early pawn push interesting and rather happy to see it, as I thought this move helped to justify White's development with the King's Indian Attack; blocking the important a7-g1 diagonal.

6.Bg2 Nd7 7.0–0 e5 8.Nc4 +=

Black has pushed for center space early on, but his pieces aren't well coordinated to make use of this current advantage. Meanwhile, White has finished with his preliminary development and now begins to form a solid strategy -- putting pressure on Black's pawn at e5 and await Black's intentions.

8...Bc7 9.a4
I don't want to make it easy for Black to push my Knight off of c4

9...Ngf6 10.Bh3
I begin to put into motion the "Removing of the Guard" at d7. Black's development is slow and his pieces appear "stuffy". I was waiting for Black's intent, but I can't sit around all day. I have development, sound strategy and tempo galore!

10...0–0 11.Bg5 Re8
A good move by Black and just in time. With this move, Black finishes his opening development and secures the life span of his pawn on e5.

White begins to put into place a new strategy; one that focuses on Black's King directly! With the center now locked up, White entices Black to play 12...h6. The idea, is once Black plays this move, the white squares around his Monarch become weakened and White would follow up with a Bishop retreat to 13.Bd2 to later play Nf5! adding heavy pressure to h6.

12...h6 13.Bd2
Everything is going according to plan...

Black's first counter play; but I like the options available to me. I want to exchange my light colored bishop with Black's. Remember what I said about the weak light colored squares around Black's King? Removing his biggest protector of such squares is beneficial for White.

14.Nxb6 Bxb6 15.Bxc8 Rxc8 16.a5
I want to keep Black's remaining Bishop in a bad state and inactive. With the center locked up, Black's Bishop becomes insignificant, whereas, White's lone Bishop enjoys his activity along the c1–h6 diagonal with strong pressure on h6!

16...Bc7 17.Nf5=

A fantastic outpost for White's Knight that helps to put pressure on h6. Black can't kick White's Knight out without losing material.

Black's best move! He's behind the eight ball here and needs to get his pieces well coordinated to defend against White's oncoming assault.

I'm only probing here to see what Black will do next.

18...Nh7 19.Qd1
Hmmm...let's see if Black decides to bring his Knight back to f6.

Not a good move for Black. I understand the reasoning behind the move to guard against Qg4 and to assist in Black's defense of his King. But this move is an illusory stay, as White will soon evict the Rook from it's fragile post. His best move is 19...Nf6 which helps guard against a Queen's invasion along the g and f-files.

20.h4! Nf8?
Better is 20...Kh8. Now, the Knight can't get to its elite post on f6, moreoever, his King is locked into a tight corner, accentuating the monarch's vulnerability to a sacrificial attack by White.

21.h5 Ra6 22.Qg4!±

White is about to win some material regardless of Black's next move.

22...g5 23.Nxh6+! Rxh6 24.Bxg5! Qd7

25.Qxd7 Nxd7 26.Bxh6 Kh7 27.Bg5 Rg8 28.Bh4+-

Better is 27. Bd2; come back to assist with a Queen-side assault and the move would also have prevented the loss of my h-pawn. However, White is clearly winning and my immediate focus at the time was maintaining a vigilant guard over my King, while looking for exchanges whenever possible. I know that the end game will play itself out.

28...Kh6 29.Kg2 Kxh5 30.Rh1 Kg6 31.Ra4
Now that my King is well secured and up material, I begin a Queen side push seeking exchanges wherever they may be.

31...Re8 32.c3 Re6 33.cxd4 cxd4
Ahh...another file for my Rook to play with; biding time.

34.Rc1 Bd6 35.b4 b5 36.axb6 axb6 37.Rc6 b5 38.Ra7 Nf8 39.Rb7+-

I missed the perfect opportunity here to end the game quickly. The following line is much better for White: [39.Be7 Bxe7 40.Rxe6+ Nxe6 41.Rxe7 Kf6 42.Rb7 Nf8 43.Rxb5 Nd7]

39...Bxb4 40.Rxe6+ Nxe6 41.Rxb5 Bf8 42.Rxe5
Black keeps missing his pawns; so White picks them up for him. At this point Black is desperately playing on hope alone that would, at most, grant him a draw.

42...Bd6 43.Rd5 Bb4 44.f4 Nc5 45.Rxd4

45...Bd2 46.f5+ Kg7 47.Kf3 Nb3 48.Rd6 Bc3 49.g4 Be5 50.Rd7
Better is 50.Rd5

Black begins a dream of checks in hopes of a potential fork; but will soon find out that he will only awaken to a nightmare.

51.Ke3 Nc2+ 52.Kd2 Nd4 53.Bf2 Nb3+ 54.Kc2 Na5 55.Bd4
Another exchange...another nail in Black's coffin.

55...Nc6 56.Bxe5+ Nxe5 57.Ra7 Nxg4 58.Ra6 f6 59.d4
A few moves later and Black resigns to the worthless effort ahead of him. 1–0

Rating Watch: 1472

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Universe of Chess

The Universe has a sense of humor. As chaotic as one might think of our Universe, one thing remains constant; it’s innate ability to harmonize and maintain a delicate equilibrium among all things. We learn about some of these basic principles in high school physics; Newton’s Law: For every force there is an equal but opposite force.

Well in the games of chess, I guess the same principle can apply. For example; in round two of this Month’s tournament ( MCC New Years Swiss) at the local club, I played the best game I ever lost. In other words, it was a game in which my position was superior throughout and included a slight material advantage. In the endgame, I had achieved the perfect pawn storm only to get cocky and blunder like no one has blundered before. I lost a game that should not have been lost.

The following week, round 3, I played terrible, just plain terrible. I could not focus and I was dropping material left and right to my opponent. For most of the game, my opponent had a positional edge and a strong material advantage as he continued to add pressure towards an ongoing attack against my King. He had all the makings for a strong victory. But as we played on, my position grew stronger and my pieces had coordinated enough to thwart any quick mating attacks, although, white could still achieve his win as long as he remained focused. Apparently, that was not going to be the case, as I had bated him into a Rook exchange that led to his demise with a mating attack.

I had played the worse game I ever won; I had no rights winning round three, but in the “Universe of Chess”, all things must come to order and the state of equilibrium must be achieved. In round two I was the Sherriff of Nottingham; in round three, I was Robin Hood, and the Universe once more, had corrected the natural order of things.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chess Mannerisms

Tournament experiences this past year offered an interesting course in the sociology of chess in the Northeast. Frankly, I’m unimpressed with the mannerisms of chess players under the age of 35 and aghast at the ill mannered temperaments of a growing percentage of parents watching their children compete, and the pressure they put on their children to win at all costs.

Now, all is not bad in the gentleman’s game of chess (and yes, women are inclusive in this expression); however, there is a growing callousness in the mannerisms department among the chess community. So I thought I’d post a little something here to help put into place some basic mannerisms while playing in a chess tournament.

A) Parents: Ensure that your child is where they need to be and have everything they need to play. Give them the necessary directions to find you. Kiss or hug your child and wish them good luck, then LEAVE. Demonstrate your trust in them by allowing them some independence and more importantly removing any undue stress on your child to perform under the scrutiny of your eyes.

B) Hygiene: Take a shower, use deodorant…be clean. Wash your hands after visiting the rest rooms; those could be my pieces you’re touching.

C) Don’t eat crunchy foods while playing.

D) Shut off the damn cell phones; why in the world do you need a phone at a chess board?!

E) At the beginning of your game, look straight into your opponent’s eye and offer a firm handshake, smiling is OK, and say something along the lines of “Here’s to a good game.” But please, don’t wish your opponent good luck! That’s a bunch of garbage, why would you wish me luck against you? You’re trying to win the game.

F) Don’t slam your pieces down on the board unless you are adamant about displacing your good nature with an heir of arrogance and disrespect for your opponent. This is not an intimidation tactic!

G) In competitive chess, the need to say “check” is unnecessary but not impolite to do so. Give your opponent the credit of knowing they are under check and dispense with the traditional “check” remarks in game. Saying “check” is to alert your opponent that their King is under direct attack; most chess players with an established rating above class “E” will know they are under “check.”

H) After the game, regardless of win, lose or draw, offer a handshake of congratulations or accepted defeat graciously. If you are the winner, never say, “Good game.” The loser may not think so. Instead, say something like, “Hard fought game.” Or “Good luck at your next game.”

I) Keep post game discussions minimal until you leave the immediate area.

J) Be mindful of your fellow players around you.

And there you have it: Smitty’s Chess Mannerisms. For the sake of good chess and to maintain its aura of “royal decency”, try practicing these little tidbits. You’d be surprised how far it goes and how good you’ll feel about yourself.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Re-Entry Ugliness

On the BCC web blog, I came across this philosophical posting about "Re-entries" in chess tournaments. I found the article quite interesting and thought back to my one time personal experience of requesting a re-entry in September 2008 at the Continental Open in Sturbridge Massachusetts.

As Mike Griffin puts it, a re-entry in chess is just plain poor sportsmanship and I tend to agree. Reflecting back on my own personal experience, I can't help but recall the "ugliness" I felt when putting in for a re-entry during the Continental Open.

Here is how it went down:

I enrolled in the 3 day event only to lose the first two rounds to opponents whom I felt were not as strong a player as I. That was my first mistake; assuming relative player strengths. Ratings account for very little during tournament play, after all, it is not a rating that determines the "chess in you" but what you do on the board that defines your chess ability.

So, after losing the first two rounds I started to kick around the idea of re-entering. I thought to myself, "I'll do it over and play better. Besides, I'll get to play more chess and of course, I'll have another legitimate opportunity to play for the money!"

Then my sub conscience kicked in, "That's it isn't it? It's really about the money huh?"

"No! It's not about the money!" I refuted the idea, but somehow it continued to gnaw at me and I felt ugly for it.

The next day, I went down to the tournament booth and dished out 68 dollars for a re-entry. Now I just felt cheap, and in some way, not only was I cheating the sport of chess but cheating myself as well. I just engaged in an act that I had always frowned upon; and less of a chess player for doing so. How pathetic, if you really think about this. But, because the venue was available, I decided to dance with the devil.

And to add salt to the wound, I really didn't play much better. After the re-entry, things just didn't seem right in the world of chess for me during this particular tournament. I went on to finish the tournament with 2 1/2 points in a 5 round Swiss and didn't even stay to play the final round!!

I went home that late afternoon feeling ugly, cheap and out an additional 68 dollars. But I did make the promise to myself that I would never again partake in a re-entry; that I would keep my honor where it has always been when it comes to competitive chess. To enter the game in good gentlemanly spirits and to leave the board at its conclusion in good sportsmanship fashion -- win or lose.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't Be Flashy

Frustration is when you throw away a well played game with a winning endgame position. Here is how you do it:

A) You attempt a “flashy” move; the hubris in us.
B) Inaccurate calculation.
C) Over excitement that lends itself to “rushing” in-game analysis.

…and whala…you hand a win over to your opponent on a silver board.

The lessons here are always stay within yourself, remain steadfast in your play, stay true to end game basics and never ever attempt to be “flashy”!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Exchanging Habits

You ask, exchanging habits? How do you exchange a habit? Ah yes, of course; remember, this is a blog about chess! And in chess, there is this concept called exchanging. You know, exchanging pieces on the board to improve your position or swap out a bad piece for your opponents good piece etc., etc..

Well, I have a bad habit of exchanging for the sake of exchanging. I don't know why; maybe just to help me simplify things on the board, especially when the position is sharp or overly complicated and I just don't feel like thinking. Yea...pretty lame and down right lazy for a chess player. That's why it's a bad habit!

Anyway, I've been studying and working to improve my play over the last couple of months and my highest priority is to rid myself of this bad habit!

Now, if you have been reading my blog, you know that I have been away from over the board play for over three months. So, you could say I'm a little rusty. Competitive chess always adds an unknown element of excitement and when you don't play for a while, that unknown element plays against your psyche.

Last Tuesday, I returned to play chess at my local club: Metrowest Chess Club. This month's tournament is a 4 round Swiss -- MCC New Years Swiss. For round 1, I am paired up against James Williams and the game that follows is an interesting one for three reasons:

1) It illustrates my improved understanding of positional play and opening theory.

2) The game also demonstrates a strategic concept I recently studied and blogged about; Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop

3) Finally, in classical fashion illustrates my habitual nature to exchange pieces for the sake of exchanging!

White: Smith,Warner (1471)
Black: Williams,James (1557)
[B76] Sicilian: Yugoslav Attack
MCC New Years Swiss Natick MA

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0–0 8.Qd2

White's plan is quite simple and true to the Yugoslav Attack; castle queen side and begin a king side attack. Moreover, White's queen is positioned to help alleviate Black of his strongly placed bishop along the a1 - h8 diagonal.

Black has no intention or desire to trade off his dark colored bishop. First priority to ensure this; move the king's rook out of harms way.

9.Bc4 Nc6 10.h4
White begins the traditional pawn trek down the h-file in hopes of sacrificing his pawn for an enlightened half-open h-file!

I give this move a point of interest because it is "telling" in how Black plans to play out his game. He doesn't want any complications in the center; he wants a simple and non-controversial position here. So he simply decides to take the knights off the board. Traditionally, Black plays ...e5 followed up by ...Nc4 forcing White to exchange his light colored bishop. But, Black can't do that here as his Queen's rook is not yet positioned to support such endeavors.

White's only move. If [11.Qxd4 Ng4!] and White loses his prized dark colored bishop.

11...a6 12.0–0–0 Qa5
Black is wanting to put some pressure on White's queen side; specifically focusing on White's weak a-pawn and temporarily assigning a status of "inactive" to White's knight with a pin against the queen. But Black doesn't have any real help here to give legitimacy to an attack. He must still develop his light colored bishop and Queen's rook to give this move any merit for concern.

I spent some time thinking about this move, and in retrospect, it's not the most accurate move to make here. I wanted to play 13. h5, but for unfounded fears, I did not want Black pushing his g-pawn; temporarily blocking access along the c1 - h6 diagonal. Yes, I know, pushing the g-pawn would have strained Black's king side position and White could then play to win the g-pawn with 14. Be3. As I said, my fears were unfounded.

This move is in line with Black's play thus far. Black is looking to keep his play in the center and establish dominance there. But before he can do so, he must first take the venom out of White's pieces in the middle board. Obviously, Black wants the exchange and is prepared to weaken his king side position to do so. Moreover, knowing White's intention to push h5, Black prepares an escape route via f7 for his royal monarch.

14.Bxe6 fxe6 15.h5 e5?
My eyes lit up when I saw this move! Black, in his attempt to keep play in the center, closes off the important a1–h8 diagonal and renders his strong bishop to an inactive piece. White's strategy is to keep Black's bishop inactive. We have the perfect Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop in the making here.

16.Be3 Kf7 17.hxg6+ hxg6

White's strategic plans are just about complete. I've castled queen side, I've attacked and opened up Black's king-side and with one more move 18. g5! I can put a nail in the coffin for Black's bishop. White's position is much stronger here and if I were to exercise good judgement and stick to the game plan, a win should be forthcoming!

If I could add a second "?" mark here I would. For all intents and purposes, this move is a positional blunder! White should focus on his newest strategic development: Good Bishop v Bad Bishop. Black's king side is weak, and can only strengthen itself with the help of White's inaccurate play on that side of the board. The most accurate move here would be to get the queen out of harms way, adding flexibility to my position and unleashing the knight. 18. Qd3, would prepare for immediate play in the center and enable me to bring my active bishop to d2.

Black takes full advantage of White's inaccurate play and with one sweeping move solidifies his king side position. At this point, Black is on his knees begging me to exchange my good bishop with his inactive bishop.

Ah the irony...suddenly, I am on auto-pilot and not taking the time to think things out. I'm still caught up on my original strategic plan: King side attack with the intent of removing Black's dark colored bishop. I have totally ignored recent developments due to that "unknown element" of competitive chess and a very strong desire to EXCHANGE pieces. So as habitual as a lighter is to a smoker, I oblige Black's plea to exchange my bishop for his very bad bishop; in two lazy moves, all of White's positional advantage is vanquished!

If I'm going to play with the bishop on the king side, much better would have been to support my bishop with 19. g5 and create some tension on that side of the board. This move would still leave Black with a bad bishop, forcing his hand to make the bishop exchange, thus granting White some tempo.

19...Kxg7 20.Rh2
Another inaccurate move on my part. Anger with my recent play has effected my judgement going forward. Here I am adamant on achieving dominance along the h-file and will exchange every piece I own to get it! With unclear thought, I'm thinking of doubling up my rooks and jamming the h-file down Black's throat. At this point, Black is in the driver's seat.

However, it will be Black who jams the h-file and it's not going to be his throat he's jamming!

21.Qxh2 Rh8 22.Qg2 Qc5
A very good move by Black. Now that I have no active bishop patrolling the center diagonals, Black's queen begins a smooth territorial invasion into White territory.

Better 23. Kb1. Now if Black's queen decides to visit 23...Qe3, White can reply 24. g5 Nd7 25. Nd5!

I saw this move coming, but once again, I'm playing for the h-file.

24.Kb1 Rxh1+ 25.Qxh1
Haha! I stake my claim along the h-file!

Doh!! OK, so now our positions have equalized. White is still in the game. Just need to concentrate.

I can only explain this as not taking the time to analyze the position. Best is 26. Qg2. Protecting the back rank and my backward pawn on the f-file. Then follow up with a4 to prevent any back rank mate ideas.

26...Qh3! 27.a4??
Bad...very bad. Total loss of concentration. My thoughts from the previous move are on auto-pilot. With intention to play a4 to prevent a cheap back rank mate, I overlook my opponent's play. This move loses for White.

Black is winning! White's energy dissipates and the desire to carry on play lies in lost hopes.

28.g5 Nxe4 29.Nxe4 Qxe4 30.Qh2 Qf5 31.Qh6+ Kg8 32.Qh4 e4 33.Kc1 Qf3 34.Qh6 Qh5!
White resigns. 0–1

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bishops: The Good And The Bad

They say that tactics is 95% of the game or some crazy percentage like that, but what about strategy? Strategy plays a necessary and important role too, and when you have one, good tactical play ensures that your strategy reaches its goal.

I've been given the task of analyzing a famous game played at the Hastings Tournament in 1919. The game, William Winter vs. Jose Capablanca, perfectly illustrates the strategic topic of today's posting: Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop.

Capablanca's play is a soothing art form; every piece he touches naturally finds its way to the perfect square on the board. His ability to make happen a point of weakness in his opponent's play is one of his greatest strengths. Here is my best attempt at fully annotating a chess game played by one of the greatest strategic chess players of all time. Enjoy!

White: William Winter
Black: Jose Raul Capablanca
[C49: Four Knights Defense]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.0–0 0–0 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.d3 Bd6
This line of play brings about a commonly recognized position; one that arises in the Ruy Lopez Exchange variation as well. White's strategy is to eventually push d4 and take advantage of Black's double pawns along the c-file.

A move to pin down the Knight, however temporary; in hopes of strengthening White's play for the center.

8...h6 9.Bh4
White wishes to keep Black's knight pinned, but this move leaves White's bishop in a somewhat bad predicament; an eventual move ...g5! by Black and White is suddenly left with a bad dark colored bishop.

Black is in no hurry to play g5, after all, where is White's bishop going to go? Black decides to make the best use of this gain in tempo with counter-play in the center; putting a slight damper in White's plans to push d4. With this move, Capablanca brings about some tension in the center and although his bishop looks like a tall pawn among pawns, it plays an important role defending his e-pawn; moreover, helping to keep White's bishop out of the game.

A risky move. It's obvious that White intends on taking Black's knight with the idea of weakening Black's king defense. What White didn't consider was Black's next move.

A great attacking move that serves as a defensive measure as well. White's dark colored bishop is not only bad, but has become totally inactive with this move! A White sacrifice on g5 is winning for Black. [11. Nxg5 Nxd5 12. Nf3 Nf6 13. Nd2 Be6 14. Nc4 Kg7 –+]

White's here now, might as well follow through with the intended knight capture.

11...Qxf6 12.Bg3 Bg4
Black's pieces begin to naturally fall in place, allowing Black a counter-offensive for the remainder of the game.

13.h3 Bxf3 14.Qxf3
Interesting move, and may not be White's best move. With an inactive bishop for the foreseeable future, why force an exchange of Queens? White has another option with 14. gxf3, allowing an opportunity for his Queen to continue play in hopes of opening up a diagonal for White's inactive bishop.

Why not? All of Black's pieces are in play and his position after the exchange is exceptionally better! Strategically, Black has the upper hand in the "Good Bishop vs. Bad Bishop" category.

15.gxf3 f6
Black looks for a little more space on the king side; and puts a nail in the coffin for White's bishop. The move also allows the Black king to begin his trek to the center of the board and find a resting place before beginning his queen side attack.

16.Kg2 a5!
And so it begins!

17.a4 Kf7 18.Rh1
White doesn't have many options. He has no queen side play and the center is locked up. His only viable minutia of counter play rests on the king side.

Black has now secured his king and any counter play on the king side by White leads to a dead end. Black may now focus all his energy on the queen side.

19.h4 Rfb8 20.hxg5 hxg5
OK, so White has an open h-file. Too bad there's nothing to do over there.

21.b3 c6 22.Ra2 b5 23.Rha1 c4! 24.axb5 cxb3!
Bad for Black would be 24...cxb5? when White can follow up with 25. bxc4! allowing White to equalize on the queen-side.

25.cxb3 Rxb5
Better to capture with the rook and maintain pressure along the b-file. It also helps to protect Black's a-pawn.

White is grasping for air and has given up on protecting his b-pawn. Black obliges in accepting White's gift.

26...Rxb3 27.d4
White's last hope to open up the h2-b1 diagonal and raise his bishop from the dead.

Black plays to keep the diagonal nailed shut!

28.Rc4 Rb4
In order for White to resurrect his bishop, he needs to remove Black's hold on d5. Unfortunately, Black's rook knows this and moves to eradicate White's last glimmer of hope.

29.Rxc6 Rxd4
White's light at the end of the tunnel is extinguished and thus, resigns. 0–1